Risk Happens – How to Keep your Project on Course for Success


shawn_10-25-2016_risk-happensEarlier this month, we set aside a day to commemorate one of history’s more notable “failures” on Columbus Day.  After all, while Columbus’ legacy is unquestionably impressive, he nonetheless failed to accomplish his stated mission of finding a Westward route to India.  In spite of this fact, King Ferdinand funded not one, but four voyages to the New World.  Why?  Because even though Columbus never realized his vision, he still managed to deliver on the objective that stood behind the vision: to give Spain a competitive advantage when it came to maritime trade routes.  In short, Columbus got lucky.

Today, many systems implementation efforts fail because they get this formula backwards.  They succeed in achieving the “mission” – putting in ERP, for example – while failing to achieve the business case that actually justifies the mission.  This observation is neither rocket science nor particularly surprising, but what is surprising is the frequency with which the same problems continue to plague one project after another.

Here is just a sampling:

  • Lack of System Adoption – There are a number of reasons why this might happen, ranging from faulty up-front analysis and design to poor execution and testing, but often it’s simply a matter of inadequate organizational change management.  Whatever the cause, it’s hard to secure the benefits of a project if people can’t or won’t use the new system.
  • Business Disruption – Again, there can be a host of contributing factors, but even a well-designed and implemented system can fall victim to a poorly conceived deployment strategy or an under performing production environment.
  • Cost Overruns – Going over budget is the bane of every project, because the one constant with any major undertaking is that some (or perhaps many) of the assumptions made during the planning phase will eventually unravel.  Scope will mushroom.  Productivity will fall short of expectations.  Budgets will be…recalculated.  And even after you reach the finish line, if ongoing support costs are higher than planned you are still looking at a failed implementation.

Whether it’s the healthcare.gov fiasco, a failed ERP project, or something in between, the bad news is that every project can quickly succumb to any number of risks that continuously assail it and threaten to blow it off course.  The good news is that unlike Columbus, you don’t have to launch out into uncharted waters and hope for the best.  There is a wealth of experience, strategies, and techniques that can help you prepare for and mitigate the multitude of risks that threaten to derail projects.  Which begs the question: If all of this information is available, why do so many projects still fail / fall short of expectations?

You might expect your system integrator to bring risk mitigation ideas and tactics to the table, and to the extent that there is a mutual understanding of specific risks up front, they probably will.  For everything else, though, they are going to rely on their risk & issue management frameworks to identify, prioritize, and manage the things that you inevitably encounter after the statement of work (SOW) has been signed.  Some issues will end up being resolved within the context of the SOW, but it is more likely that most issues will force you to sacrifice scope, extend timelines, and/or add resources.  And since adding resources is usually the path of least resistance, the real question is whether you can find them internally, or if you need to pay your SI to find them for you.

At UpperEdge, our mission is to help you build risk-sharing safeguards into your SOW to help minimize the impact of the issues that materialize after the ship has sailed.  We not only look for potential “blind spots”, but also identify the specific high-risk areas of your project.  How do we do this?

By looking at each project through a variety of lenses that help us construct a comprehensive picture of risk:

  • Talent – Considers the overall alignment and strength of the extended project team
  • Technology – Evaluates risk based upon the complexity of the proposed technical solution
  • Methods – Looks for inclusion of key activities & deliverables to help secure delivery of critical components and / or “stumbling blocks”
  • Management – Provides insight on project management & controls, like the mechanisms to ensure the timeliness and quality of major decisions
  • Environment – Factors in the impact of external and organizational factors that have potential to erode the business case and / or impede project delivery

If you would like to learn more about how UpperEdge can help you chart a course for success, contact UpperEdge at info@upperedge.com.  Because unlike Columbus, it seems clear most projects cannot count on getting lucky.

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