Ensure Custom IT Projects Don't Fail
Every custom product has three dimensions:
To ensure a custom solution gives you the necessary functionality and ROI, you must pay equal attention to each factor throughout the planning and development process.
Nearly every engagement I’ve consulted on started with some planning before we arrived, but rarely are all three components adequately considered. The result is never good. Do any of the following sound familiar?
We are over budget - We are over the timeline - We didn’t solve the problem - We fractured internal relationships - It works, but we don’t understand how to use it - It doesn’t work - We spent too much time and money before we realized we had a problem
So what’s the solution?
Build Upfront Alignment
Getting all the affected people to agree on the problem and the associated value prevents rework or delays later, setting your project up for success.
- Gather representatives from all the humans that are impacted (financial stakeholders (all of them, even the ones that could block it later), technology (those responsible for delivering results and those they are dependent on), and users.
- Agree on a problem statement
- To fully agree, you need more than words; you need two pictures: one that represents how things work today and a second that illustrates how it will work in the future.
- Agree on the value needed to proceed
If the value is there and you have enough alignment, move ahead. At this stage, you’ve likely spent a few hours of a few people’s time in meetings over two to four weeks.
Do Initial Discovery
Determine if your expectations are reasonable and realistic, and prioritize how you will proceed. This will avoid misunderstandings that often lead to internal friction and finger points when left unchecked.
Time boxed to 2-4 sprints (1-2 months) to understand the three dimensions:
- Here you will understand if your expectations are reasonable.
- Here you will understand what’s feasible.
- Here you will do a few things:
- Pressure test the need and validate the intended solution will solve the problem.
- Once the above is complete, gather representation for all impacted people to complete a story mapping exercise.
- This will give you a high-level, prioritized roadmap.
Following the story mapping process, a decision must be made regarding the intent to build the initial MVP.
Build the Initial MVP
Before you scale, build the end-to-end foundation. This will ensure you set yourself up to make and keep meaningful commitments.
While duration can vary, it is critical to start small and assemble the smallest team possible to build a “Hello World” solution that runs end to end. This could take 2-n sprints.
This exercise will allow you to:
- Validate intended value
- Ensure infrastructure is in place and working
- Validate the needed functionality & feasibility
- Determine the team’s velocity, allowing you to estimate the level of effort and timeline more accurately.
Now you are ready to commit to dates, budget, and value.
Now you are ready to begin moving into a delivery phase, scaling as needed.