Wednesday, January 16, 2013

IT Projects - Keys to Success #5 - Due Diligence: Preventing Unintended Consequences

Although IT/Systems projects may not be part of our daily work, the systems themselves most likely have an impact on what we do to greater or lesser degrees.  Lurking in the background of every IT/System project are unforeseen consequences of tampering with the heart of an organization.

Here's an example: Suppose you want to change a system that fills orders for clients.  A client orders something on the web and they expect to get it shipped to them.  Now suppose you want to change that system ... sounds simple, right?  Here's a scenario you may have experienced.

People flock to a meeting where PowerPoint slides show how the new process will work.  Heads nod in agreement.  More slides show the dramatic improvement the new system will provide.  Heads nod with greater energy.  Finally, the Return on Investment looks very strong, and the leaders nod with approval.  The project is launched with great aplomb.   The energy and enthusiasm are contagious ... at least at first. 

Here's the caution: Without effective Due Diligence, the clock is ticking on an unintended discovery that will bring the project to a grinding halt. 

It's not complicated - it just takes hard work to discover what you need to know to be successful.  Here are a few starter questions ... I like simple outcome questions as opposed to geek speak.

  1. Who uses the system?
  2. Who supports the system?
  3. Who feeds data TO the system?
  4. Who receives data FROM the system?
  5. Who gets reports from the system?
  6. How old is the existing system?
  7. Are there data feeds specifically designed to have an old system talk to a new system? (These are often deeply hidden where no one can find them until the systems don't 'talk'.  Very likely, they were built by someone who retired in 1980.) 
Why don't organizations take the time to do this?

  1. Generally, by the time the project is being presented, commitments to savings (in the next year? quarter, month?!) have been made.  Those commitments have been registered, documented and remembered by a savvy finance person. 
  2. The enthusiasm to get going outweighs the boring effort required to dig deep into the system's parts.  Novelty will always win over tedium. Count on it. 
  3. "We know enough ... let's get started."
  4. Details are overlooked because of expediency ...

Pay me now, or pay me later.  Truer words were never spoken. 
As a leader, you cannot afford to overlook this key activity in your project.  In the end, proper Due Diligence can save tens of thousands, even millions of dollars as you implement your new system.

Find an engineer who loves the details.  Treat them well.  Feed them well.  Care for them.  And have them find the mystery lurking in the background.  You'll be glad you did.


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  2. The organization doesn't know what it doesn't know.