You don’t need to see the latest stats on project failure rates to know that most IT and engineering projects don’t meet their initial timelines. One experienced project manager once told me that 75% of technology projects fail to meet the schedule, the budget, or both.
At the time, I thought she was a pessimist, with maybe a bit of paranoid personality thrown in. But it turns out she wasn’t exaggerating by much. Failure rates for IT projects, documented in various research studies, range from about 15 to 70%, depending on the size of the project, the organization, and the project management methodology. (For a dismal picture of poor performance across the IT sector, check out this summary of project failure stats compiled by the International Project Leadership Academy : http://calleam.com/WTPF/?page_id=1445.)
What’s shocking is not how many projects fail but how few succeed. When PricewaterhouseCoopers studied 200 companies from around the globe, they found that only 2.5% of organizations completed 100% of their projects. In another study, published by Harvard Business Review, researchers found that one in six projects overruns the schedule by 70%.
In an industry where timeliness has become a rare virtue, you can instantly stand out from the crowd just by delivering on time. To do that, you need to eliminate risks, obstacles, and bottlenecks that stand between you and your deadline. Since blockages often occur because of a flawed writing process, you can improve your chances of finishing your project on time and on budget by following these tips:
1. Align your team. Take time at the beginning of your project to discuss stakeholder needs, interests, and values. As you start to work on a deliverable, make sure everyone contributing to the deliverable understands the writing goals and the strategic approach you’re using to achieve them. (For instance, if you have skeptics among your stakeholders, your strategic approach might be to confront their objectives and rebut them.)
2. Create a “living document.” Rather than postponing your writing until all your thoughts are clear, start work on your deliverable as early as possible. (You might start something as simple as a scratch outline or a bulleted list.) Let the form and content of your document evolve as your thinking and your project evolve.
3. Break your deliverables into pieces. Rather than tackling a long document in one sitting, schedule regular writing times over several days. People who write often become more fluent, confident writers, and they’re also more likely to budget time for revision.
4.Work toward clear standards. Use a checklist or assessment tool to help you revise and edit efficiently.
5. Schedule a peer review. Give yourself an internal deadline by scheduling a half-hour with a colleague to discuss your draft. Put it on the calendar so it will really happen.
What tips do you have for making your written deliverables happen on time?