People, not technology: new research

In June, Forrester released a report (*updated 3 Aug 2015: no longer available online) that concluded that IT projects are people projects: people management skills are essential for the successful design and implementation of the project. Experienced project managers will know that this is common sense. It’s rarely the technology that lets projects down: in fact, studies have shown that technology is one of the factors that contributes the least to project failure.

We all expect this to be true, so in that respect the Forrester study doesn’t add a lot to the world of project management knowledge. But what is interesting is the way that Forrester backed up their conclusions: knowing something is true because that’s the way it works in your office, and being able to evidence it are two different things, so it’s good to have some (more) research to support the thinking that people are the most important things in projects. And the Forrester research specifically looked at using third party partners to deliver IT projects, which is, as far as I’m aware, a new angle.

Forrester surveyed over 25 companies who had undertaken SAP implementations in Australia and New Zealand using external partners. Most of the respondents said that the following factors were important when working with external project partners:

  • Having input into who comes to work for you. IT partners provide team members for a long time, so you need to be confident that they are a good fit for the existing team.
  • Having a good partner project manager.
  • Have overall visibility into what external team members are doing and the progress they are making. This will mean that you can head off problems early. Just because they don’t work directly for you doesn’t mean you can’t keep tabs on them.

The research recommends that project managers have a screening process for use when external consultants join with an internal team. Forrester suggests that this covers:

  1. A minimum checklist of requirements that all external consultants must meet. They don’t go into detail but this would cover languages spoken, professional background, skills, sector experience etc. Have a different one for different roles.
  2. A person specification that looks at fit with existing team and the appropriate temperament to work within your corporate culture.
  3. A process for replacing the partner’s project manager if you find you are not happy with them. It’s best to get this sorted out up front, even though you might not need to use it just yet.
  4. Introduction to your processes and procedures to ensure that the external consultants know how to raise issues and track progress.

Onboarding your consultants is a bit of a drag – you pay them plenty of money and expect them to be able to hit the ground running – but you are expecting a lot from them in IT projects so it’s only fair to set the ground rules up front, and you’ll be more likely to get what you need, and establish a better working environment.