5 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Technology Project

Many times we are so excited to implement a new idea or solve a recently elevated business problem that we forget to stop for a moment and reflect on the direction we are taking.  I know you’ve been there.  The pieces of the puzzle finally fit together and you know exactly how to move forward.  This is an exciting moment.  It is also time to take a deep breathe and ask yourself a few questions before committing resources to  your new technology project.

Two questions to frame up the project:

  1. What problem does this solve? Be careful not to describe the solution, but to fully articulate the problem or opportunity.  For a humorous read on this subject, try Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really Is by Donald C. Gause and Gerald Weinberg.
  2. What does the solution look like? Describe the potential solution to the problem in as much detail as possible.  It can also be a good idea to get together a small team of people who understand the problem (or better yet live with it everyday) and ask them what they think the solution looks like.

Three questions to evaluate the project.

  1. What is the potential upside of solving this problem? What do you stand to gain or save as a result of a successful project implementation?
  2. What are the risks? There are many ways to think about risks, so think about what will happen if you can’t implement this project successfully and what will happen if you do.  Could this project have an unanticipated side effect?
  3. How much will it cost me to solve this problem? There are a variety of ways to find this answer (sending out an RFP, having internal staff provide estimates, etc). Be sure you think through the costs of managing any changes required to implement the new solution.  For example, upgrading your accounting system will involve revising a few business processes and retraining staff members.

Now, ask yourself, is the potential upside greater than how much it will cost you to implement? And is the project worth the potential risks? And is there anything better we could be investing in?

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Comments

  1. Richard Lynn Paul says

    By coincidence I just finished chapter one of “Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really Is” by Donald C. Gause and Gerald Weinberg. And the main point I got was the question, “Who’s problem is it?” Defining this changes the list of possible solutions.

  2. I remember taking my tech lead out to visit a very disgruntled client who told us, “Every time I finish doing “Y”, I just want to push a button that does “A”, “B” and “C”. My tech lead thought for a moment, looked at the client and said, “What if I made A, B and C happen every time after Y and you never had to push a button?”

    This happened at least 25 years ago, but I still remember it was the day I realized the tendancy to express a solution rather than the true problem.

    Susan Penny Brown
    Interim Technical Management, Inc.
    303-889-9797
    interimtech@comcast.net
    Strategic Planning * Best Practices
    Vendor Assessments * Process Alignment

  3. Laura, nice job. If we could just get people to recognize the difference between a problem statement and a solution idea, half our problems would disappear overnight.

    And thanks for the plug for Are Your Lights On?

  4. Thanks PM Hut for your comment!

    As I see it, an opportunity exists because someone has a problem…their problem, your opportunity to solve it.

    I would say that the opportunity to “build a new PM Tool” is really a solution and would ask “what problem are you trying to solve by building such a tool”? I can’t answer that question for you, but I can suppose some potential answers: 1) You want something that’s easier to use than Microsoft Project; 2) You want to help project managers be more effective; 3) You want to help project managers allocate resources….and on and on.

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