Considerig A New Approach To Improving It Project Delivery

Given that the various approaches to improve IT project development have not been wholly successful, it is time to consider new approaches. One of those approaches is to rethink the way people are rewarded for their work on development projects. An unfortunate aspect of IT project work is that because it has not been as successful as it should, less than strong performance in that area has become accepted in many organizations. That circumstance has generated a situation in which people are not particularly surprised when IT development projects fail to meet expectations. Over time, a lowering of expectations results in a lowering of performance.

The dilemma here is that, despite the expenditure of considerable amounts of time, energy, and money, not only has the goal of improved IT project delivery not been met, but in many organizations the expectations associated with that delivery have fallen. The high incidence of IT project failure and the associated costs, both hard and soft, mandate attempting new methods to improve the situation.

One aspect of that lowering of expectations and performance is that, although the work on a particular project may be viewed as less than successful, there is seldom any penalty imposed on the members of the project team. Yes, managers do from time to time face termination if the situation is sufficiently difficult. On occasion, people may be chastised for poor performance; but on balance, little in the way of pain comes from a failure to meet project expectations.

However, it is also the case that when good work is done, when IT projects are delivered in a professional manner, that good work is not always recognized. It does occur that a project can come in early, it can be under budget, it can meet all the requirements and specifications, it can exceed the expectations of the IT customers, and the team members may receive a "thank you." Although the work has been exceedingly well done, the paychecks of the team members are probably not going to be any larger than normal. They were, after all, only doing their job, right?

One of the problems associated with the lack of a concrete distinction — other than some probably minor level of praise or criticism — between well-done IT project work and poorly done work is that over time the incentive to push for improved performance is diminished. Doing IT projects well, in addition to having strong management, the right technology, and the appropriate tools, requires a strong commitment to the project. In addition, there must be a willingness to work hard and to assume a reasonable level of risk. When the financial rewards are the same for success or something less than success, it is difficult to motivate people to make a strong commitment, to work hard, and to take risks.

Think about the typical reality of project work. When it is discovered that a project is falling behind schedule, a common occurrence, usually some attempts will be made to bring the work back on schedule. However, too often, the answer is to extend the due date of the project and at the same time open up a new project phase (phase two) to reduce some of the deliverable in the current phase. Usually, in such a situation, the organization's senior management will approve the approach, in part because that approach has been used in the past. Sadly, no one will be too surprised by the delay.

If no distinction exists between the monetary reward for doing good work or for poor work (the reality in many IT departments), there is going to be little incentive to strive for higher project quality or to meet tight delivery dates. An argument can be raised that good people will, regardless of monetary considerations, strive for higher quality work. While that assumption has merit, it does not seem to work quite that way in the real world of IT project development and delivery.

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