PA Consulting: Early stage key for success of IT project

10 September 2014

Recently, there have been news reports of several write-offs at large IT household names. It seems we are trapped in a vicious cycle of failure, which is nothing new. According to industry figures, the history books say that, on average, you should expect your IT programme to run 60% over budget, 60% over time and deliver only 60% of what you expected in the first place.

Additionally, the need to compete, together with requests from regulators and customers, means there is a higher demand for change at a faster pace. We could be complicating matters further by adding new capabilities for web, mobile and social media, but without fully removing the legacy platforms. In addition, the IT supply chain is longer and less controllable.

How failed IT impacts on businesses

Failed IT programmes have a significant impact, as a company's dependence on IT means that a failed programme equates to more than mere financial loss – it is a matter of business continuity.


One in 20 IT projects allegedly turn out so badly, they threaten the survival of the very business they are trying to serve. Social media ensures that failures can no longer be kept private, but are potentially exploited to the detriment of the company.

The point is, you can’t afford to let IT projects fail. And if you wait until you suspect a problem has arisen, it is probably too late to fix it. The causes of most failing programmes can often be found in the earliest stages – inadequate planning, bad decisions, or excessive zeal. Projects rarely come off the rails – they just weren’t on them to begin with.

Test your programmes early on

So, how do you spot the duds at an early stage? The answer usually lies in being realistic about the ambition, the alignment of the stakeholders, or the understanding of the terrain. You need to ask the CEO's question: “Is my programme going to deliver, and what do I have to do to ensure that it does?”

Chris Saunders - PA Consulting

Make sure you ask this question early on, and keep on asking it, and do not be afraid to sacrifice early progress for a level of confidence in the trajectory. That confidence may come from convincing the stakeholders of a programme's success, trying and proving the architecture, testing the development approach or stress-testing the benefits. 

So, do your checks early on, then your project will get onto those rails from the outset. Don’t stop checking that you are still on them, as it will be a whole lot cheaper in the long run. If you wait until you suspect things are not going to plan, you risk having to just limit the damage. 

An article from Chris Saunders, Managing Consulting at PA Consulting Group.


Managing the demand for change in project management

16 April 2019

The forward-looking nature of project management means that regardless of the type of project, thorough planning and risk assessment are essential to ensure it is delivered on time, on budget, and in line with the client’s requirements – while delivering the expected results. Consultants Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden elaborate in the article below. 

However, it is important to recognise that in this fast-moving working environment, and with projects increasing in scale and complexity, a degree of change is inevitable. Putting the right mitigation strategies in place early on can provide project managers with much-needed agility, allowing them to respond quickly to any new issues that arise.

When the goalposts move or project managers are issued with an unexpected client request, adopting a holistic approach is essential to ensure that changes are implemented successfully the first time around, reducing the risk of any problems arising in the future. Rather than considering the demand for change in one area of a project in isolation, it is important to conduct a full impact assessment, taking into account any knock-on effects on people, processes, systems and infrastructure. For example, a sudden need to digitalise a key HR process may have implications for recruitment, or the need to upskill existing staff through new training programmes, or both. 

Implementing a Portfolio Management Office (PMO) can also enhance project managers’ ability to spot interdependencies and better manage unforeseen changes. Where a number of projects or programmes are being undertaken simultaneously, this function is particularly useful, providing stakeholders with increased visibility and driving intelligent decision-making. For example, spotting an unexpected delay to a particular project could enable resources to be reallocated across the portfolio at an early stage, helping to drive efficiencies within the business and keeping budgets on track. 

Managing the demand for change in project management

As part of their efforts to make the most of available resources while keeping costs under control, project managers should consider using blended teams wherever possible. By combining the organisation’s existing employees with different skills and experienced project managers, it is easier to ensure that the correct levels of skills and resources are utilised at each stage of a project. Furthermore, this method can provide the additional flexibility needed to respond quickly to new developments without unnecessarily prolonging project timelines or increasing costs. 

It is worth bearing in mind that introducing some mitigation strategies may require an initial cost outlay and, as such, effective communication with stakeholders from the very beginning of a project is key. One example is to allocate a contingency budget to the project. This helps to facilitate the project manager’s ability to address key issues that require unplanned spend, without the need to undergo a time-consuming budget approval process. By educating all involved parties about the inevitability of change during projects, it is possible to put buffers in place, both financially and in terms of the project timeline. Over the course of a project, this should enable project managers to react quickly to change and take effective action without compromising on the timescales and delivery of client objectives. 

Likewise, where project delivery is reliant upon large and diverse teams, clearly communicating the impact of unexpected changes, and the required response, is also vital to ensure everyone is on the same page and disruption to day-to-day processes is kept to a minimum. When curveballs to project delivery occur, a failure to brief the team on how these should be addressed could also have a significant impact on levels of motivation and morale, which in turn has the potential to have a negative impact on productivity across a project. 

While meticulous forward planning will always be an essential element of project management, it’s equally important to recognise that to a certain extent, change is unavoidable. The ability to respond effectively to new developments as they occur is therefore vital. By making change a central part of discussions with stakeholders and clearly communicating with all parties on a programme, project managers can take new issues in their stride while continuing to deliver exceptional results for clients. 

Eman Al-Hillawi and Peter Marsden are principal consultants at business change consultancy Entec Si.