The Dirty Half-Dozen

The Dirty Half-Dozen

4. Unrealistic Expectations

What can go wrong: Estimating the time and resources a major project will require has long been the bane of IT. When the idea for an IT project is first floated, there's a tendency for each group of stakeholders to say: "Great! That'll solve our problem with such-and-such." Portny says business executives are especially susceptible to such a trap where IT is concerned: "People who are less knowledgeable about what the technology can really do create their own expectations - even fantasies."

Undefined expectations frequently lead to dreaded scope creep - in which an initially straightforward technology project is asked to solve more and more problems until it grows bloated and unmanageable. Scope creep, in turn, tends to flay schedules and eat up resources.

What you can do about it: A formal project management chartering process can do wonders for several of the problems on our list - especially when it comes to setting expectations and assigning resources, says Light. A central project office, he says, makes sure "no significant IT project is initiated without formal budgeting and formal risk assessment". That is all part of a movement toward what Light sees as new focus among senior management on "project hygiene - making sure the culture's in place for good project management discipline".

But in today's fluid environment, change is inevitable during the life of any large IT project. "Trying to nail down [every detail] to the nth degree is too big a task," says Standish Group's Johnson. "If you spend too much time on it, you screw yourself up." In an effort to help clients solve the problem, the Standish Group has been working on what it calls a microproject methodology, in which bare minimum requirements are defined early and the larger goal is broken up into smaller chunks. Under this methodology, conventional milestones are eliminated in favour of actual short-term deliverables. "A whole microproject shouldn't take more than three months," Johnson says. "And if it doesn't work, you throw it away so you can recover quickly."

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