The implementation of new hardware and/or software systems, or the upgrading of existing ones, is a complex process and becoming more so as computer applications and networks are expected to interface and exchange greater amounts of information. Fewer software applications are expected to “stand alone” and not be connected to other applications or databases. Business needs are increasingly complex, and require greater attention to the details of how an application can best be used. Project management is being used more formally in IS/IT organizations to handle these implementations. As with any industry though, IS/IT must find how to form project management processes and tools that best serve it's particular needs.
The high rate of IS/IT project failures, and the increasing dependency of organizations on their IS/IT divisions makes it critical that effective tools and methods be developed and used for these projects. Also, the project manager for these is often named from the system analyst or other IS staff, with little project management training or background. IS/IT implementation projects are, more often than not, on a tight time constraint as well, due to pressing business needs.
This paper will discuss and present examples of:
• A variety of tools and methods that have proven effective for IS/IT hardware and software system implementation projects. These tools and methods have been developed out of a wide variety of IS/IT projects ranging from the installation or replacement of human resources management applications to hospital patient clinical applications.
• How the PMBOK® Guide can guide us in creating effective tools in communicating project information.
• Project success factors identified by various research studies in IS projects will also be listed, and tools or methods that help to realize these success factors within an implementation project.
Project teams wherein these tools have been utilized have responded very positively, and stated their appreciation of the simple but clear and complete method of giving them the information they needed for the projects.
What Is an IS/IT Implementation Project?
An IS/IT implementation project involves the installing of a new software product, the upgrading of an existing one, or conversion to a different product, into the information services system within an organization. Typically, this includes the purchase or licensing of a preexisting software product rather than development, and will often include the purchase of new, networked servers and/or desktop workstations or other hardware. The Information Services department within an organization is expected to assist, or even take full responsibility for, the placing of this new product into service as well as supporting and maintaining it after implementation.
The tools and methods for IS/IT implementation projects are different from those best used for software development projects, as implementation projects face different challenges. A typical system implementation requires resources from a variety of special areas, including programming and interfacing, networking, hardware deployment or technical support, the end user(s), and education or training. These specialties may reside inside or outside of the information services department. Implementation projects also include IS staff for analysis and selection purposes, as well as the client and other stakeholders. These resources are almost always shared across the organization and with other projects. It is rare in IS/IT implementation projects to have dedicated resources. It is essential that all of these team members can work together efficiently, and clearly understand the project's tasks, responsibilities, scope, status, and their respective roles.
Why Good Tools and Processes Are Needed
IS/IT departments within organizations are typically kept very busy with routine maintenance and support of products and hardware already in production, and with assisting end-users with reporting, training, and many other functions. Consequently new projects often get blended into the daily work with the result that there is poor organization or planning around the scope or needs of the project. Creating and using good tools and processes will provide the following:
• Adds structure to defining the goal and objectives from the beginning
• Define the beginning of the project, and formally recognize it is something new (as distinct from part of ongoing maintenance and support)
• Define the end and deliverables of the project, to ensure transition from project to maintenance
• Specify the client, stakeholders, and resources for the project
• Place the project in it's own context outside of the day-to-day work of the IS/IT department.
Studies of IS/IT projects have documented a low success rate industrywide, and pointed out the need for finding and using appropriate processes and techniques to improve this situation. Project management methodologies are being applied more and more by the industry to remedy that problem. As with any industry, though, IS/IT has it's unique characteristics and needs in applying project management discipline. Typically, time is a critical element, as there are business needs awaiting new information flow. Other factors shown to have a high correlation with IS/IT project success include:
• Good communications
• User involvement
• Clear statement of requirements and user needs
• Proper planning
• Smaller project milestones (and closer monitoring of project progress)
• Clear vision and objectives
• Proper scope definition
• Clearly defined process
• Managing expectations
• Customer focus.
These success factors can be more easily achieved within IS implementation projects by the development and use of tools designed to create clear and focused communications about all aspects of the project with a diverse project team.
Development of Effective Tools and Methods
Project management Core Processes are supported by the Facilitating Processes (Exhibit 1) which function to provide the input and analysis necessary to arrive at the final project decisions, including scope, resources, schedule and so on (PMBOK® Guide, pp. 30–35). Proactive use of these Facilitating Processes is an important, even essential, step in achieving the success factors. It is also where many of the tools and methods presented below have their biggest impact.
In IS/IT projects, clearly identifying the goals and objectives, maintaining client involvement, justifying resources, and communicating effectively are essential ingredients. Projects are often requested by customers who have rather vague expectations for the end product. When this is presented to the IS department staff the result can easily be two different understandings of what can and cannot be done, or what the needs and expectations are. The result then is dissatisfaction on both sides, and a project that fails to fulfill the needs.
Most of the tools presented here are also graphic or visual in nature. There is good reason for this. Most people tend to be visual learners, and a picture really is worth a thousand (or more) words. Since an IS/IT system implementation can become very complex, interweaving both technical and business needs, visual communication tools have proven to be very effective for both technical and business project team members. These statements from the PMBOK® Guide form the basis for this approach:
“Identifying the informational needs of the stakeholders and determining a suitable means of meeting those needs is an important factor for project success…. Project resources should be expended only on communicating information which contributes to success or where lack of communication can lead to failure” (PMBOK® Guide, p. 105). “The sender is responsible for making the information clear, unambiguous, and complete so that the receiver can receive it correctly and for confirming that it is properly understood” (PMBOK® Guide, p. 107) (emphasis added).
• Finding a suitable means of communicating
• Deciding which information is most needed
• And presenting that information clearly
These three elements should guide the project manager in communications with the stakeholders. Effective communications are well organized, short, to the point, and can be understood in a glance. Clean up your presentations, organize the essential information, and think like a marketer when communicating to your project team and others (Kreha, 1998).
The tools and methods in the IS/IT environment can be broken into the following categories: Organizational, Planning, System, Data, and Other.
• Project team—should be built to include the client, the important stakeholders, and your most important resources. Be sure to include all of these in team meetings. Doing so helps each member understand their role and what they contribute to the overall project (Pinto, p. 121). It also creates a sense of ownership for the project.
• Define meeting objectives—decide if the meeting is for planning, informational, or decision-making purposes, build your agendas accordingly, and then stay focused on that objective.
• Project status—keep your project team apprised of project status on a regular basis. Use updated work plans and focused discussion together.
• Ask lots of questions!—and then ask some more.
Bringing both the customer and the IS staff to the same understandings and expectations is the first critical step. Start this by bringing together the appropriate people in a meeting to discuss their needs and expectations. The meeting agenda should be focused specifically on this question. This process may take more than one meeting or iteration to ensure good communications between the customer and IS. Document and summarize the results of these meetings.
Asking questions and gathering information about and documenting the problem accurately, to the agreement of all parties, and focusing on how to use that information effectively, is the first essential step (Sternberg, 165). Also, it is important to make and use the distinction between problem solving and decision-making. If a meeting is called for the purpose of understanding the problem and possible solutions, make that clear at the beginning, and structure the meeting and associated tools to that end (Sternberg, 155). One facilitates the other. Do not make any assumptions about the client's needs nor about what will be needed to implement the project. Ask questions of your project team and resources to ensure that nothing has been left out. Doing so will also uncover potential risks to the project, allowing you to manage those from the very beginning.
• Bulleted Scope Statement—(Exhibit 2) include justification, product and deliverables, time and cost objectives, resources, exclusions, assumptions, and major risks. Bulleted lists can be read quickly and focus on the relevant points.
• Work Breakdown Structure—create and use a WBS chart as part of the scope and planning process so the project team can see visually all that is involved and verify that everything has been included.
• Concept Maps—these can be used for brainstorming sessions during planning and as a preliminary to building the WBS. In a multiphase implementation, it can also help identify which elements must precede others. It is a strong visual tool to stimulate planning and analysis.
• Multiple project overlaps diagram—in the IS/IT environment many projects are typically being implemented simultaneously. In order to avoid conflicts with resources or activities, this type of diagram (Exhibit 3) will visually combine the information from several different work plans. Distribute and post this throughout the IS department. In addition, use this to educate the clients to all other IS/IT projects in progress, so they can see how their project relates to the portfolio, priorities, and allocation of resources.
• Phase/Activity checklist—create a chart form summarizing the tasks to be included during a certain stage.
• Responsibility Matrix—again in chart form, cross-referencing tasks against resources; distribute to help team members see clearly their roles.
System Summary Tools
These are again visual representations of the whole system, as it will be once implemented. They include such items as:
• Site layout or floor maps—showing locations of all relevant pieces of the system including workstations, printers, and peripheral devices. Especially useful for technical services personnel installing the actual components, as well as allowing the client to confirm placement.
• Technical and networking maps—(Exhibit 4) showing the technical and networking elements of the system and related connectivity.
• Inventory charts—listing all the elements, including varying software configurations, station requirements. These should be cross-referenced to the site and/or technical maps.
These types of system diagrams and charts help both the client and those responsible for installing to see ahead of time exactly what is being put into place. You have now created a picture in people's heads as to what the system will physically include.
Data Management Tools
These include diagrams and representations of both data and business processes. Their purpose is to ensure that all essential data elements are placed and tracked properly, so that the client expectations and business needs are met.
• Data flow diagrams—build a data flow diagram to track one data element (or a related set of data) through a business system in order to determine if it arrives where needed. Also helps to identify what different tracks (system decisions) it may take based upon its value.
• Business process flow—used to examine in detail the business process followed. This can be used to resolve existing problems, compare to a new process resulting from implementing a new or upgraded product, or examine for weaknesses in process. An examination of business process can also help focus training in areas where change will occur.
• Interface coordination diagram—(Exhibit 5) shows a diagram which tracks one data element (in this case physician) through several different but interfaced healthcare software products. This then was used to determine how data tables within each product should be populated so as to have proper corresponding values to the incoming value. (A data table without a corresponding value would be rejected, and hence not populate the patient record correctly.)
This last diagram, when presented visually, ended several weeks of confused discussion as it became quickly apparent to the whole team how the data had to link between data tables and applications, and how the different tables needed to be populated.
• Inventory of system users—showing relevant workstation and security information can be useful for support and troubleshooting after implementation.
• Demonstration agendas and scoring—create an agenda for all potential vendors to follow during product demos, and a weighted score sheet (Pinto, p. 74–78) to rank them. This makes the demo and selection process both even and objective.
• Budget breakouts—a detailed spreadsheet for monitoring project expenditures against budget can be a real lifesaver in the event of questions or audits. You also always know exactly where your costs stand.
Creating and using strong visual tools in your IS/IT implementation projects has proven to be highly effective in promoting these projects to achieve success. Organizing project team meetings, using focused discussions, and summarizing essential project information in charts, graphs, or diagrams helps ensure that all stakeholders and resources have the same understanding of the project goals and objectives—the same “picture” in their minds. While the project manager will have a great deal of detailed information in front of them, one of their most important tasks is how to filter and summarize the most important information to the project team and client. Avoid lengthy descriptions and unfocused meetings. Decide which information is most needed, find a suitable means of communicating, and clearly present the essential information. Make visual representations whenever possible, and distribute these not just to the project team, but throughout the IS department and during user training sessions.