Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It:
Reasons "Not to Be" (Signs of an Unfeasible Project)
Table 1. Signs of an Unfeasible Project
iii. How should we go about this project?
A good feasibility study says more than "do it." In addition to defining the project objectives and deciding whether or not to proceed, it provides a broad outline of how to proceed. This involves preparing an initial, high-level project plan that provides a gross project sizing, identifies major milestones, and estimates resource needs. A plan of action serves two purposes: it gives the follow-up team a direction, and it forces the feasibility study team into thinking about critical implementation issues up front.
The success or failure of a project is often decided very early. To pull off an effective feasibility study, you must have the right attitude and the right approach. Having a good feasibility study process without the proper commitment from management and staff to listen to the answers doesn’t work well – it results in substance without form. Having a commitment to listen, but without the substance of a reasonable feasibility study process isn’t much better. Doing a feasibility study takes time up front, and it will likely result in a later start date for a software project. The potential benefit you’ll receive from starting slow, however, is a quality product finished on time and within budget. Table 2 shows several tips for a successful study.
Tips for a Successful Study
Table 2. Tips for a Successful Study
B. Project Implementation Planning
The solution to successful project implementation planning is to develop an understanding of the full scope of the GIS project. Using the results of the feasibility study as a basis, you must achieve answers to the following questions: What you’re building? Why you’re building it? What are your requirements? Who your customer is? Who’s in charge of the project and who are the key or required staff? What are the risks? What are the benefits? What are the major milestones and target dates for each? And of course, it’s also important to understand what your project isn’t. A project that tries to meet everyone’s objectives likely will please no one.
The answers to the above questions, along with many others, should be documented in a formal, approved document, called the "Project Plan," which is used to manage and control project execution. The project plan is a single document or collection of documents that should be expected to change over time – a "living" document – as more information becomes available about the project. A solid project plan is a blueprint, or a game plan, that charts the entire project’s course. For example, the risk assessment portion of the plan should help to minimize the cost of rework by anticipating and addressing problems early in the project. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI, 2000), "there are many ways to organize and present the project plan, but it commonly includes all of the following:
C. Project Planning Summary
The fundamental premise of achieving excellence in project management states that the project manager’s greatest challenge is effectively balancing (or juggling) the components of time, cost, scope, quality, and the expectations for each. Figure 1 shows the project diamond, which signifies this balance.
Figure 1. Project Diamond
The components of the project diamond have a symbiotic relationship. For example, when a user requests an additional report that wasn’t agreed on in the requirement specifications, the project’s scope and quality change. This will change the other project components as well. As a result, the diamond’s shape will be skewed, graphically depicting a project out of control. The challenge is managing change while keeping the diamond’s shape intact. Project planning defines the diamond, while effective and efficient change and expectation management lets you manage it throughout the project’s life cycle.
Effective project planning is not conducted in a vacuum. It must be carried out in coordination and cooperation with all appropriate stakeholders. The project manager must manage their expectations throughout the process. The project manager must constantly look for opportunities to create win-win relationships by negotiating work that must be accomplished. A project manager who declares, "this can’t be done in the time frame allotted" will meet with stiff resistance from client management. On the other hand, a project manager who can defend this statement with a solid understanding of the project’s scope, backed by a logical work breakdown structure; thoughtful estimate and project schedule; and concise risk analysis will be met with a response like, "Maybe you’re right. Help me to understand what you understand." This is effective expectation management and proper development of win-win relationships. Once your project plan is in place, it’s much easier to manage your project diamond.
2. Lack of Corporate Management Support
Does your project have the full cooperation and support of corporate management? If not, then you’re project is likely doomed to cancellation or cutbacks. Your project is not the only game in town. Make sure you have a dedicated sponsor who will support your project from its inception to completion, such as a project manager who communicates resource needs early and often to his or her senior management.
A project succeeds only when senior leadership makes it a top priority and broadly communicates their sponsorship across the organization. Organizations respond when leadership emphatically communicates their commitment to the project. All levels, from the bottom through the middle to the top, must remain sensitive to the needs and priorities of the project.
Without the commitment of our upper management, then our projects may suffer in any one or more of the following areas:
A project manager is only as good as his or her team; don’t let your ego distract you from your project’s goal. Work with your senior management to assemble a talented team, provide resources and ground rules, and let the players take ownership of the target solution. You’ve probably heard the statement, "80% of management is picking the right people, and the other 20% is getting out of their way." A good project manager must create an environment where the "right people" can perform optimally. You have to work hard to fail if you have the best people.
3. Poor Project Management
Project management can be subdivided into two categories – the software development process, and the role and responsibilities of the project manager.
A. Software Development Process
GIS projects, like a project for constructing an automobile, must have an ordered set of steps for taking what started as a concept in someone’s mind to a real product that usable by the client. Without a sound software development process, GIS projects can easily run astray. Many organizations that undertake a GIS project do not fully embrace a defined, repeatable, and predictable software development process. The consequence of this behavior usually is a significantly increased risk to the project in predicting and controlling the critical factors of schedule, cost, scope, and quality.
According to Neal Whitten, a world-renowned project management author and lecturer, "an organization may have currently defined processes, but those processes are ineffective for one or more of the following reasons (Whitten, 1995):
Even worse is the situation where a software development process is not followed because a process has never been defined and documented fully. Having no software development process, or not following a defined process, is indicative of an organization that, albeit perhaps unintentionally, lacks the vision and discipline to become or maintain a world-class position in the fiercely competitive software industry. A software development process offers a framework from which to plan a new project, avoid repeating mistakes of past projects and improve on things that went well.
Whitten defined eight steps to define a software development process (Whitten, 1995). The top three of these steps are:
Let’s look at the entry and exit conditions for the Functional Design activity.
Entry Conditions: The approved requirements, as set forth during the Requirements Definition, are distributed for review.
Exit Condition: The GIS functional specifications are reviewed and approved prior to proceeding on to the Detail Design activity.
B. The Role and Responsibilities of the Project Manager
KPMG’s Kelly stated, "The management of projects is still treated in a very amateurish way." Although some of the blame can be placed on the software development process, or a lack thereof, the primary place to "point a finger" when poor project management comes into play is a failure by the project manager to "manage the project."
Simply put, the project manager is "the" individual with the responsibility for managing the project. To get results, the project manager must relate well to: the people to be managed, the tasks to be accomplished, the tools available, the organizational structure, and the organizational environment, including the customer community.
I have identified six key competencies of a "top gun" project manager:
All in all, the project manager must possess the skill set to be able to manage their project, from inception to completion, using the organization’s software development process.
Never forget that every leader is always being watched. Set the standard with your own attitude and performance. If you demand thoroughness, practice it. If you expect openness to new ideas, listen and consider. If you want to promote teamwork, be a team player. If you want good communication, communicate well. Sure it’s obvious, but it can be darned hard at times to practice what you preach.
All in all, seasoned project managers are good ringleaders. They know they must balance four elements of expectations – quality, schedule, cost and scope – at all times. Quality shouldn’t be sacrificed to adhere to a rigid schedule or a tight budget. Nor should a schedule be tossed aside because of an obsessive focus on quality. Yet in even the most well managed project, sometimes it makes sense to ease up on a deadline, a budget or a quality-control process. But these slips shouldn’t simply happen. They should come from conscious decisions made by project managers who understand their objectives and know that project management is a balancing act.
4. Lack of Customer Focus and End-user Participation
Are your users involved in the system requirements definition process, the system design process, and throughout the project’s implementation and testing phases? If the customer loses focus or is never fully engaged in the project, then your faced with the situation where the project deliverables likely will not meet the client’s expectations.
User involvement is a key driver for a successful project. It is absolutely imperative that the customer, including the end-user of the GIS, be proactively involved throughout all lifecycle phases of the project. The end users are powerful and are only becoming more so. Their power can work for you, or against you. To have their power work for you then make sure the client’s users are a part of the project team, and that you involve them during requirements gathering, application design, prototyping, testing, and incremental acceptance. If you, as the project manager, do not include the very users who will be using the GIS, then you may not achieve buy-in to the new system. Far too often, lack of buy-in by the true GIS users causes the system to be "shelved." Oh yes, the system may satisfy every requirement, pass every acceptance test procedure, and receive signoff by the client’s project manager. However, it could fail to pass the most important test – user acceptance.
The client involvement, and in particular the end-user participation, can "make" a project. Reminder, the end users are probably the most powerful organism in the client’s organization. Let’s ensure that they’re playing on our team.
Considering that billions is spent each year on IT software development in the U.S. and Canada alone, the KPMG and Standish findings painted an alarming picture of project mismanagement in both private and government sectors. There’s a buyer beware message to the extent that the clients need to understand what they want, what they are getting, and go after it with a vengeance. Clients need to be able to quantify and qualify project benefits, have it planned initially, managed properly, and its status monitored early, often and closely.
Remember, all software projects run into snags – no project is immune from failure. The potential troubles are well known: missed deadlines, blown budgets, unmet expectations, and internal resistance – the list goes on and on. How teams respond to problems determines the project’s eventual success or failure. Avoid past mistakes by responding effectively to problems as they arise. The trick is to manage a project in a proactive way, preventing some problems and minimizing the effects of others. With proper planning, support of senior management, sound project management, and active client involvement, a GIS team can bypass many common mistakes.
While there are essentially 4 principal reasons why projects fail, as I have documented here, it only takes one of them to make the difference between success and failure.
While avoiding the mistakes of the past, never forget to stop and celebrate successes, even the small ones. GIS technology is taking organizations places they’ve never gone before. So when you get somewhere that you’ve never been, be sure to have your team "pull over" to take in the view. Then push on together.
META Group. 2000, www.metagroup.com, META Group, Stamford.
Standish Group, 2000, www.pm2go.com, The Standish Group International, West Yarmouth.
Tomlinson, R. 2001., Planning for a GIS, Environmental Systems Research Institute, Redlands.
Whitten, N. 1995., Managing Software Development Projects, John Wiley & Sons, New York.
David L. Hamil, PMP
Director, Systems Integration
MESA Solutions, Inc.
David was a charter member of MESA Solutions in 1997. David, along with several other program directors, oversees the management of automated mapping/facilities management/geographic information system (AM/FM/GIS) solutions for MESA’s clients in the telecommunications, cable, electric, gas, and water industries. In addition, David is responsible for working with his senior management to grow MESA’s systems integration presence worldwide by participating in joint business opportunities with companies who currently hold a worldwide presence – Environmental Systems Research Institute and Telcordia Technologies.
David has been involved in AM/FM/GIS projects since the early 1990s. He has assessed, defined, designed and implemented telecommunications and electric solutions for numerous customers; both domestically and internationally. His experience lies across standard facility documentation and management, data conversion and migration, operational support systems, SCADA, CIS, CRM, and ERP.
Prior to his AM/FM/GIS work, David designed and implemented digital image processing software for the Department of Defense.
David L. Hamil provided permission to use this article at DSSResources.COM on Tuesday, January 22, 2002. For more information email Dhamil@mesahq.com. This article was posted at DSSResources.COM on January 27, 2002. A version of this article was published at http://spatialnews.com on January 21, 2002. Copyright (c) 2002 by David L. Hamil.