Don’t Start Your Technology Project Without These 5 Things

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In the midst of COVID-19, many companies are pivoting technology projects to better take advantage of digital innovation in order to get ahead of the next crisis or recover from the current one. In the rush that often ensues to pivot fast, certain project planning tasks can be overlooked in the race to kickoff a new vertical opportunity. Many see the preparation and administrivia of sound project management as a burden to agile delivery. Incorporating these five items into your agile project planning can alleviate headaches after the project begins and the check has already been written.

1. Understand the strategic direction

It’s important to first think about how the technology project gets the company closer to achieving its strategic goals and vision. Is the project a nice to have or a need to have? A nice to have project provides a tangential benefit to the company’s overall Vision and Strategy. A need to have project is in the critical path to realizing a company’s Vision and Strategy. There is nothing more demoralizing to a dedicated project team than learning their hard work and results provide no business value to the company’s strategic or revenue goals. Creating a team for the purposes of dazzling company leadership on a great idea that doesn’t align to strategic direction is the quickest way to eliminating the business necessity of those resources.

2. Align key success factors with business and operational stakeholders. 

Plan for interdependencies and how you will measure your desired outcomes. Questions to ask stakeholders include: What is your definition of success? What dependencies between business units or departments need to be taken into account to ensure project success? Business stakeholders aren’t just limited to company leadership. They also include operational stakeholders who provide back-end support or services to your technology initiative. These  stakeholders should be engaged before a technology project is kicked off. Doing so sets the landscape early for awareness of the interdependencies between operations and your new initiative or product. Failure to do so can lead to future, unforeseen delays to a new technology effort.

3. Establish project governance

A technical manager is not inherently a project manager. Examine whether or not you have the capabilities on your team to oversee the management and reporting of the effort. Capability includes not just skill, but also time. An agile project management or Srum roles (i.e. Product Owner and/or Scrum Master) within the initiative should be established. This ensures the technology team can focus solely on the technical delivery versus the administrative nuances of project status reporting and stakeholder corralling. To be clear, this is not necessarily an argument for a Project Management Office (PMO). Rather, it’s important to establish who will take project (or product) management ownership of the entire effort to ensure teams are delivering, interdependencies are engaged and status reporting to leadership is occurring. If you do not have this capability, consider outsourcing to a project management as a service (PMaaS) provider.

4. Allocate the project budget in increments

If possible, establish a project funding cycle similar to how venture capital firms provide staged series funding for new ventures. Just because a certain amount of funding is available doesn’t mean that the total amount of funding should be allocated at project kickoff. Align funding based on the incremental delivery of business value. This allows a company to pivot early or stay the course following the outcome of a prototype but with only a fraction of the budget being spent.

5. Align vendor payment schedules to tangible, business results

Before signing with a technology vendor, it’s important to establish a definition of done for the portion of the effort you are outsourcing. The definition of done should then be translated into payment milestones that align to the business value you are expecting the vendor to deliver. Too often, vendor contracts contain language based on time and materials alone but with no alignment to the delivery of actual results. If a vendor insists on a time and materials contract, consider including a “hold back” percentage for each monthly invoice that is to be paid once the company’s acceptance criteria has been met.

Conclusion

This is not a comprehensive list of everything that must be in place before project kickoff, but rather a standard operating procedure to have in place regardless of technology. Establishing a repeatable checklist such as this one kicks off your digital innovation initiative on secure footing.

Published on June 30, 2020

Starr Corbin is the Founding Partner of Corbin Solutions Group. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter @StarrCorbin.

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