Project Delivery - The Primary Conditions for Success
Irrespective of how a solution is delivered, there are certain aspects that become problematic yet are crucial to successful delivery. To summarise, before going into detail, these are:
- The Right People
- A Good Understanding of the Job and the Architecture Required
- Clear Requirements and Timely Requirements Refinement
- Simple Controls and Methods for Monitoring and Steering Progress
- Minimum Administration
The following describes these aspects in detail, how and why they are failed and how to optimise them for success.
Getting the Right People Involved
Who in fact are the right people? In the UK the words manager and leader are often confused. There is a misguided belief that a person can be trained to be a manager and therefore lead.
This is wrong on every level, a person can be trained to be an administrator but a manager, or leader, must be much more. A manager who is simply an administrator won't know who the right people are or what skills are required. Typically, they wrap themselves in an administrative clan, disguised as analysts and subject matter experts, and make managing the process of delivery the deliverable itself.
Involving a technical lead during the early stages of a project is crucial.
For any cost-benefits analysis to have value, first the benefits must be clearly defined. Next there must be a good understanding of what's required, how it can be delivered and the skills required to deliver it. This can only be achieved with a combination of people that includes a) the authority required to grant the budget, b) the business knowledge to define and refine the requirements, and c) the technical skills to deliver and appropriate solution.
A Good Manager...
A good manager must be able to understand what's going on as well as what's required. In successful technical organisations, managers tend to be highly skilled and experienced in at least one relevant (technical) discipline. The same goes for economies, those that do well don't have 'trained' managers, or so many accountants for that matter.
So the first thing to do is appoint the right boss. Someone with enough experience and technical ability to understand the size of a problem and how it can best be addressed. Administrative skills are not required.
The right boss will know exactly what sort of team is required, how big it should be and if inputs, such as requirements, are adequate. The wrong boss will follow a (fad) process religiously and build a much larger team that lacks the appropriate skills and is bloated with administrators. These administrators, having nothing to contribute to the deliverable itself, generate more and more 'busy work', hold more and more meetings and absorb more and more budget.
But One that Knows the Job, Not Just another Bureaucrat
The boss delivering a technical solution, must be someone technical. All others, including administrators, business analysts, data analysts, testers and the like must answer (not report) to the technical boss. Reporting is for administration, answering is for leadership.
When delivering a technical solution, all non-technical functions must exist purely to facilitate delivery.
Administration, control and delivery must not be mixed. Each functional area should be independent of the others and led by, you guessed it... the right person. Someone technical leading delivery, an independent professional handling controls and compliance, and last bit not least an administrator DOING the administration.
In particular, administration must not be involved in recruitment, it' dangerous! To put this into perspective, for one client, where we had trouble recruiting programmers, I wrote a test for potential candidates. We needed to screen out the majority, in bulk, as we didn't have the resource to interview one at a time. The test couldn't have been simpler, create a SQL Server stored procedure, write a bit of VBA in Excel to grab the output from the stored procedure, turn it into a report and answer a few basic programming questions.
Out of several dozen candidates the average score was around 10%. All had incredible CVs, looked great and came highly recommended. Several walked out without completing the test, one wrote an essay explaining why he wasn't answering the questions and a couple got visibly angry, one of them was actually aggressive.
It turned out that HR and the Management (i.e. administrators) had assumed that, given we were part of Finance, we should be going to finance agencies not technical ones. Once we were allowed to go technical, we started getting quality applicants. Where, you might wonder, would they have sourced painters and decorators?