5 Things to Know Before Starting a Data Analytics Project

Beat the odds for project success

Mustansir Saifuddin
Mustansir Saifuddin

Being on time and budget is no easy feat: Only 16.2% of IT projects meet both standards and are deemed “successful,” according to a recent report by The Standish Group. A full 31.3% of IT investments were abandoned or canceled.

We don’t want that to happen to you and your team.

Mustansir Saifuddin,  Innovative Solution Partners co-founder and 22-year veteran of data and technology project management, recently shared what he believes are the most important pieces of information to know before starting a large-scale project.

Bottom line, says Saifuddin: “No matter what, keep your timeline intact. If you stick to a timeline, and negotiate or adjust scope if needed, you will not risk losing the trust of the team and the stakeholders.”

1. Information gathering

Understand the platforms, tools, future plans

There are a number of layers of questions to be asked surrounding any part of a project, Saifuddin says. Figuring out that information is imperative so that you and your team can understand what will be needed in terms of resources and time. 

For example, an organization may be  putting in place a brand new solution such as S4/HANA, and they bring a team in to manage the data analytics requirements as part of that implementation. Before planning the data analytics project, we need to know the following: 

  • What are the existing reporting tools?
  • What reporting tools is the company planning to use in the future?
    • For data warehouse (ie. SAP Datasphere, BW/4HANA, Azure SQL Datawarehouse)
    • For visualization (ie. SAP Analytics Cloud, PowerBI)
    • Anything else being planned?

It’s essential to understand “the big picture” as much as possible so that we can assess how those other elements might impact the specific project to be tackled.

Ask the project team: What else is the company doing right now regarding IT implementations? Is there a 2-year or 5-year plan? What projects are included? How far down the road are they? 

Read more about how to gather information needed for a project


2. Identify the key team members

Having a strong, skilled team in place is integral to a project's success

It’s essential to have a strong team identified for data analytics needs. According to a study by McKinsey, the success rate of projects increases by 50% when organizations invest in project management practices and establish effective project teams. 

If the project centers around a data analytics solution, the team should include: 

  1. Team members with good understanding of the architecture (SAC, Data Warehouse Cloud, BW4/HANA, S4/HANA)
  2. Subject matter experts for different process areas (if implementing a new ERP package, you will need experts to understand sales, financials, supply chain)
  3. Technically sound developers (adept in SAC development, for example)
    1. Back-end developer who understands the business
    2. Strong in data modeling
    3. Strong data architect

Some of the legwork for this will take place before the project even gets off the ground – before the blueprinting of the project. The building of the team starts with, at least, a good project manager and good data architect, as well as business analysts/architects who are experts in process areas and who will act as “liaisons” to the others. Developers and others may join at different points after this.

Bottom line: Having the right, skilled people in place and having a strong project manager are key to a project’s success. Take the time and care to ensure you have a strong, cohesive, knowledgeable team. 

Read more about how to identify the key team members for your project

3. Identify the 'champions'

Every project needs them; without them, it may never be finished

Every project needs “champions,” typically top-level executives at the organization, who believe strongly in the project and are willing to fight for it. Without champions, a project that is otherwise worthwhile may never be completed. 

“Because a project’s champion ultimately is responsible for a project’s success or failure,” says Saifuddin, “he or she will do whatever it takes to ensure success, not failure.”

Champions play an important role in project success. Here’s why

4. Know the project stakeholders

They keep leadership informed, communicate with project team

These are the people who understand the business and the importance of the project in the company’s future. Because they understand how integral this project is they can ensure the company leadership is informed and remains “on board” as things proceed, Saifuddin explains.

The stakeholders can communicate with the project team, and can also communicate with the champions at the leadership level. Stakeholders can come from various parts of the organization. They may be business users – salespeople, customer service reps, managers. Or they may be project sponsors or vendors. 

Stakeholders can identify potential risks and can help keep the project on track.

Read more about project stakeholders and the role they play

5. Agree on your approach

Ensure everyone is on board to approach, scope, and -- most importantly -- timeline

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in more than 20 years of managing large-scale projects it is that there will be challenges,” Saifuddin says.

The key, he says, is ensuring that the project sponsors agree ahead of time on your approach, so they can keep stakeholders informed. If there are roadblocks then: 

  1. Quickly identify the issue
  2. Figure out what kind of mitigation will be necessary

No matter what, keep to that timeline. If you need to adjust or reassess scope, do so. But ensure ahead of time that everyone recognizes the importance of staying on track and meeting the timeline. Failure to do so will lead to cost and time overruns and, ultimately, will result in loss of trust.

Clearly, there are many important elements to having a successful project. But after decades of working on projects big and small, Saifuddin goes back to his 5 Rules.

Hundreds of projects, multitudes of teams, five simple rules to keep your team and your project on track. 

You can beat those odds, avoid the pitfalls so many other companies have suffered. 

Let’s go!

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