On time, on budget, on target?

Many of the region’s organisations are failing to grasp the basic principles of project management, instead they are placing time and cost concerns ahead of business targets.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  November 5, 2002

Planning process|~||~||~|When asked to define the criteria of IT project management, all too often respondents reel out the phrase ‘on time and on budget.’ However, this ignores the fundamental aim of any project — fulfilling the requirements of the user and adding value to their business both now and in the future.

Perhaps more worrying is the trend among local companies to explain project delays or the spiralling costs of IT implementations by saying that the completed project will ultimately justify the extra time or money spent on it.

“Companies cost justify these projects based on some form of return-on-investment (ROI) — when projects are late, costs go up and new revenue is delayed. Since over 75 % of all projects are late, IT and corporate management must learn how to manage this risk,” says P J Corum, managing director, Quality Assurance Institute (QAI), Middle East.

However, this attitude fails to factor in the lost revenue or new customers that could have been gained had the project closed on time.

“If [the project] is three, six or nine months late they have lost all that new revenue. Add that into the cost of the project, the ongoing costs that should have stopped and a loss in a revenue stream because the project is not completed,” Corum continues.

The root cause for many of the region’s enterprises falling at the first hurdle is the fact that they have not addressed the very reason for undertaking the IT or network project.

“Any [IT] project undertaken by a company should be driven by business objectives,” comments Mike Peteson of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in a report.

“The very first step is obviously understanding the project itself in terms of the requirements and the specifications,” confirms K.N Prasad, general manager, Alpha Data, processing services LLC.

Identifying this business aim is critical to any IT or network project, and should be the first step that any enterprise undertakes. It is also important to ensure that all parties, such as consultants or systems integrators, understand the project goal from the outset.

“As a systems integrator you are trying to understand the business that the customer is involved in. If somebody comes in and says that they want a [network] box, there should be a reason for why they want it. Then you find out how it fits in with their existing network and where they want to take it,” says Dominic Morris, marketing manager, Seven Seas.

Dani Diab, vice president of systems & solutions with Emirates Computers also confirms that the initial stages of any IT or network project are crucial. Only once the project goals have been cleared defined can the infrastructure implementation begin to take shape.

“We approach the requirements of any IT or network infrastructure in terms of the business requirement. So for a network project we involve our CCIEs (Cisco Certified Internetwork Engineers) and they find out the requirements, the existing and future goals and accordingly the CCIEs put forward a design for the network, and then it will be moved to drawings, bandwidth, and performance [issues],” he explains.

While local systems integrators seem to have recognised the importance of defining project goals ahead of time, it is the region’s enterprises that seem to be struggling to grasp the importance of planning and clearly outlining the criteria of projects ahead of time.

“42% of all defects in products are injected during the requirements definition stage. The more you invest upfront, in defect removal and defect elimination, the more predictable your schedule will be and the less risk you are going to be managing at the end of the process,” says Corum.

One organisation that has recognised the importance of a well-crafted project plan is the Dubai Development & Investment Authority (DDIA). The government authority is in the process of moving into a new office in Emirates Towers and has enlisted the help of Seven Seas to ensure that its network infrastructure is capable of providing it with the connectivity and services that it requires.

“Our office is over two floors on the 24th and 31st floors. We are [also] connected to the 43rd floor, which is the central connection to Dubai Internet City (DIC) because we are getting our internet connection through them. So we had to link to the 43rd floor and to the 31st and 24th floors through fibre and then internally wire the office itself for a local area network (LAN),” says Yasser Gaber, IT coordinator, DDIA, Government of Dubai.

However, DDIA is not just providing internet access or IT applications to its own staff, but also to the young entrepreneurs that it is fostering as part of the Sheikh Mohammed Establishment (SME), an initiative aimed at encouraging and funding local business ideas.

“The members of the SME will be settling here and running their businesses from the our business centre. They will have workstations with a phone, a PC and e-mail account,” says Gaber.

As such, it was important for the authority to have a clear time schedule and plan of execution to meet its deadline. Additionally, the scalability and capacity of the network were also addressed upfront in the project plan to ensure that once the IT infrastructure was deployed it would continue to meet DDIA’s requirements.

“We have factored in the expandability and I don’t think we will face any problems in the future because the maximum capacity of [each] office is 70 employees, which means that each person will have two points, one voice and one data point, which is a total of 140 points. But we have a total of 212 points per floor, so that area is covered,” explains Gaber.

||**||Project success|~||~||~|For DDIA, the network project was a success — it came in over a week ahead of its deadline, but more crucially the system was up and running when staff moved in on the first day. “Moving [the users] in was just a case of bringing in the notebooks, plugging them in and they were connected — it was very easy,” comments Gaber.

According to both DDIA and Seven Seas, the successful delivery of the project was the result of a week spent planning and outlining the objectives and requirements of DDIA and then developing a plan.

“The week spent before the project planning was probably the most important week of the whole project. That set the boundaries, the goals, the expectations. It allowed Seven Seas to move forward and get the project done as DDIA required it,” explains Craig Tindle, solutions sales manager, Seven Seas.

Ultimately, the initial stages of the project assessment and plan development are the critical factors in tackling any project and minimising the problems encountered during the implementation stages.

However, creating these project plans is not always an easy task as there are a range of criteria that must be addressed to maximise end user success and satisfaction. These topics include: scope control; schedule control; risk & issue identification and cost control.

“We focus on these areas as a matter of priority when providing quality assurance services because we know the major underlying problems will manifest themselves here,” says Gerry Conroy, a specialist in quality assurance, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

However, QAI’s Corum also believes that there are other factors, which should be included in a project plan, but are largely ignored by the many of the region’s enterprises because they don’t realise that there are tools and metrics freely available to them and critical in identifying, measuring and attaining project goals.

“You would expect organisations with a customer focus to have a requirements management plan, a configuration management plan, a quality assurance plan, a test plan, and a security plan, all built into a proper project plan,” says Corum.

“International standards such as Carnegie Mellon Software Engineering Institute Capability Maturity Model Integrated (CMMI) are frameworks of the best practices for IT management collected over the last 18 years. It’s a free manual that can be downloaded [from the internet],” he adds.

With the project plan providing the fundamental building block for any IT implementation, completion dates for particular tasks or phases should also be dictated within the project document. Not only does this bring structure to the implementation and ensure that organisations have an update about the installation status, but it also enables the project team to recognise any problems and tackle them before they develop any further.

“We want completion of the individual components as the project progresses and sign off and acceptance by the customer is important,” says Seven Seas’ Morris.

Project sign off is one area that end users are beginning to recognise the importance of, and insist upon, in their project plans. For example, Ayman Al-Ayoub, assistant director of communications, at Kuwait University’s computer information services department cites: “Project layout [or plan], definition of delivery dates and assignment of a project manager and team members,” as critical factors in the project management.

The DDIA project also benefited from pre-defined sign off dates, primarily because the 24th floor had to be completed ahead of the other phases of the project.

“We had a plan about when exactly each phase would be ready because we had priorities. The 24th floor, for instance was to be finished and ready before the 31st of August,” says Gaber.

“The way that the project is designed and implemented really helps. It [ensures] that any changes or emergencies can be dealt with effectively,” he adds.

||**||Avoiding the risks|~||~||~|Emirates Computers also allocates a steering committee for its IT projects. The task of the committee is to evaluate the project development, assess any risks and determine how to tackle them.

“In every project we have steering committees and every month we [carry out] risk assessments to come up with a risk and quality assurance document that shows what could [jeopardise] the project. We rate these concerns, risks and quality assurances… And everybody takes responsibility to make sure there are no failures or problems,” says Diab.

Al-Ayoub also believes risk causal analysis is an important step in ensuring that problems are reduced, or at the very least, not repeated in future projects.

“Many techniques are used to tackle problems, even trial and error for some IT engineers. However, the best way is to use a process of elimination. We take a project step by step and if a problem is encountered then we backtrack to the last problem free set up and start the diagnosis from there,” he says.

Alpha Data’s Prasad also suggests that end users can avoid problems by working with experienced partners that can advise them about potential pitfalls, as well as ensuring they get a network or IT solution geared to their specific requirements.

“We have made some mistakes in previous projects, but we will be able to pass on to the next customer some of the drawbacks we experienced with certain technologies and previous projects,” he says.

Whatever approach enterprises adopt to identifying and eliminating problems, Corum says the main aim of risk assessment and analysis is to eradicate problems completely from project implementation.

“Once you have a good measurement programme in place, you go into defect management and then into defect elimination,” he says.

Another fundamental fault in project implementations is the failure to address the project from the top down. Network or IT-related projects are frequently designated to the IT manager or the network administrator, who is then given sole responsibility for ensuring that the infrastructure is deployed on time and within budget. However, this approach again ignores the business aims of the IT project, and fails to get the approval of top level management.

“Successful projects can be summarised under two headings: good governance and good management. Good governance means really strong managerial control, exercised by the CEO and their direct reports,” says PwC’s Conroy.

“Weakness or inattention to detail at the governance level guarantees that a project will be plagued by a host of major problems including: inability to keep the scope under control and to quickly nail major problems because the right solution can’t be pushed through,” he adds.

Consequently in the developmental stages of the project, it is essential that CEOs sit down with IT managers, finance directors and other department heads to gain a clear insight into the best strategy for tackling a particular project.

“We spend a couple of days of scoping [the IT project] and we go through the [customer] requirements and sit down with the finance manager, the distribution manager, the logistics manager and the IT manager… to define their requirements,” states Diab.

According to Corum, enterprise-wide discussions should drive a two-fold approach that provides an overall strategy at a corporate level and a more detailed plan for the actual IT implementation.

“The metrics have to be at the strategic level for the managers and executives and at a tactical level, which is very granular for the project manager,” he says.

“The organisation must first have a corporate vision and professional IT personnel, which understand that vision. With senior management support and the corporate vision, the IT engineers will be able to achieve the ultimate goals,” confirms Kuwait University’s Al-Ayoub.

On a local level it appears there is still much to be done in the area of project management. While certain organisations, such as Kuwait University and DDIA have recognised the importance of clearly defined project plans, there is still a great deal of room for improvement. According to QAI’s Corum, many local enterprises are failing to recognise the depth and breadth that is required to complete project plans.

Additionally, their efforts are undermined by the lack of standards — such as those assigned by the IEEE — used to direct and define IT projects. Additionally, this is compounded by the absence of internal software engineering process groups to collate those standards.

“What is almost totally absent out here is the concept of a software engineering process group, whose sole mission in life is to maintain the standards, processes and procedures for an organisation. A project manager doesn’t want to look for standards, they should be able to go to their web site and find standards, templates, checklists and samples for different types of projects,” says Corum.

As a result, while many local systems integrators and other bodies are recognising the tools and criteria that are required to drive and manage IT projects, success ultimately lies with those that have commissioned the project. And it is here that the education and understanding of project management is most needed.||**||

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