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Teachable Moment: Chunking and Gating – Differences Between Success & Failure


In my experience of IT Project Management across various industry sectors and with organisations of different sizes, one teachable skill resonates as the stimulus for successful delivery – I call it chunking and gating, others give it different names and do it to varying degrees but the principal is the same and the results can be spectacular. I remember the first time I saw it used and have been excited to see it replicated and adapted in many different ways.

It is the process of breaking down an IT project into manageable “chunks” and not moving on to the next “chunk” until specific criteria has been achieved that will keep the project as a whole on target in relation to time and budget – only then do you “open the gate” and proceed.

I’ve seen it given a number of really creative treatments, one CIO I know uses a simple traffic light system where a green light moves you onto the next gate, a Project Manager I know refers to his “hall of fame” – a virtual corridor where metaphorical doors slide open to allow the project to pass, step by step to successful completion, a football loving CIO passes “the ball” from the goalkeeper through defence and midfield to the striker who inevitably scores!

Some of them sound silly, but I think you should get creative and devise your own system - I believe that’s where greater success can be achieved.

What you yourself conceive you are more likely to accomplish in reality time and time again.

An IT manager at a major UK media brand is a railway enthusiast and uses the following ten point tick list when managing IT projects, scoring each element out of 5 and aiming for as close to 50 as possible.

  1. Blueprint (Is the project properly planned and directed)
  2. Everyone onboard? How aligned with the specific business case, are all stakeholders “bought in”?
  3. Cost? Show me the spreadsheet with the final cost. Is the project destined to complete on cost.
  4. Resource Allocation. Tools, people, systems, methods. Are they in place?
  5. Flexibility ... how responsive to change/growth is the project?
  6. Transparency, Reporting, Governance - How quick will we know - how quick will we act?
  7. Risk Avoidance - how safe is the ROI? How prepared for the unpredictable are we?
  8. Who's name is above the door? Identifying touchpoints is key to effective problem resolution.
  9. KPIs - are they relevant? (Many projects fail through irrelevant KPIs! Don't measure the wrong thing!)
  10. Definition of success. Cost, timeframe, effectiveness ... write it bold, highlight it, underline it. Know what success will look like.

As a railway fanatic his gates have green, double amber and red lights, only a score of 45-50 gets a green light, 40 to 45 is double amber (proceed with caution) anything below 40 is red lighted until the score can be increased. This IT manager enjoys a high IT project success rate, he is driven and obsessive and his projects are on track to succeed from the start.

Not everyone has the time, skills or inclination to be this thorough.

However by aligning your process with your passion (for football or trains or whatever) you can create a powerful personal ownership of the process, not everyone is comfortable being so “out there” creatively but devising your own dry method of “chunking” and “gating”, you exponentially increase the probability of your project achieving a successful outcome.

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