Delivering large IT projects is difficult. As this article highlights, a recent McKinsey study revealed that 17% of technology projects budgeted at $15m or higher go so badly wrong they threaten a company’s existence and over 40% of them fail.
The causes of failed IT projects are many and varied. There are many guides on how to set-up projects for success, however, huge risks are often taken committing £multimillion budgets to what are highly uncertain and unique projects. It can be difficult, or actually impossible, to forecast and plan for all of the unknowns that are encountered across architecture, requirements, design and delivery.
One solution to this problem is an approach described in ‘The Lean Startup’, a book written by technology entrepreneur Eric Ries. His approach takes principles from Toyota’s Lean manufacturing and applies them to technology projects. This innovative technique can work equally well for large company technology projects as for tech startups and has parallels to Fast Track Architecture.
The method can be thought of as “Think Big, Start small, Scale fast”. It favours experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition and iterative design over traditional ‘big design up front’ development.
A few principles are key to this approach:
1. A Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
The project should build the minimum possible scope to prove each iteration of the project. This principle means the project is delivering as fast as possible and not wasting time & resource by building things that potentially won’t be important to users.
The MVP must be tested in a real situation with end users of the system. This informs the project as to what works, what doesn’t work and what needs to change in the next version of the system. It’s important to set-up accurate measures of the business outcomes the project is aiming to achieve.
The project should ‘pivot’ when measurements have proved an approach isn’t working and a new course of action is required. This is more easily achieved with Lean Startup because you’re spending less money and time on an iteration so it’s easier to make a management decision to course correct. This could also be thought of as ‘fail fast, fail cheap’.
The Lean Startup and similar approaches have the potential to have a revolutionary impact on technology delivery within large companies and they are being adopted by many organisations; check out the major programme that GE have initiated here.
Lean Startup will feature again on this blog. It would be great to hear your thoughts on the subject.