Five Rules of the Road to Ensure a Successful Software Project

Avoid insufficient planning, unclear direction, lack of resources, unrealistic schedules and unmanaged risks.

Expect to face a glitch during implementation of a new software project. Nothing involving technology goes perfectly. In fact, 75% of 600 IT and business execs involved in software projects think they're always or usually going to fail. And, one in four always feels this way, a recent survey found.

The reasons are many: insufficient planning, unclear direction, lack of resources, unrealistic schedules and unmanaged risks that emerge are a few. Also, today's failure factors aren't quite the same as they were a decade ago. Then, many companies favored buying an out-of-the-box software system and customizing it in hopes of filling their needs. More often than not, that didn't work well and companies lost huge investments as a result.

Today, more companies seek software that will help them operate various functions and systems globally by consolidating several systems. This can trigger stumbling blocks related to the scale of the project. Another modern mishap reflects the sheer size of organizations; planners simply forget to determine how much disruption the software installation will cause.

Still, handling a software project from start to finish doesn't have to trigger a migraine. You simply have to follow a few rules of the road.

Here are five pointers for finishing on top:

No. 1: Truly Define Success

This is the most challenging issue. Too many simply define success as a project delivered on time, within budget, and delivering the scope, features and functions initially specified. Success must be defined more broadly, however, considering situations can change along with your learning partnership with your supplier. This is really a journey of expectation -- working together with the right supplier in the right partnership in the right manner and with an open mind. This becomes truer as the size of the project increases.

No. 2: Don't Get Carried Away with the Latest Gizmos and Gadgets

New software isn't that much different from that new 2012 model car. It can offer fresh functions and add-ons that promise to handle all your needs.

But follow these rules:

  • Involve as many people in your organization as possible to help you wrap your arms about what you desire and require the new software to do. So, if it's a human resources-related software project, be sure the HR staff and users of the system weigh in along with your IT team and your finance office. Make sure a senior executive is onboard, too.
  • Focus on what you specifically seek to do with the software, the initial budget you've set, and the return on investment you want to generate. Don't let the fancy features and functions cloud the reality of your objectives.

No. 3: Take Your Time to Pick the Right Software Provider

Your supplier must be an expert at three things: developing the right software for your organization, project delivery and your business and the industry you're in. But don't be too restrictive and prescriptive about the selection process.

For instance, companies who use a Request for Proposal process risk selecting a supplier that checks off all the right boxes and scores high enough, but isn't truly the right fit. A RFP process that is strictly capabilities based can eliminate a supplier that might actually be the best partner.

Here are some tips:

  • Take one supplier at a time, and see if it can schedule a workshop for company teams to gain as many insights as possible about its offering, services and compatibility.
  • Communicate with the supplier like an inquisitive kid would. Ask "why" as often as possible. Have the supplier demonstrate whatever you don't understand about a software feature. Present various scenarios to see how the supplier would handle them. Remember, you're not buying "load-and-go" software.
  • Really learn the depth of methodology the supplier uses; no fancy PowerPoint can provide that.
  • Remember, at the end of the day, it comes down to people -- how do you and your colleagues feel about working with the supplier's team in a way that will spell success? Do you trust them and will they be around for the entire lifecycle of the process?

No. 4: Good Communication is Critical

It's essential to continually communicate your business objectives to keep obstacles at a minimum. In addition, an effective project manager communicates 80%-90% of the time.

One of your first conversations with your supplier should focus on the high level of the project's lifecycle and not on the coming days, weeks or months. Anticipate your project's conclusion at the start. Talk about issues including how to train end-users, what support and maintenance you can expect once the software is employed, who will be in charge of enhancements after deployment, and how to deal with the natural turnover of power users or subject-matter experts of the software.

No. 5: Flexibility is a Prerequisite

Software projects are all about change. Applications lead to process and operational change. Strategic objectives demand change. So adapt accordingly rather than resisting change. Simply consider your project more of a journey rather than a fixed destination.

Lastly, and most importantly, stay open and honest with your supplier and request the same to achieve the most beneficial configuration of your software application.

Jim Byrnes is senior vice president of Global Services at Infor, a leading provider of business software and services.

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