Nothing strikes more fear into the hearts of experienced project managers than these four little words…IN – TE – GRA – TION. That’s right, Integration. The word “integration” will bring even experienced project managers to their knees, test the limits of everyone involved, and turn project management into an extreme, hand-to-hand combat, sport. Why is this, and is there anything that can be done to make an Integration project run smoothly?
What is an Integration Project?
If you come across the word “Integration” in your IT project management plan then it basically means this…you need to align the people, processes, and systems that are running at 100 MPH in one organization or department to the people, processes, and systems that are running at 100 MPH in another organization or department. This all needs to be done in real-time without the slightest hitch or hiccup that would prevent the business from moving forward.
It can be compared to refueling a plane in mid-air. Two planes need to align their position and speed perfectly in order to perform this dangerous maneuver while the hose is coupled between the two planes. That’s the epitome of an integration project!
IT project management plans that include integration need to include many different components as well. We mentioned the people, processes, and systems between the two departments or organizations. More specifically, this means Data, Information, Workflows, Approvals, Interfaces and a host of other elements that need to be 100% in sync once the integration project is complete.
Why Would Some Run Away from An Integration Project?
As you can imagine, a plan that includes integration is fraught with potential problems and danger for a number of reasons. The following are four reasons why this type of project is particularly tricky.
1. It’s Hard to Catch Everything – No matter how much planning, no matter how much preparation and discovery has gone into the IT project management plan, there is always going to be something that is missed. It may be as small as an IP address not being updated somewhere in the system to something much larger being missed, such as a Data Feed that includes key account information not being updated.
2. Major Things are Glossed Over – For the sake of expediency and depending upon who the source is, major things that should have much more attention given to them are sometimes glossed over as being minor. The problem is that this thing that everyone knew to be major did indeed end up being major by the end of the integration project.
Here’s an example of what I mean: Training and Documentation is typically one of those items that people will dismiss as not being that big of a deal. All too often you’ll hear things like…”hey, it’s just putting a manual together with a couple of screenshots. How hard can that be?”
The reality is that this is a very big component of moving people over to a new system or way of doing things. Everything else could have gone perfectly smooth with the project, but by the time it comes to training and documentation it falls flat on its face. Why? Because the proper time and resources were not allocated toward this “minor” activity.
3. Opens Opportunities for “Blame-storming” Sessions – We’ve all heard of brainstorming sessions where people get into a room and throw out a bunch of ideas until something finally sticks and then is acted upon.
Because there are so many people involved in an integration project, and they are usually from different departments, and many times different companies, it opens the door to the possibility of a blamestorming session. This is where a bunch of people sit in the same room and throw a bunch of names out for the reason why things went wrong. Eventually, someone’s name will stick and it ends up being their fault. This gets everyone else off the hook!
4. It’s Not Easy to Know Where the Problem Lies – During an integration project there is a 50% chance that the problem is on one side or the other of the proverbial fence. Despite this fact, the initial reaction from most people on an integration project team will always be to assume that the problem lies only on the OTHER side of the fence. There is no way it could be a problem on THEIR side of the fence.
NB: This feeds into #3 above and makes it particularly challenging to navigate through an integration project successfully.
The above are just four reasons (believe me, there are more) of why project managers, if given a choice, would most likely steer clear of an integration project. Yet, there are many success stories of integration projects that have gone very well.
How to Make the Most of an Integration Project
If you are fortunate enough to manage a plan that includes an integration component, then take heart. There are some things you can do to make it go as smoothly as possible.
1. Watch Your Attitude – Just know that things are going to take twice as long as expected. Twice as many things will go wrong, and you will be blamed for twice as many things that didn’t turn out as expected.
It’s OK. It would and will happen to nearly anyone that takes up a project that includes an integration component. Have contingency plans in place to account for this extra time that is necessary and don’t take things personally. Rise above the noise and do what you can to professionally move things forward.
2. Get Rid of “It’s Not My Fault” Mentality – When something does go wrong, the first thing you need to determine is what caused the problem. As you go through this exercise, keep it in mind that there is a 50% likelihood that it could be your fault just as much as it could be the other guy’s fault. Objectively work through the troubleshooting process until the issue is isolated. Over time, you will find that you will be indicted about 50% of the time and vindicated the other 50% of the time.
3. Work Collaboratively – When the problem above is identified and it ends up being “the other guys fault,” work collaboratively to get it fixed. There should be no concept of “it’s your problem”. Rather, the project should run along the lines of “it’s our problem until things are resolved.”
The reality is that it IS your problem just as much as it is theirs because it has the potential of holding up your deliverables as well. Fix things collaboratively.
4. Keep a Detailed Issues Log – Keep a log of issues that are open that includes current status, next steps, and who owns them. This may seem counter to working collaboratively, but the opposite is true.
There are going to be executives that want a current status at any moment in time. If this Issues Log is properly maintained, they may be able to use their influence to help push through some of those issues that have been plaguing both sides.
There’s no need to run away from an IT project that includes integration in its scope. However, you should be prepared as a project manager to know that it’s definitely more of a complicated project.
Will it go perfect from beginning to end? Of course not! Few things rarely do. However, you can find that by applying the principles above you have the chance of being that much more successful on your next integration project.
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