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How Project Sponsors Can Keep IT Projects on Track

It may seem that project sponsors only give orders and provide money. However, deliberate decisions and actions taken by IT project sponsors can prevent problems and keep a project on track. Here’s how a project sponsor can help a team deliver successfully.

Every new IT project is a step into the unknown. Teams and managers hope for the better, but an optimistic attitude is not enough. Considering huge IT potential, it’s sad to recognize that numerous IT projects are canceled before the completion: because of misunderstandings, budget limitations, time restraints and more.

In all kinds of ways, these reasons appear because of human miscounts, knowledge gaps and general irresponsibility.

At first glance it may seem that project sponsors only give orders and provide finance to get a certain IT solution at the appointed time. However, deliberate decisions and actions taken by project sponsors can prevent many problems and keep a project on track. Here’s how a project sponsor can help a team deliver successfully.

Project Sponsors Can Prevent Unrealistic Expectations

Unrealistic expectations come from both customers and vendors. Customers don’t know what technology is capable of, how much the required functionality will cost and how much time is needed to develop a required solution. At the same time, vendors may not understand a customer’s business enough and cannot see the depth and complexity of the project requirements. As a result, the project either fails technologically or becomes more complicated and expensive than it was expected. 

Project sponsors need to discuss requirements with all parties and set the objectives a project team understands and realistically can implement (considering available time and budget).

Project Sponsors Can Manage Scope Creep

Scope creep refers to uncontrolled changes in a project’s scope. The reasons for scope creep vary: poorly defined and/or documented project goals, miscommunication between project participants, lack of control over the project and more. 

Granted, some changes in an IT project scope may be quite logical – some requests come when development is in progress: you want to enrich the functionality of the solution under development or project team offers new ways to improve the solution.

The problem starts when new ideas require sweeping changes to the rest of the project -- especially in the middle of a project. In this case, the choice is either to reject new ideas or to trash most of what was done and start implementing new requests from scratch.

Anyway, if the final decision is to change the scope, deadlines and project resources should be revised accordingly. Small changes just slip through. Big changes require careful management.

Project Sponsors Don’t Leave Project Risks Underestimated

No matter the scope, project risks like deadline slippage, budget overruns and skill shortages are inevitable in every project. Risks cannot be eliminated, but they can be anticipated and reduced to the level that won’t ruin the project. In cases of the uncertainty about possible pitfalls, risk identification and mitigation can become more effective with third-party assistance (for example, IT consulting services).

IT projects often require the use of new technologies, and “new” is a synonym for “risky.” New tools and frameworks, libraries and standards increase the probability of technology risks. Improper use of new technologies often leads to IT project failures. A wrong choice of a platform, programming languages or architecture can have devastating consequences: mislead project team, missed deadlines, increased costs.

Of course, it’s impossible to foresee all the risks at the beginning of the project – they should be tracked all the time. Risk management is a field that requires forward-thinking and a proactive approach. When too many problems are addressed reactively, it steals time from planned activities and even poses a threat that the project will not be completed at all.

Project Sponsors Can Make Sure That a Project Team Has the Necessary Management

Human resources are one of the key success factors in IT projects, and a proper selection of team members is a serious factor that requires close attention at the first stages of a project. A good team is a right skill mix of experienced players and “young blood” ready to prove themselves.

But motivation is not enough: some bright minds might need additional training before they get down to work. And one more thing to consider: high-skilled talents deserve effective management capable of monitoring and controlling project progress and getting on the right side of every project member.

Project Sponsors Can Establish Effective Communication with the Project Team

For a project sponsor, it’s far not enough just to describe a desired solution and finance its development. It seems to be an alluring idea to delegate everything to PMs and get the solution at the required time, but it’s important to stay in touch with project management to be sure that everything goes right.

Communication is especially important for international teams, where resources are located in different areas. With the right communication project team stays focused on project objectives and informed about the updates. In this respect, a good idea is to use the tools that boost communication, for example, intranets, chats and more.

Project Sponsors Can Set Clear and Reasonable Deadlines

The progress and success of a project depend on how accurately the deadlines are set. For example, an instruction that half of the project should be done in 3 months causes misunderstandings among project participants, because it’s not specified what this “half of the project” means. Which tasks count? Are you looking at budget or man-hours?

Clear milestones and deadlines are very important: they give additional benchmark and discipline the team. 

Another trap that can play a bad trick on project progress is remote deadlines, for example, “Part A should be completed in a year.” A year is a long time, so team members believe that they have the eternity at their disposal. They shift priorities and focus on another task because the deadline is too far away. As a result, they may skip the time to hit the ground running.

The opposite side of remote deadlines – unrealistically tough delivery frames – is one more reason for IT project failures which can be prevented if discussed in advance. With limited time budget, project participants just cannot perform their duties properly and either deliver a bad-quality solution or miss deadlines.

Project Sponsors Can Provide Sufficient Funding

No doubt that saving costs is a good idea unless it comes to the situation when the project is seriously underfunded. Of course, all the expenses related to a project should be prudent. The same is expected from the cost-saving policy: it should be reasonable.

Your Takeaway: Project Sponsors Can Keep It All On Track So Long As They Pay Attention Early And Often

Good preparation is not enough to make a project succeed – constant attention is required at every step. Throughout the project, it’s important to monitor and manage its scope, costs, risks and team performance. The earlier project sponsors identify that something goes or is about to go wrong, the more time is available to bring in the changes and save the situation.

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