10 Steps to a Successful Project

The state of Maine spent $25 million on a web-based Medicaid claims system. In exchange for all that money, they got a $300 million backlog in unprocessed claims. Doesn't seem like a particularly good deal, does it? The details of this web services project were unique, but the problems were quite common. Projects fail all the time and there are often plenty of people to point fingers at.

Stemming from this project's failure, CIO magazine has assembled a list of 10 steps to a successful project. As with such lists, a lot of specifics are glossed over. Still, the list is instrumental for project managers to consider to see if they're similar mistakes.

  1. Scope Out a Detailed Plan
    Well that's a new one isn't it? Imagine planning what you're going to do and having a good idea of how you're going to do it before you're too far down the road.
  2. Watch Out for Bad RFP Bids
    This is a good one worth noting and brings to mind the old saying of you get what you pay for. If a bid seems unusually low compared to other bids, you might want to find out why. Maybe the firm wants your business enough to take a loss or maybe they just have no clue what they're doing. Another warning sign is an unexpectedly low number of bids. This can indicate that the knowledgeable players want to stay away from the project. Again, you should find out why.
  3. Plan Ahead
    Bring in subject matter experts to provide guidance to developers. You'll need these people to describe why things are done one way and not another. Don't leave it up to your technical folks to make the call. Business process expertise is often overlooked and yet the people with this knowledge are often willing to help a project succeed.
  4. Find the Bottleneck
    A system can be built only as fast the most complicated component. Sometimes throwing more resources at the problem can help, but other times you need the help of certain people such that it really doesn't matter how many people you have ready to start writing code. Make sure you identify these bottlenecks before you run in to them head-on.
  5. Do Not Cut Corners on Testing
    Don't skip pilot tests. Don't forget to do end-to-end testing. While it will feel like a good way to fix schedule overrun, you're actually just delaying and magnifying the project's problems.
  6. Develop a Backup System
    As a project manager you'll want to do everything in your power to make the new system a success. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't have a backup plan. Often, a backup plan is just being able to go back to a legacy system if the new system doesn't work as expected.
  7. Prepare Other Contingency Plans
    Having a legacy system that you can fall back on if needed isn't sufficient. You need to communicate your backup plan to system users. They need to know what their options are when things go wrong before things go wrong.
  8. Train, Train, and Train Some More
    Make sure your internal staff, including your call center, are adequately prepared to work with the new system. There should be ample documentation and preparation before the switch is flipped. Anything less and the chances that the project will fail increase.
  9. Be Honest
    When something goes wrong, be upfront to your staff and users. Avoid making promises that you don't know for sure you'll be able to keep.
  10. Triage Fixes
    When problems arise with a newly launched system, it is important to deal with them just like a triage. A triage is defined as a situation where there are more problems (usually medically related) than there are resources to resolve these problems (usually doctors). With a long bug list, you'll need to prioritize the items and tackle the big ones first. Avoid the bells and whistles until the important items are addressed.
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