Think of the typical meeting in your enterprise: people come in late, sometimes talking on a phone or otherwise distracted, and 10 or 15 minutes are spent getting into the real content of the meeting. Maybe someone asks what the meeting is about. The person who set up the meeting speaks up and may (or may not) explain what is needed from the meeting. Discussions ensue — some are on point to the reason for the meeting; others are irrelevant. Agreement is reached on a few actions and follow-ups, some people have to leave early, and the meeting breaks up.

These norms are anathema to a serious and successful software investment project, which demands rigor and, above all, structure.

Embrace Structure. You need, at a minimum:

  • A work plan that is reviewed daily, with tasks, due dates and responsible owners
  • System requirements, testing scenarios and future processes that are documented in detail and agreed to by all stakeholders;
  • An issue resolution process to ensure that impediments to progress are eliminated;
  • Commitments by team members to own and deliver key parts of the project on time;

A sense of urgency and focus are hugely important to success. In the film Apollo 13 – a great drama but also a study in focused, man-plus-technology effort and achievement, about six technicians in a conference room must assemble an air scrubber exclusively from parts that are available on board the returning spacecraft, because the main scrubber in the craft has failed, causing carbon dioxide inside the craft’s cabin to reach dangerous levels.

The astronauts will die – soon — from lack of oxygen if they cannot fix or replace the scrubber.

The technicians jump on the challenge, and produce a prototype that the Apollo 13 astronauts are able to replicate. We witness urgency and focus, and a breakthrough that saves the crew.

Can you imagine any of the technicians in that scene saying, “Hey guys, I’m good for another 10 minutes but then I’ve got another meeting”?

Well, you say, of course no one would say that; lives are at stake. True, but people skipping out of meetings is an everyday occurrence that does inhibit progress; in an IT project the lack of progress – bit by bit here and there – adds up to a late project over budget and potentially damaging to the business.

The average software project is not a moon mission, but it does require the same kind of focused and structured work that such a mission benefits from.