Relationships Are Key to Making Big IT Projects Work – Nextgov

Managing a complex federal technology project is a challenging prospect. In addition to adhering to best practices, establishing a specific focus on strong relationships among all project participants makes success even more likely.

Flexibility: Relationships are Key

There is a common claim that a spider can produce a web that is as strong as steel. While this is an exaggeration in some cases, the thin strand of dragline silk produced by the Darwin’s bark spider of Madagascar to build the main structural framework of its web far exceeds this benchmark: It is stronger than steel several times over and is 10 times tougher than Kevlar. It bends and flexes with changes in the wind and keeps the web strong across areas of up to 30 square feet, over rushing streams and rivers. 

In short, its strength lies in its flexibility.

As a project leader preparing for your federal agency’s next large, complex technology project involving multiple vendors, you might begin preparations by shoring up a strong, sturdy foundation of project management practices, implementation methodologies, detailed knowledge of all relevant Federal Acquisition Regulation clauses and other federal requirements, schedules, assignments and clear chains of command. 

The factors that make a technical project fare best are those associated with flexibility and adaptability. In short, leading a project at the federal level that can flex and adapt over the lifetime of the project will get you across the finish line much better than planning for perfection.

And to foster this flexibility? The best method is establishing strong relationships. Reach out early and often and make a personal connection that provides for open communication. The reason for this is simple: The stronger the relationship and trust between you as project leader and your vendor partners, the more readily vendors will tend to communicate with you in the event of an emerging project issue. In turn, this allows you to take early action to collaborate bring in all available resources to arrive at a solution and head off potential timeline, dependency and deliverable issues down the line. In a situation like this, establishing trust with all project participants can have a direct positive effect on the project timeline.

Finding Opportunities to Support Your Team

If the structure of the project allows for it, utilizing oversight such as that offered by a third-party project management office can also make a big difference in establishing trust during a complex, multiple-vendor project. High-dollar technology implementation projects often run best when the sponsoring agency sets aside about 10% of the project budget for oversight, ensuring the project stays on schedule, in scope, and on budget from start to finish. 

In recent years, agencies are recognizing an important opportunity. Third-party oversight can free up agency staff to contribute to the project as needed while continuing to deliver on their daily job duties that are unrelated to the project at hand. Ensuring that all members of the team have adequate time to address their responsibilities builds a greater sense of fairness and can help build trust among all project participants. 

The Best-Laid Plans

Reflecting on the best approach to a complex project brings to mind an old Army saying that “the best-laid battle plan falls to pieces at first contact.” While no amount of planning can ensure that no issues will appear during the project, if you establish your project leadership with a strong foundation in best practices while still prioritizing flexibility, your project is much more likely to sail successfully over the finish line. 

In this way, a web of strong interpersonal relationships provides the flexibility and adaptability that every large project needs.

Lisa Colletti is a technical writer for ISF, Inc.