How to Avoid 10 Common Project Management Mistakes

Project glitches—and sometimes even outright failures—are unfortunately common. But they are by no means inevitable.

According to CIO Insight, “45 percent of large IT projects go over budget, while delivering 56 percent less value than promised.” Yet many of the frequent causes of project setbacks are well understand and can be avoided with proper planning and execution.

10 common project management mistakes - and how to avoid
Image credit: CIOInsight

Based on research compiled by Dennis McCafferty, here are 10 common sources of project management problems, along with guidance on how to avoid each, illustrated with the example of implementing an enterprise request management (ERM) strategy.

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How IT Pros can be Business Heroes

Though IT groups are sometimes criticized for being disconnected from or out of sync with “the business” (sales, marketing,  finance, etc.), IT professionals—like their colleagues in other functional areas—want to be heroes to the organization.

How to be an IT business heroNo employee or group wants to be seen as a roadblock to business or operational progress. Quite the contrary, most would like to display the agility to leap over financial or technological obstacles; the speed to accelerate cumbersome manual processes; even the foresight to anticipate needs and solve problems before they happen.

While being born on the planet Krypton or getting bitten by a radioactive spider aren’t realistic paths, there are practical steps that IT professionals can take to become business heroes.

How to be a hero

Saving time, reducing costs, and improving the user experience are always popular achievements. Doing all three at once is even better.

Consider utilizing an approach like the enterprise request management (ERM) framework to simplify and accelerate business processes of any complexity, from password resets to PTO requests to new employee onboarding.

ERM is a model that combines an intuitive web portal with powerful workflow automation software to make it easy for employees to request any type of equipment or shard service easily, at any time, from any device,  and check on the status of open requests;  accelerates service delivery; ensures first-time fulfillment; and reduces employee provisioning costs.

To be a business hero, evaluate the ERM approach to delivering services from IT or any functional group better, faster and cheaper.

How to be a super hero

Improving processes for business users is great. But even better is giving business process owners the tools and capability to redesign, test, tweak, and deploy their own automated workflows.

To go beyond better-faster-cheaper, look into graphical automation engine tools that enable business managers, with minimal IT assistance, to map out their own business task workflows.

These tools enable process owners to automate tasks by passing information (employee names, dates, vendor IDs, etc.) between in-place functional or enterprise management and control systems (HR, ERP, ITSM, etc.) without modifying core application code.

To be a super hero, give process owners tools to quickly and easily redesign and automate their own workflows, without risk of “breaking” any functions in legacy applications.

How to be a Guardian of the Galaxy

To achieve the highest level of hero-dom, go beyond meeting user needs to anticipating them. Famous examples of this business super power include Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

While anticipating needs can be challenging, the ability isn’t limited to visionaries. Take a look at a business process. Talk to users about their most immediate needs. Then imagine that’s done; what are they likely to ask for next? What ability to meet need B follows from addressing need A?

An example is: your organization has a busy tradeshow schedule. Your company’s exhibit booth is always stored at the same warehouse and shipped via the same carrier. Your marketing team would like the ability to specify event dates and locations for the coming year,  and have the booth automatically shipped to each new venue.

Imagine—poof, that’s done. What else is the marketing team likely to want as a follow-on?

How about connecting your organization’s universal request portal into travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, and Orbitz, as well as your corporate rental car provider and even airline sites, so marketing staff can get alerts about airfares as the next show approaches?

How about also connecting it to your expense reporting system so air, hotel and car rental costs can be reported automatically? And automate shipping of product literature and any equipment needed? And send reminders automatically to marketing staff about key show-related milestones and activities,  like requesting press lists?

To be a guardian of the galaxy, think beyond fulfilling the immediate needs of users, and ask yourself what other capabilities are enabled by the technology that solves that short-term problem?

One final note: heroes don’t keep people waiting. When the Penguin is freezing over Gotham City, Batman doesn’t tell the good citizens to wait while he replaces the engine in the Batmobile. Even if you’ve got a major ITSM, ERP or other system implementation project in the works, you can continue with smaller projects that add near-term value by utilizing software tools that work with what you have today as well as what you’ll have tomorrow.

Even without a cape, super strength, or x-ray vision, you can be a business hero. It just takes the right approach and the right technology.

Next Steps

Give Your Employees Shoes, So They Don’t Walk

Most of us are familiar with the parable of the shoemaker’s children. The analogy of the shoemaker’s children having no shoes because the cobbler is too busy crafting footwear for customers is frequently applied to individuals, consultants, organizations, and businesses whose external expertise is notably lacking in their internal affairs.

Don't leave employees shoelessA classic example of this is described in a recent report from Gartner, Design IT Self-Service for the Business Consumer: (Jarod Greene, 19 February 2014): “IT organizations should employ the same self-service techniques consumer service providers use to increase uptake and satisfaction levels.”

Often,  enterprises that offer convenient and user-friendly self-service capabilities for external customers fail to adopt such systems or approaches for delivering internal IT (or other functional) services to employees.

The report also states, “The majority of IT self-service deployments are not designed with the end user in mind. IT organizations should employ the same self-service techniques consumer service providers use to increase uptake and satisfaction levels.”

Employees want the same type of user experience from internal systems that they get from consumer apps, ecommerce sites, and social networks; yet IT doesn’t design employee-facing applications this way. IT and other departments (HR, finance, facilities, etc.) too often design systems to fit their own preferences rather than users’ wants.  Enterprises can address this gap by designing employee-facing self-service portals which are more like customer-facing applications.

The Gartner report further predicts that “by 2016, 20% of I&O (Infrastructure & Operations Management) organizations will incorporate consumer self-service practices into their IT self-service strategies, up from less than 5% today.”  That’s heady growth, but still surprisingly low adoption.

On a larger scale, these observations apply as well to enterprise request management (ERM), a business process improvement approach to service delivery that provides employees with a single, intuitive  “Amazon.com-like” portal for requesting anything they need to do their jobs, from any internal department or function. The process of implementing ERM starts with redesigning services and processes from the business user’s perspective.

To improve request management and service delivery processes across the enterprise, four additional points are worth noting:

  • Not just IT systems, but IT support models must also evolve to reflect consumer offerings. In addition to self-service, IT help desks should offer walk-up and schedule-based support to meet the needs of an increasing mobile and remote workforce.
  • The success of self-service offerings depends upon utilization. If portals are too difficult to use, or simply automate poor back-end processes (i.e., doing the wrong things, but faster), employees will go around the system to get things done. This not only renders the technology investment a waste, but can actually decrease productivity.
  • Scope creep can often risk the success of enterprise projects—but it needn’t be a concern due to the agile approach of the strategy. An ERM implementation can start small, with just one or a few processes, and expand as it proves its value. The implementation is also scalable as process managers in business functions outside of IT can design, test, refine, and deploy their own service items with minimal technical assistance.
  • Moving from phone-based support to online self-service can both increase user satisfaction and reduce costs. As the Gartner report notes, “Self-service is both cost-effective and scalable. The 2013 average IT service desk cost per agent-handled contact is $17.88. Comparatively speaking, the costs of building, maintaining and administering IT self- service portal to manage contacts are much lower than the costs of people to support the same contacts.”

Evolving IT support, and internal business service delivery more broadly, to a more consumer-focused model can both delight business users and reduce fulfillment costs for the enterprise. Failing to do so, conversely, negatively impacts productivity and frustrates employees. With ERM, the figurative cobbler can make shoes for his children that keep them from walking out the door.

To learn more:

10 Key Benefits of a Business Service Catalog: Forrester Research, Part 2

Forward-thinking IT organizations have embraced service catalogs as means to enable self-service and reap the attendant cost savings. Business users—whether remote or on-site—can request services from a standard set of IT offerings (e.g., password reset, new laptop, application access) and view the status of any previous request, all without a costly call to the help desk.

Business Service CatalogAt a high level, service catalogs reduce the time and cost of delivering technical services while improving the user experience. These and the other benefits of service catalogs needn’t be limited to the provision of IT services however; an expanded view of the service catalog to encompass all shared services groups in the organization (e.g., HR, finance, facilities, etc.) extends the cost savings of service catalogs while also providing employees with a single, intuitive interface for requesting any type of enterprise service.

The Forrester Research white paper Master the Service Catalog Solution Landscape in 2013 identifies a number of reasons for undertaking such a business service catalog effort, as well as the benefits to be gained from the initiative, such as that business service catalogs:

Facilitate self-help. Shifting service and support “to the left” (even to level 0) not only saves money, but in many cases accelerates issue resolution and creates a more positive user experience. Forrester notes the value of “implementing a self-service capability where business users can log their own incidents (and) check on the progress of those incidents.” This isn’t limited to IT support requests though; users should be able to check the status of any type of business service request online, and such self-service can lead to significant cost savings.

Centralize request management. A key benefit of this approach is “one-stop shopping” for business users; there’s no need to learn and use separate systems in order to request services from finance, IT, HT, facilities or other groups.

Simplify the user experience. Users don’t care what happens behind the scenes, they just want their request fulfilled.

Enable agile business processes.

Support IT governance. “End-to-end process governing and tracking the way assets enter and exist in the organization are essential to achieve the highest return on investment (ROI) for the lowest cost. One vendor stated that IT governance is imperative because you ‘must have a way to manage and document things,’ and service offerings within the service catalog are a means to do this.” Proper IT governance and risk management not only reduce costs but also support business growth.

Inspire business process improvement. Forrester calls “the need to map business capabilities to business services…perhaps the most important need and reason for service catalogs…Business service catalogs are top-down capabilities that describe and define IT”s deliverables from a business perspective.” In other words, the implementation of request management forces teams to take a critical look at current processes and encourages redesign based on the goal of a delighted (internal or external) customer.

Help standardize offerings and improve efficiency.

Provide end-to-end visibility into the value chain. “When the service catalog is not just an accessible front end but also automated and integrated with a variety of IT processes…IT operations teams are able to monitor, manage, and report on requests from start to finish. A service request from a business user sets off a value chain that can be tracked within the entire IT organization, from the ‘storefront’ request initiation to product delivery or fulfillment.” Indeed, a key element of the enterprise request management (ERM) strategy is the integrated analytics, which enable accurate costing, reporting on both quantitative (e.g., elapsed time) and qualitative (user satisfaction) metrics,  and continuous process improvement.

Reduce service costs. Forrester notes that globally, help ticket volumes are increasing–not only because of business growth, but also due to an increasingly mobile workforce. According to the white paper, “Forrester Research data shows a growth from 15% to 29% in U.S. and European information workers working anytime and anywhere. Inserting a service catalog that allows this mobile workforce to receive, manage,  and consume business and IT services will…reduce the cost of the service support team.”

Increase user satisfaction. “Customer experience is more than just closing tickets. Establishing a single place for your business users to go where they can request and receive services from either a business team or IT has immediate impact on customer satisfaction and customer experience.” Indeed, a key goal of implementing a business service catalog within an ERM initiative is to not only cut costs but also delight users.

What could go wrong? Forrester also warns about common inhibitors to BT success, including lack of clear purpose; improper tools; lack of ownership (“Ownership leads itself to accountability and pride, two key ingredients for success”); and lack of executive buy in.

Part one of this series defined the business service catalog concept, and part three will address request management architecture.

For more information about the benefits of business service catalogs: