Keep manufacturing IT projects on time and under budget

Following these expert tips will help keep manufacturing IT projects on schedule and manageable.

Cost savings and efficiency may be two of the top goals manufacturers hope to achieve as they formalize IT governance and adopt project portfolio management (PPM). But within those realms are a host of other benefits, including the frameworks, modernizations and tools necessary to keep manufacturing IT projects running smoothly. The trick is knowing how to take advantage of them.

High-level buy-in

Manufacturing project management veterans frequently cite executive buy-in as a key determinant of a project’s success. Having friends in high places tells people throughout the organization that a new IT implementation is important to the entire company and worth the time and resources necessary for getting it done right. In most cases, the best way to cultivate the commitment of a CEO or chief financial officer is to give them tools to clearly understand the potential business rewards and the likely risks, and then provide a way to track both from project start to finish.

PPM offers a reliable way to provide such insights. Project managers can use reporting tools to create charts and graphs to illustrate traditional summary reports. Most important, the analytics can feed information into dynamic electronic dashboards, which go a long way toward creating the comfort factor needed for senior management’s initial support and continued interest.

“Dashboards allow people to drill down into each area to get a better understanding of how and when and where they are spending money,” said Ben Chamberlain, a senior vice president at New York-based UMT Consulting Group. “You can see actual spending versus the forecast and gain an understanding of where resource time is being spent. And you have the ability to go from the macro level down to the project level.”

Highlight business value

IT governance also provides a mechanism for aligning goals and the investments necessary to bring them to fruition. “IT governance is a way for you to decide on the business value that you want to achieve, and then determine what’s the most effective way to do it,” says Ken Vander Wal, international president of ISACA, an industry group devoted to IT governance and related topics.

This happens because IT governance disciplines encourage business managers and the IT staff to speak a common language that emphasizes how new projects will promote more sales, make production lines run more efficiently, improve customer service or deliver other real-world benefits. This makes it more likely that projects will be scoped out accurately from the start, with clear descriptions of ultimate goals and investment needs.

Common ground also offers a platform for hammering out exactly what capabilities will be included in the new implementation, and that gives the IT department a chance to argue against customizations beyond what’s offered in the standard application. Custom tailoring not only stretches out implementation costs and timelines, it inflates maintenance and upgrade costs later on.

Avoid unpleasant surprises

IT governance and PPM processes call on IT managers to inventory their current reserves of IT resources. This helps stakeholders understand where and why additional investments will be required and lowers the risk that expensive and time-consuming corrections will be needed once the implementation is underway.

Adopting a standard implementation methodology for guiding project rollouts will also help keep projects on time and on budget, analysts say. Project managers have two common options, according to J. Schwan, president of Chicago-based Solstice Consulting.

One is the more traditional waterfall methodology, in which implementation teams work to deliver formal requirements at clear milestones that are set at the beginning of a rollout. Alternatively, project managers may opt for an Agile approach, meaning teams from IT and business work together to quickly install small chunks of the new application, review the results and make course corrections as part of an ongoing feedback loop. This requires almost constant communications among stakeholders. “Agile is a little bit more iterative, a little bit more collaborative,” Schwan said.

But he emphasizes that one methodology isn’t necessarily more effective than the other, and the choice depends on the organization’s preferences. “Either one is fine from a PPM standpoint; they each offer a structured way to measure the progress of projects,” Schwan explained. “The key is being consistent across projects so you have an apples-to-apples view of how they are progressing.”

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