Why Humans get in the way of ICT

Large ICT solutions are exciting to deliver and more glamorous than the day-to-day small fixes. Smaller projects tend to be more reliable and effective. If your smaller projects are set-out in a series, it can offer broader and more efficient overall solutions. The reasons lie not in the technology but in the humans that get in the way. Here are 5 reasons why:

Closer to the problem

Successful major projects need a dedicated team to focus on the solution. Without this, they rarely succeed. But the step of taking a team away from the delivery setting creates a buffer between them and what’s going on. This lack of “touch” is exacerbated as the person who really knows what’s going on is too valuable to bring out of delivery. The result is that the project team can struggle to “get it” and the solution can miss its accuracy.

Better visibility

A parallel problem is that large solutions, like new CRMs, touch so many parts of the business. It’s almost impossible for an individual to visualise the whole ‘story’ and its effect on stakeholders. This problem should be solved by detailed and comprehensive specifications, but the art of writing accurate specifications is hard to acquire and in our experience, most project teams fail.

Small incremental projects succeed here because they’re closer to users and their problems. Solutions more accurately reflect their needs. Critical staff can often be spared for these smaller projects due to their limited time-frames. Because of the depth of input, project managers can see the whole problem and the whole solution.

Capture of better behaviours

Humans adapt as their environment changes, usually in ways that make them more efficient. With large projects this change is seen at the end, and because the change is often so large, the behaviour change may be large and unpredictable.

A series of smaller projects enable behavioural changes to be more predictable, captured and fed into the design of the next project. The next project encodes the improved behaviours while designing another set of improvements. This way we create, capture and leverage a series of efficiencies in a planned and predictable manner rather than design them at the beginning, hoping they’ll work out at the end.

Cultural acceptance of change

Humans crave predictability, which is why large projects suffer so much from irrational resistance. Users may complain that the old system is poor. When presented with a solution that requires a new way of working, they come up with an array of reasons why it won’t work. Early project buy-in can reduce this, but staff changes mid-project can negate any impact.

A series of smaller projects avoids this, creating smaller changes in working patterns and closer relationships between the project team and users. They also tie in buy-in as users see the benefits of the previous project before the next project starts, allowing them to see the value for them.

Replication of benefits

The nature of modern careers means that large scale ICT project teams often include members who have limited experience in delivering big projects. This means lots of education is required and projects tend to move slower than they could.

The shortened timescales of smaller projects mean that teams tend to have multiple projects under their belts. This enables them to build up a rhythm that creates an efficient delivery capability.

Equally, as many ICT problems are similar, the technical core of previous projects can be reused to improve efficiency.

Obviously, smaller is not always better. Multiple smaller projects require good management to avoid causing inconsistencies, and there are times when only major projects will suffice. However, there’s a middle ground where ICT default to a major project when a series of smaller projects could limit the human factor and produce better results.

The trick is spotting which is which.