Technology Projects Are All About People

Estimations of project complexity bedevilled from the get-go

Well, that was the last of Prof. Joe Peppard’s three-lecture CIO Masterclass at the Irish Computer Society (ICS). The final seminar was on “Managing Change In Large IT Implementations.”  Like his first two talks, this one was less technical and more about how to manage change and the people around it.

My account of the first lecture is here, while the second can be found here. The second lecture covered the politics and stereotypes faced by IT types. In that talk, Peppard noted techies are probably the worst at organisational inter-relationships. Susan Cramm, who writes about IT frequently, has some general tips in a blog posting called How To Get Out Of The Doghouse. Her post is not related specifically to IT this time. And while IT is not in the doghouse by default, political ineptitude or political innocence probably means we could do with some of Cramm’s advice.

As usual, this is not a factual account of the ICS seminars. It is just my recollection of the the pieces that most appealed to me. (ICS members can find a video of the entire event by following the recent videos link on the society’s events web page).

The first point worth relaying from the lecture is the differences in how stakeholders estimate project work. I based the graphic above on Peppard’s slide, and, as you can see, typical project managers over-estimate both change and resources required. More often than not, they will be the diametric opposite of senior management. My opinion, not Peppard’s, is that latter think all the heavy lifting has been done once they make a decision. It reminded me of my role in a $2 million ERP implementation several years ago over in Boston. The technology was all doable. It was the people and their work processes that were the real challenge.

However, a big part of any complex will be managing stakeholders and their expectations. Peppard said one of the most successful implementations he saw was in New Zealand where “change preparation,” or work on the users rather than the project per se, began two years before go live.

In discussing projects with stakeholders, Peppard had some initial advice for IT: Stop talking about providing “solutions” and start talking about “capabilities.” He cited a newspaper ad, pitched at Marketing managers, where Oracle claimed it could implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in 90 days. The neglect to mention that it will take a lot longer to load it with legacy data, and up to three years before it is fully loaded and the benefits are routinely realised.

Peppard said the the technical implementation itself does not add value. If IT starts talking about capabilities, they and the stakeholders should be better able to draw up a benefits analysis in the planning stage. The benefits should be spelled out, rather than everyone assuming the “solution” will automatically generate cost savings or increased productivity or whatever business case has been put forward.

Another area to watch is what Peppard calls the “shakedown phase.” This is where performance will take a dip after go live because people are getting used to the new system. It is highly unusual to go live and see performance take off, he said. However, project management work typically ramps down at this point. All the professor’s research shows that performance will take a knock after go live. People need to be ready, plan for it and tell stakeholders to expect it.

All in all, I enjoyed the lectures. They were short but crammed full of information. He returns to Ireland frequently and Peppard’s talks are well worth attending if you ever get the chance.

One thought on “Technology Projects Are All About People

  1. John,

    This exact topic, highlighting the importance of the human factor in projects, will be the subject of an upcoming an article on PM Hut!

    People are worried about the project and getting the project done so much that the forget about the most important thing to to get to their goal: people.

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