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Every project has a degree of risk, but some are more challenging than others. When you’re working on a complex technology project that requires multiple resources and one or more stakeholders, it’s important to take a systematic approach to planning your work so you minimize the risk of failure. An effective approach will minimize the time it takes for your team to deliver on its vision, but also ensure that everyone involved understands what needs to happen for their part of the project to be successful. Here are ten ways we’ve seen other organizations reduce complexity when delivering technology projects:

1. Understand the problem by focusing on the “pain” or problem to be fixed

Before you start, it’s important to understand the problem. Ask questions and gather information from all stakeholders to find out what they want and need to solve the problem.

You can also ask yourself these questions:

  • What is causing this issue?
  • Who feels the pain, how and how much?
  • Why does the issue exist in the first place?
  • Who will be affected by this issue (or solution), and how will they benefit from solving it?

Then use a problem statement as a guide for your solution – it should be clear enough that anyone on your team can understand it immediately, but also detailed enough so that everyone knows what they’re working towards when delivering their part of the project.

2. Use fit-for-purpose tools to scope and conceptualize solutions

The first step to minimizing the risk of failure when delivering complex technology projects is to conceptualize the solution. This means defining the problem, explaining how your solution will work and why it’s better than what currently exists, as well as describing how you plan to implement it.

If you’re working with a client or are a client who has been burned by bad project outcomes in the past (and most have), then this part can be especially challenging because there must be a way around building some level of trust between yourself and developers before moving forward with any sort of planning or design work. If possible and appropriate for your situation, try getting together face-to-face or over video chat so that both parties can see each other during discussions about what needs fixing or improving about their current situation/processes/etc., along with potential solutions for improvement going forward.

3. Lead with design-thinking

Here’s where design-thinking can play a key role, tailored for technology projects, it can help ensure that expectations and outcomes are completely aligned at a level of detail you choose. This also creates a visual reference for comparison and sign-off, at the milestones or conclusion. Any misconceptions can also be discovered and cleared up in the design iterations.

Design thinking is a human-centred approach to innovation. It focuses on the needs of the end user and encourages you to think about problems from their perspective. Design thinking is an iterative process, meaning that it involves multiple steps and feedback loops along the way.

It’s been used by companies like Apple, Google and IDEO in past projects such as the Apple iPad – This device was created using design thinking principles because its creators wanted something new that had never been seen before while still meeting user needs and desires. They looked at how people were already using computers and tablets, what they liked about those devices, then worked backwards from there until they could produce something entirely new which would solve all these issues while still being intuitive enough for anyone (even someone who’d never used technology before) to pick up right away!

Stepping through the stages of low-resolution to high-resolution to dynamic and interactive design interfaces facilitates a shared consciousness between clients and the team and even within the team.

Test-led development can also be used to build trust during the conceptualization phase. Not only does this approach improve the quality and accuracy of code, but it also helps to set objective criteria for success that can be agreed between developers and their clients.

4. Plan your project using integrated tools, linked to execution

The next step in any project is to plan. Planning is not a one-time activity; it should be an ongoing process that begins before you begin work, continues as you work and doesn’t stop until the project is complete or cancelled.

Planning for technology projects that have higher risk of failure requires more than just creating a timeline and writing out tasks’ lists – it requires careful consideration of how each task fits into the larger scope of your project, how each person involved will contribute (or not), what resources are needed and whether they can be obtained on time and budgeted for appropriately.

5. Quantify scope of the project

  • Scope the project in measurable terms: what tasks need to be done, how long they will take and who will do them.
  • Sign-off the project scope, and then stick to it. Scope creep is a widespread problem that leads to project failure as new requirements are added over time. This often happens because of poor communication between stakeholders who don’t understand each other’s expectations or priorities. Using a tool like JIRA Agile or Microsoft Project Server / Team Foundation Server (or other) to help manage your project’s scope more effectively can mean the difference between success and failure.
  • Likewise, making sure the team “owns the plan” can also be a defining factor.
  • Incorporate accurate estimation and quality assurance into your planning process.

Incorporating accurate estimation, analysis, planning and quality assurance into your planning process is essential to a successful project. The first step to ensure this is by using a method like the three-point estimate, which consists of three estimates: optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely. This gives you an idea of the range in which your project’s cost might fall and helps you better plan for potential risks that could impact those costs.

Another important aspect is risk management planning – identifying and managing risks at every stage of development will help prevent unexpected surprises later down the line.

6. Use high-performing teams to execute the plan

High-performing teams are self-organizing, cross functional and empowered to make decisions. They’re willing to take risks and learn from failure, which can be critical in complex technology projects where there’s no guarantee of success. High performing teams have a keen sense of urgency around their mission and goals; they don’t wait for someone else to tell them what needs to be done next (or who will do it).

High-performing teams can’t function without a shared consciousness of values, vision, mission, strategies, and goals for projects. Albeit “just a project”, spending time discussing and agreeing these constructs will significantly increase your chances of success.

7.  Be AGILE

AGILE software development is an iterative and flexible approach to software development that values customer satisfaction and responds to changing requirements. It involves breaking the development process into small, manageable chunks called sprints, where teams work collaboratively to deliver working software every few weeks. AGILE places a strong emphasis on continuous feedback and improvement, with regular reviews and retrospectives to ensure that the project is on track and meeting customer needs. It also values individuals and interactions over processes and tools, encouraging communication and collaboration within the team.

8.  Validate with stakeholders early and often

Stakeholders include all the people who are affected by a project’s outcome and have an interest in its success or failure. They may include customers, executives, partners, or even other departments within your organization that depend on the outcome of your project. Stakeholders will have questions about how their part of the solution will work together with other parts of the system; they’ll want to know what impact it will have on them; they’ll want assurance that there won’t be unintended consequences; and they might even take advantage of this opportunity to ask for new features or capabilities (and even change priorities). All this means that validating assumptions early in a project’s lifecycle is key – and doing so regularly throughout development helps keep everyone aligned as changes happen over time.

9. Leverage existing assets for additional cost savings

  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. If you’ve already built something similar in the past, consider using it as a starting point for your new project. This can save time and money by reusing existing knowledge and skills, avoiding mistakes made in previous projects and providing an opportunity for quicker delivery of functionality that meets business needs.
  • Don’t create new assets that are not needed: There may be some cases where developing new technology is necessary but there are also many cases where it isn’t required at all; this is especially true when dealing with incremental improvements or enhancements rather than full-fledged replacements or migrations from one platform/system to another (think about how much time and money could have been saved if someone had just used an existing tool instead).

10.  Take a systematic / structured approach to projects

Using the right systematic approaches for different stages of projects can help reduce the risk of failure. Here are some examples:

STAGE Plan Build Support
TOOL Applying design-thinking Use Agile Engineering Use Service Level Frameworks
  • Immerse
  • Define
  • Conceptualize
  • Prototype
  • Validate
  • Refine
  • Specification
  • Test plans
  • Estimate and Build
  • Quality Assurance
  • User Acceptance
  • Release
  • Stabilize
  • SLA Agreement
METHODOLOGY Waterfall Iteration Incident based


We hope that this article has given you some ideas on how to reduce the risk of failure when delivering complex technology projects.

Remember, there is no silver bullet for success. You can’t just follow one method and expect everything to work out perfectly every time.

There is also no single method is right for all contexts and projects. The purists may disagree, but after some experimentation. you should feel confident to inject nuances to suit your unique situation or style and eliminate what you don’t need.

Success depends on many factors outside of your control – by taking a systematic approach and incorporating the tips we’ve outlined here into your planning process; you’ll at least be better prepared for whatever comes up next time around!

Below, we’ve added a useful visualization as a summary of the combined processes.


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