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Turn Your Customer's Needs into Successful IT Projects

~ By Jim Cochran

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Every IT project is driven by a business requirement. For an IT project manager, the hard part is translating that business requirement into an end product that fully meets that business need.

It's easy for a project manager to sit in a meeting and listen to what the clients say they need their new system to achieve. But what happens when what the client asks for and what you think they mean are two different things? When your solution misses the mark, you're the one your client will blame, leaving you wide open to a lawsuit.

In fact, lawsuits are always a project management risk because there are so many opportunities for professional liability when designing, programming and implementing IT projects. If the solution you or your team implements results in downtime or a failure of network reach, mission-critical applications, integration, scalability or network performance, your client could claim that you didn't do what was asked of you.

If that claim results in a lawsuit, expect a lot of hassle and expense, especially if you don't have the right IT project manager insurance to protect your business. Beyond avoiding lawsuits, it just makes good business sense to get the job done right the first time to avoid expensive re-work and change orders.

Good Project Management Equals Good Risk Management

So how does an IT project manager translate a customer's business needs into a system that solves the customer's business problem? The key is good project management. Companies with lax project management are far more likely to have professional liability claims than those with formal project management processes in place. Well-thought-out project management processes significantly reduce your IT project management risk.

According to project management expert Karl Wiegers, one of the critical first steps in IT project management is defining a project's vision and scope. For each project, you should clearly outline in writing:

  • Business requirements. All detailed requirements should be based on clear business needs. IT project managers can gather business requirements from the client's senior managers, an executive sponsor, a project visionary, product management, marketing department, or anyone else who has a clear understanding of the need for the project and the value it will provide to the client company and its customers.
  • Vision of the solution. A long-term vision for the new system will provide context for decision-making throughout product development. The vision statement should not include detailed functional requirements or project planning information.
  • Scope and limitations. It's critical to define the proposed solution's concept and range, along with what will not be included in the product. Clarifying the project's scope and limitations establishes realistic expectations for the various stakeholders, as well as a reference frame against which the team can evaluate proposed features and requirements changes.
  • Business context. Any business issues related to the project need to be clarified and summarised. These might include profiles of major customer categories, assumptions that went into the project concept, and the management priorities for the project.

To reduce your own IT project management risk, it may be wise to follow an established project initiation and management process.

10 Requirement Traps You Should Avoid

According to Wiegers, successful software projects are built on a foundation of well-understood requirements. Yet too often, tech project managers get caught in traps that prevent them from effectively collecting, documenting or managing project requirements. Several symptoms indicate that you might be getting caught in a "requirement trap:"

  • Confusion about what a requirement is
  • Lack of customer involvement
  • Vague or ambiguous requirements
  • Unprioritised requirements
  • Functionality that no one uses
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Scope creep
  • Inadequate requirements change process
  • Insufficient change impact analysis
  • Inadequate requirements version control

Speak Your Customer's Language

As you develop your vision and scope document, be sure that you and your client are speaking the same language. To reduce tech project management risk, keep in mind that although you know the technology inside-out, your client probably doesn't. If your project documents are too technical, your client might be left to assume that your plan will meet its business need, when in fact your assumptions may be off-base.

If that happens, your team could be several months into the project before the misunderstanding becomes clear. That's when IT project managers commonly see "scope creep." Suddenly, meeting the client's need is going to take more time and money than planned. At this point, you're facing a huge project management risk, as some customers will stop paying and hire an attorney.

Taking a careful and thorough approach during the early stages of project management greatly reduces your project management risk. By clearly documenting a project's vision and scope in writing, and fully clarifying project requirements, you can create a proposal that will meet the business need, contain costs, and reduce the risk that you'll end up battling a lawsuit down the line.


Jim Cochran is the president and founder of Techinsurance.com, a company specialising in providing professional liability insurance for IT companies. Jim's experience in the IT industry allows him to understand the liability insurance needs of IT professionals. TechInsurance has been providing risk management solutions for IT companies for over a decade.


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