Start with a BA – not a PM

The statistics on ICT projects continue to make depressing reading. The Chaos report from The Standish Group has been reporting success and failure rates since 1994. In truth there has been little changed with project failures at 18% and challenged projects at 43% in the 2012 report.

Of course the last thing you need is yet another drivelling blog about the need for better governance, more stakeholder engagement or an improved competency model for IT practitioners. So here is another take on it.

In most organisations the path for an idea to get to implementation is through some formal or informal portfolio process. Ideas are assessed and prioritised and matched up against the available budget. For those lucky enough to be anointed, there is an allocation of resources (people and money) to those who are expected to deliver; and a project is born.

The first step for most organizations is to find a project manager. Someone has to manage the funds, ensure that timetables are met and provide those all-important status reports.

The project manager gets to work establishing governance, identifying risks, stakeholder communications and is soon at the point of creating a work breakdown structure. Once all that is done, it is just a case of allocating tasks, managing risks and keeping to schedule, cost and quality.

Unfortunately a large proportion of projects that run like this don’t deliver. The truth is that a project manager is not the right person for all these tasks. While a project manager is expert in managing to constraints such as time, cost and quality they are not expert in managing the investment.

To manage the investment you need a different skillset (and a different personality type). This is the skillset of a business analyst who can measure current state, envision a future state and elicit all the requirements for change to get from one to the other. It is the analysts who should be clarifying what the project is to achieve and they are in the best position to build a work breakdown structure that delivers on the investment objectives.

So how can this happen in practice, because projects can’t run without project management? The answer is in timing and resourcing.

  • Engage the business analysts at the idea stage to develop an investment rationale (usually a preliminary business case)
  • Load up your projects managers with work so they don’t stray into areas that they are not expert in. Good PMs can run many projects very successfully if they stick to the project management disciplines and allocate tasks rather than undertaking them
  • Provide business analysis skills early on any project. Analysts should be your major resource expenditure with a ratio of 1 PM to 4 BAs very achievable
  • Insist on (and pay for) analysis that connects the idea and strategy right through to execution

So how comfortable do you feel that your project success rate will beat the Chaos report?