We're currently in the final stages of an 18-month UK telephony project for IKEA, the world's biggest furniture chain. As my thoughts turn to writing a project close down report, I'm in the truly enviable position of being able to ask "why did this work?" (and in fact, why was it enjoyable) - a much better position than pouring over lessons learned.
Asking why a project worked is always much better than presiding over an inquest, but the answers are every bit as important. With that in mind, here's what I think made this a success.
1 Know what you want
Our customer spent time to properly understand what they wanted. Their process sought multiple viewpoints from the stakeholders, and allowed for these to be challenged, or to change over time. This helped them respond appropriately to new opportunities as they arose.
IKEA's list of wants wasn't a set of never-to-be-used features pulled from a data sheet. It was: "I need it to do this", "In my job I have to use X", and "If we had this then I could do that". In other words, it had real input from the users, admins, the recipients of the service, and the designers who would be responsible for the solution.
2 Embrace change
People's views were allowed (and encouraged) to change over time: stuff happened. As testing took place, rollouts started and systems came online, the stakeholders were asked to validate their requirements in the real world. New opportunities appeared, and joint decisions were made on whether the technology had changed and simplified business processes - or whether it could be used better.
3 Focus on the overall goal
To be successful, a project relies on individuals and teams owning and managing their specific objectives and deliverables. But ultimately, success comes from delivering the outcomes the project is there to achieve.
It's easy for a single team to say "Well, we've done our bit", but no one wants half a jigsaw. Keeping a focus on the overall goal provides direction, shared purpose, and encourages the level of teamwork required to make a complex project successful.
Over the course of any project each person or team will need the help of others, so individuals need to support others as and when they can, while owners and managers need to provide a collaborative environment in which this is possible.
4 Know your customer – and make sure they know themselves
Ideal and IKEA have a well-established working relationship, built on trust and previous success. Such relationships take time and effort, though, and they're often the bits that aren't on the plan or the profit sheet. Internal teams are under pressure to deliver business outcomes through high-value (and sometimes high-cost) IT, so customers expect and deserve their suppliers to know what makes them tick.
Another key factor for success is your customer's understanding of itself, and how closely your contacts within the customer share the vision and culture of the wider company. In this case, IKEA's in-house IT department know their colleagues needs and values very well. That can often make life easier for the IT partner, and it definitely makes it more enjoyable!
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