Avoiding 6 common pitfalls of large IT program management

Fortune 1000 IT departments are facing huge time and budget pressures from their business stakeholders to deliver faster, cheaper and better solutions. According to a recent study by Project Management Institute, organizations risk on an average $135 million for every billion dollars spent on projects due to deficient project and program management. As the findings from the study indicate – “high performing organizations that implement proven success indicators can mitigate risk by improving their project and program outcomes. 90% of their projects are meeting original goals and business intent, and they risk 14 times less than their low performing counterparts – creating a significant competitive advantage.”

My expertise has mainly been in managing and delivering large mission-critical and life-critical applications. Some of the most common pitfalls that I have experienced, that other program managers need to be aware of and prepare for, when dealing with large programs are:

  1. Unclear program plan – Having a thousand-line Microsoft project plan does not ensure that the project is being tracked efficiently. Providing visibility to high-level interdependencies between various development tracks is vital. The plan should also easily provide an executive view of the program. Sometimes a simple excel sheet showing a gantt chart view of all the development tracks is more useful to summarize a program.
  2. Lack of clear understanding of the requirements – Your project may have detailed requirements documentation, but if the development and QA teams are unclear on the requirements, then issues will likely be discovered very late in the development cycle. In turn, this will inflate the project costs. Having requirement walkthroughs with all team members, though time consuming, can be very effective to ensure clear understanding of the client’s requirements. This exercise is a vital part of the overall project success, as it ensures all teams have a common understanding on the project requirements.
  3. Absence of a robust requirement change management process – Changes are inevitable and therefore your development process should be able to manage change effectively. Treat change as a part of the process and not as an exception. Claire Schooley of Forrester Research says “The repercussions of not handling change well include lost revenue, lower staff morale and productivity, and even unwanted employee departures.”
  4. Isolated teams – Most program managers isolate teams to keep them focused on their areas, without providing visibility into the overall program. Irrespective of how people are staffed for a team (employees vs. vendors vs. contractors, etc.), they should all be working on a common goal – to deliver a quality project on-time and on-budget. A frequent program review meeting with stakeholders from each team ensures a cohesive and well-integrated overall team that can work together to solve challenges and achieve milestones.
  5. Not being transparent about realistic dates – Often in large programs, milestone dates are withheld for fear of delivering the bad news of missing deadlines. But it is imperative that the program manager be very transparent with senior management if they feel that dates are not achievable or are at risk.
  6. Mismanagement of stakeholders’ expectations – Know your stakeholders and their objectives very clearly. Creating a stakeholder map with their objectives, area of influence and concerns greatly helps in managing their expectations.

While the probability of large projects running into issues is high, effective and frequent communication with the clients and teams spread across disparate locations is vital. It is better to over-communicate than face the risk of under-communication. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!

Naushad Kapasi

Director - Client services, Virtusa. Naushad Kapasi currently manages some of the top customer accounts at Virtusa. Naushad has over 20 years of experience in the software industry with a background in account management (including P&L), client management, program management, product management, software architecture and development. He has extensive experience in leading products through their entire product/project life cycle, including creating proposals, leading the pre-sales team, managing requirements gathering through focused user group meetings and workshops; resource planning and team assembly; leading products/projects through development lifecycle; and aligning various functional teams to deliver products/projects in a timely fashion. Naushad has been involved in several process improvement initiatives with Agile rollout at Virtusa, as a Certified Agile Scrum Master, Rational Unified Process (RUP), Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) for development and ISO 9001 processes. Naushad received his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from P.I.C.T, Pune, India.

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