6 Tips for a Successful IT Project

Michael Müller-Wünsch, CIO of Lekkerland AG & Co. KG, Photo: Lekkerland, 2012

15 years old, enhanced many times in different places, special requirements built in: That’s what the current software platform looks like at Lekkerland, a convenience conglomerate headquartered in Frechen, Germany. Its new IT boss is convinced that the company ought to have modernized much sooner. Müller-Wünsch knows that the culprit is not so much the existing software as it is the company’s project management processes. If some of the rules had been different, they would have at least minimized the problem.

For Müller-Wünsch, having a professional project management is essential if you want to enjoy a clean application landscape and keep everyone happy. He hopes to have his envisioned IT set-up in place by 2020 at the latest. So what makes software projects successful? Michael Müller-Wünsch shares his six most important tips:

1) Identify the people

The company has to be involved. The purchasing manager, the logistics boss, the head of personnel: There has to be people responsible in the business areas – and not just in the IT department – who have an interest in the success of the project.

2) Turn IT projects into business projects

The desire to replace legacy software with modern technology is without a doubt a step in the right direction. But this kind of project will profoundly change the way business departments work. That’s why our project includes a corresponding “change program” that accompanies employees during the transformation. This is just as vital to the project as IT competence. People can’t have the feeling that “this is just an IT project”. That’s why we call it, “European Process and IT Transformation” (EPIT). Those responsible in sales and distribution at Lekkerland are already faced with the question of what demands to place on the system.

3) Anchor the project to the objective agreements of the people responsible at the company

You need to make the success of the software/IT project one of the personal goals of the people responsible in the business areas. This way, they share responsibility for the project and as a result, become more actively involved in it.

4) Create scoring models

Every new project, every new software enhancement, and every new initiative involving IT effort is given a thorough once-over prior to its launch. For example: Does it promise an improvement in the quality and in the process? Will it reduce the costs over the medium / long term? Does it have the potential to increase revenue? Each project receives an individual score by the IT department and by the business areas, which of course know the market best.

5) Promote standard solutions

Streamlined solutions must be preferred over customer developments. For example, if an invoice needs to be signed off by different parties across the company, you should ask whether a signature is even necessary. The need for a signature would entail additional programming. And it is unclear whether this additional programming would ultimately benefit the entire process. Each additional function has to be substantiated by a business case and its significance proven. Metaphorically speaking, carrying out the project with “an iron fist in a velvet glove” helps enforce standards consistently.

6) Explain changes

Plan time for communication. Every new project is unique and creates uncertainty among employees. The project has to be made digestible for employees, and individual stages explained in detail.

Final thoughts

Müller-Wünsch would like to start implementing his new software platform at the beginning of 2013 and hopes to finalize his champion project EPIT by 2020. Failure? He’s reluctant to think about that possibility, obviously. But he also knows of the problems that jeopardize projects time and time again: Poor governance, in other words, bad project organization with little accountability, along the lines of “things will work out fine somehow”. Or perhaps, the staffing of important positions, such as that of a project manager for the purchasing process reorg, with a 22-year-old bachelor’s graduate. As Müller-Wünsch sees it, “A 50-year-old project manager with years of experience at the company would obviously be a much better choice here.”