Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”

Emerson was not talking about an IT plan to support a growing business, but his words certainly apply. You’ve all been there. You embark on a project and inevitably find that there is at least one person in the back seat telling you that you are going the wrong way.

According to studies, almost 70 percent of all major IT projects are delivered late, over budget or get canceled altogether; but it doesn’t have to be that way. 

So why is there such a high failure rate and what can you do to make sure you land on the right side of that statistic? In order to be successful, you need to do more than identify your destination and the route you are taking to get there. You need to communicate your goals clearly within your organization.

Communication is a key success factor in any large-scale project, and it is even more important for technology projects in which success requires user adoption. It begins with communicating the project goals throughout the organization, including an explanation of how the goals support the business strategy. For example, it isn’t “we’re implementing this new software”, but rather “we’re moving to this software because it will help us control costs or improve responsiveness to customers, etc.” All too often technology leaders are so enamored of the technology they forget the rest of the company doesn’t know or remember the “why.”

Communication is more than a one time thing. It continues with regular reporting of project metrics including milestones, budget and periodic formal management reviews of the project status. Appropriate communication helps eliminate dreaded “surprises” that cause top management to doubt the project.

Make sure that you have the right resources to get you to your destination -- a full tank of gas, if you will. Ensuring that you have the right people (internal and external), budget and equipment will save you a lot of stress as you move further down the project implementation road. Another key success factor in effectively reaching your destination is making sure that you have an experienced driver and not someone with their learner’s permit.  Often times projects may fail not because of poor methodology, but because the project manager does not understand how to adapt the methodology to changing conditions within the organization or environment.

As you continue mapping your course, there are four major roads that you should consider. These roads are:

Culture  -- Every organization has a unique culture, which is composed of many elements, including tolerance for risk, financial reward, and others that need to be taken into consideration when assessing whether the project is in tune with the culture of the organization. If your company plans to conduct a large-scale ERP implementation, but historically has not been willing to hire the appropriate people to pull off a large project, you need to take that into consideration when planning your project.

Organization  -- The nature of the organization is also a critical factor. A large decentralized public company is completely different from a medium-sized, entrepreneurial private company. They require a different approach to project planning and communication; there is no “one size fits all.”

Knowledge of Systems -- The complexity of modern systems require a depth of experience that can only come from having “been there, done that.” Be sure to have a team of people with the knowledge that enables them to recommend appropriate solutions. It may well be that the solution to a problem is not a new expensive tool, but rather a reorganization of an existing process.

Environment  -- Your unique environment consists of competitors, suppliers, customers and the tools developed to operate the unique elements of your business. The environment must be fully assessed, and it is important to leverage relationships with other organizations to reduce the risk in your project. Work with your customers and suppliers to create a competitive advantage for your organization.

Keep in mind that getting to your destination is not always a race. When creating your roadmap focus on the project schedule, and create a defined project plan using standardized tools to insure that the timeline is achievable. It’s easy to go off course when you are trying to put together a comprehensive technology plan, but like Emerson said “To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” This is never more true than in the world of IT.  

Lisa Metcalfe is a Technology Regional Practice Leader for Tatum LLC. Tatum is the largest executive services firm in the United States, providing strategic and operating leadership in finance and technology nationwide.