Tips on how to effectively complete an analytics project without the dreaded overages.

Those who manage business intelligence initiatives can attest to the fear felt when they hear the phrase “We’ve got a week left…”. Morale can drop and stress levels increase. Though it may not be intentional, this is when people start blaming others for the project not being completed on time.

Here are a few tips on how to avoid getting to that point by sticking to timeline and budget expectations.

1. Watch out for feature creep

For a BI Project of any size, there can be a tendency to add additional requirements and features throughout the project with the intent of creating an all-encompassing solution. This can happen when an organization doesn’t identify or uncover their deficiencies during the requirements gathering phase.

As tempting as it is to ‘fix it now’ or add onto the current set of requirements, there should be heavy resistance to incorporating unplanned requests. Instead, log these newly discovered needs, and add them to a backlog for future iterations.  This includes additional enhancements or modifications requested by business users or other stakeholders that are not mission critical for the project to cross the finish line.

Feature creep can be avoided by ensuring that all stakeholders and SMEs from each department are represented during the requirements gathering phase.

Read more about this in our 7 Elements of a Data Strategy blog.

2. Set a realistic timeline

Most projects will start out with requirements gathering. Use this time before development to work with all teams – development, infrastructure, marketing, QA, executive, etc. – to understand their needs and gather realistic time estimates for their tasks and objectives. After all, someone who handles the coding and back end data modeling work may have no idea how much effort goes into creating a user interface that will utilize that data.  Although it sounds like common sense, it bears repeating: it’s always best to consult those that will be doing the work, not just those in IT.

There is never 100% certainty when estimating timeframes, which is why it is essential to add “buffer time” to account for any unknowns that arise. It is always better to have additional time for the project planned up front than to go back and ask for more at the end.

Using an agile development approach will help set realistic timelines. It’s easier to make estimations for smaller 6- to 8-week iterations, and SMEs can provide direction early and often during the process so that feature creep can be mitigated.

3. Break down the overall project timeline into short working iterations

An Agile development approach with short iterations often produces more robust results and higher user adoption than the Waterfall Development approach. With Agile development, team members are assigned one or two week tasks, which allows the project team to deal with issues as they arise instead of letting them compound on each other. Coordinate weekly or bi-weekly team meetings to review progress, discuss next steps, and keep everyone up to date on the status of the project.

Through this collaboration, we’ve seen many project teams talk through problems and come up with creative solutions that no individual would have come up with on their own. This type of team work helps keep project momentum going and ensures there isn’t a stall in progress.

Incremental progress is also good for team moral. By breaking down the work into these shorter iterations, it allows the team to see the actualization of the original requirements throughout the duration of the project.

Example Project Timeline

4. Ensure staff dedicated to the project will remain on the project through the deadline

This seems fairly obvious, but we often see project team members get pulled in too many other directions while trying to complete work on a project. When this happens, the team can lose momentum and the project gets deprioritized.

People and processes are just as important as the technology. Working with management and planning for team member time is key to ensuring that individuals staffed on the project stay on the project through completion. If a team member is likely to be placed on more than one project concurrently, plan for that time during the initial planning phase of the project. It always takes far more time to onboard a new resource than maintain one throughout the project lifecycle.

5. Work with the business throughout the project

One of the most difficult steps of a project is getting concrete requirements from the business.  Often, business users cannot always anticipate everything the project will need to address before it starts, so it’s imperative that they are involved in each project iteration.

When gathering requirements, the project manager should ensure that:

>> Requirements are understandable and clear.

>> Nothing is left to a guess or an assumption.

>> Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are consulted as often as possible and whenever needed.

If fluid communication between the project team and business continues throughout the project, the risk of rework will be greatly minimized. At the conclusion of each iteration, business users/stakeholders can be regularly apprised of what’s been accomplished. It keeps the business excited about the end result and begins to get buy in before any final release is pushed out.

No project is the same

IT projects vary widely with regards to requirements and goals, and there is never an end-all-be-all list to effectively complete a project. While the above tips should help keep your project on time and within budget, it is important to continually evaluate how the project is tracking to your goals.

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