Johan Vorster is a consultant in the ICT industry and in the area of secure personal identification technologies. Johan is also member of the Institute of Directors. This month we talked with him about large-scale IT projects: how they should be structured in order to be successful and effective.

Read the first part of the interview:

  • Johan, can you explain us how to deliver large-scale IT projects on time, on budget, and on value?

There are fundamental ingredients in making a project work, like proper governance and staffing, employment of a recognised project management methodology, a good project management team, and of course, a productive project office that deals with administration. The term “on time, on budget and value” is in a sense hugely ambiguous and ambitious. In reality, projects typically do not work out exactly as planned. Especially not large-scale IT projects. I think a successful project is one that is delivered under an agreed baseline. An accepted baseline is a mutually agreed schedule, budget and deliverables schedule that is dynamic throughout the project lifetime but is governed by a proper and efficient change management process. Therefore, a key component of a successful IT project is a well-defined change management process. In large-scale IT projects, even the technology envisaged at the beginning of the project might change and be replaced by better solutions at the time of delivery. Therefore, change is a way of life – it needs to be professionally managed. The project should have a formal risk register and a risk committee that sits regularly and deals pro-actively with project risks.

  • So, how should an IT project be structured?

Any organisation or group or project that has a well-defined common objective that is clear to all stakeholders and easy to communicate has a better chance of success that those who do not. It is not only crucial for every team member to understand his/her role, but they also have to know where they fit into the greater plan and what is to be achieved. Secondly, there needs to be a clear and robust decision-making structure. Efficient project delivery depends on rapid decision making on a continuous basis. The decision-making mechanism should be tailored in such a way that deadlocks can be prevented from happening. It helps where there is a project sponsor with ultimate authority to make difficult decisions when required, even if everyone does not agree. The worst thing that can happen to a project is a deadlock situation. Lastly, something that may sound like a cliché, but that always should be at the core of your values, is customer focus. The interest of your customer should always be at the top of your list. You never do anything that is not making your customer better and stronger. In the end, the whole team works for a customer, which is providing the financial resources for success. Keep your customer happy.

  • How to reduce costs and employ IT projects that drive innovation and add value?

Unless you are an entity that manufactures or sells IT products or services, you should remember that IT is just a tool to assist you in reaching your objectives. IT can never be an objective on its own. Therefore, the organisation should not be dominated by suppliers of IT products and services. One should benchmark your spending on IT against the industry that you work in and always strive not to be the biggest spender. The organisation should always focus on its primary objectives and have a small team of innovators that look at creative ways to use IT to make their operations better. It is prudent to have a good understanding of industry trends because innovation in the IT industry will always happen where the mainstream suppliers focus their resources. Always be careful of non-industry standard, tailor-made solutions that are dependent on a specific supplier. In many cases, outsourcing is better than in-sourcing. Remember, IT is only a tool to use in achieving your objectives, if you in-source it then it also requires management time and resources. I have a simple motto in the IT industry: “you get what you pay for“. If the price of a solution is markedly cheaper than the competitor, it is probably a sub-standard solution. Do not go for the most economical solution, go for a solution that will serve you well over a more extended period.

  • How to convince stakeholders to give a project their support?

Any project worth its effort should have a set of very clear objectives and the deliverables should be well-defined. Call it the “flag on the mountain“, this is the reason of existence of the project. Once that is documented, presentations to stakeholders are made, and they are engaged one on one to get buy-in.


About Johan Vorster:

Johan Vorster was born in Pretoria and completed his degree in Industrial Engineering at the University of Pretoria during 1983. He started his career as Industrial Engineer at Iscor Vanderbijlpark.

In 1996 he establisheed the first driving licence card manufacturing and personalization facility in South Africa and the South African Development Community (SADC). He was also responsible for the supply and support of biometric capturing units for collection of driver information in 350 sites countrywide.

In 2001 Johan was appointed Chief Executive Officer of a consortium for the redevelopment and replacement of the National Traffic Information System (eNaTIS). He headed a team to develop a brand new National Traffic Information System, creating a national data centre, disaster recovery centre, a national help desk, nine provincial help desks and replaces hardware and networking infrastructure at some 1,300 sites countrywide for 3,000 users.

You can follow him on Twitter: @johanvo