Non-Technical Factors are Key to Program Success

Top 10 Critical Success Factors

  1. Top management support
  2. Clear goals and objectives
  3. Project management
  4. Change management
  5. Project team competence
  6. Management of expectations
  7. User training on software
  8. Interdepartmental cooperation
  9. Interdepartmental communication
  10. Dedicated resources

Top 10 Critical Failure Factors

  1. Lack of top management involvement and support
  2. Ambiguous business needs and unclear vision
  3. Lack of user involvement and inputs from the onset
  4. Weak definition of requirements and scope
  5. Poor internal communication
  6. Poor project planning
  7. Insufficient authority from the project manager
  8. Absence of an influential champion and change agent
  9. Changes in design specification late in the project
  10. Reactive and not proactive in dealing with problems

(Catersels et al. 2010)

Although each program to implement a business capability is unique, some fundamental challenges are common to many transformation efforts. These are often the result of leadership and management issues rather than technical skill deficits.  The Utrecht study referenced in my previous post 1See The Cost of Program Failure.  assessed the importance of a several contributors to success and failure in implementation projects. (See sidebar.)  One of the insights from the study is that the most influential factors involved aligning executive and user stakeholders around objectives, support, and adoption.  Only one of the top ten critical success factors – project team competence – and none of the top failure factors were related to technical implementation skills.

This research suggests where program leaders should focus as they seek to beat the odds.  Certainly, selecting skilled team members is critical, whether they are in-house staff or 3rd party implementation partners. However, it is at least as important that leaders serious address non-technical factors.
For example, the goals of the initiative should be clear (preferably expressed in terms of tangible business value), realistic, and accepted by the implementation team, senior stakeholders, and interdepartmental leaders.  The same leaders should be in agreement on the priority of these goals and how they will achieve them.  As the project is executed, tactical project management excellence is imperative to ensure that

  • plans are feasible and account for the latest developments,
  • business requirements are clearly defined and traceable to what is actually developed, tested and deployed, and
  • signs of failure are recognized and addressed before they become debilitating.

Non-technical success factors such as these are usually the most challenging aspects of program execution.  This is why they are sufficiently addressed so rarely.  Program leaders frequently outsource responsibility to vendors, make token efforts, or simply accept that program outcomes will be compromised.  This is a primary reason the implementation of business capabilities so often falls short.

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