Few would argue that in today’s competitive environment, organizations need to innovate to stay alive. We no longer live in an environment where we can "switch the machines to auto and take five." This innovation inevitably involves progressing and running with innovative projects.
The problem comes when organizations take less care over the projects they are progressing than the business they are running. Projects certainly require decisive decision making and action, but there’s a fine line between “getting it done” and “being reckless”.
It’s all too easy to separate out change projects from the operational impacts that they have. You’ll often hear and read about project failure—but what does this really mean? Perhaps I’m going to sound like a maverick here, but I believe that the distinction between project failure and business failure is slight. One can very easily lead to the other.
Take UK Broadband Internet Provider Talk Talk as a case study. Following a merger and migration of customer data (which will have undoubtedly involved a project or program of work), it billed 62,000 customers for services they hadn’t received. Wow—imagine being one of those customers. As a customer, you’re not going to care that the cause of the failure was a project—all that matters is the organization’s systems and processes failed.
The net result of this error was a reported 25,000 subscribers leaving within months of the error. In fact, the company has lost 170,000 customers in the past two years and was fined £3 million by the UK telecoms regulator for its inaccuracies. Lost revenue, damaged reputation, and a fine from the regulator—an outcome I’m sure it would have preferred to avoid.
The key to avoiding downstream issues on any project is to ensure that projects receive the same attention and focus that you give your business. In particular, ensure that sufficient project management and business analysis resources are assigned.
- What systems and processes am I changing?
- What data will I create/migrate/change?
- Which users will be affected?
- Which customers might be affected?
- What is our plan if it goes wrong?
- How will we test it?
Having professional business analysts on board and giving them sufficient scope and authority to do their job will undoubtedly help. Good business analysts help projects mitigate risk, ensure the requirements are fully understood, and ensure that organizations’ projects deliver the benefits they want and expect.
The bottom line—ensure that you’re paying as much attention to your projects as you do to your core business.
Adrian Reed is a consulting lead business analyst and principal consultant and director at Blackmetric Business Solutions, where he helps organizations solve their pressing problems. Adrian also speaks internationally, trains, and consults on business analysis and business change-related topics. Read his blog at adrianreed.co.uk.