Straight Talk on Project Management

Onboarding your IT projects

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Onboarding your IT Project’s end-users – the often-overlooked human success factor

Most IT Project Management teams are masters of the technical aspects of the project – all the i’s are dotted, and the t’s are crossed, the business case is clear and delivered (on paper at least) but what about the people who you need to implement your project on a day-to-day basis? Are they loving your work?

If end-users are not on board – do you even have an ice cube in a sauna’s chance of fully delivering the intended business case.


The company had migrated all its employees from the traditional Microsoft Office desktop versions of its apps to Microsoft 365 Business Basic. It was one of those “projects that’s not really a project”, you know, something that the business could have just done but, somehow, because it was “I.T.” the IT project team had to oversee it. They’d done some pretty major transformation projects, facilitated seismic business and operational change through IT, transitioned the whole organisation from analogue to digital … but they had never seen push back like this.

Overnight, everyone lost Word, Excel and PowerPoint as they’d known them, and they were not happy! Instead, they now had web and mobile versions of Microsoft 365 apps only. Fine, right? It’s the direction of travel, the way things are going, the software-by-subscription model is the future.

What if not everyone is future-ready, willing, and able?

After a week of creating documents, sending them to print, walking to the printer to collect them only to immediately bin what had been printed because it hadn’t transferred from screen to paper exactly as intended, and then going back to her desk to tweak print settings, and repeating the whole process over and over – Tina had had enough.

Tina had Office desktop apps on her personal laptop, the firm’s BYOD policy allowed her to connect to the network, including the printers, and she could access work emails via the web, so a plan formed. She started to use her own device instead. Word spread, if you’ll pardon the pun, and soon a significant number of her colleagues had enacted the same plan.

So, what had happened here? The firm had seen the opportunity to save a few quid, maybe fashionably move something else into the cloud, get real-time updates and bug fixes from Microsoft … yeah … ok … mostly save money. They hadn’t asked Tina and her colleagues what they thought, and they hadn’t dedicated enough (or any) resources to training, if they had, Tina’s documents would have looked on paper as they did on her monitor.

This project that wasn’t a project had become an even bigger waste of the IT project team’s time as people weren’t working using the new online apps but worst of all, documents were not getting uploaded to the firm’s OneDrive – they were going home on individual’s laptops!


This may seem like a trivial example, but it is a microcosm of a problem that is killing IT Projects – the tendency to neglect the human needs of a project, the needs of the end user.

“They talk the talk,” Tina told my colleague, and she rummaged in her drawer and fished out a Christmas card from the IT Department that was signed off ‘Here’s to another year delivering the IT you need’.  It’s a timely reminder that end users are for life – not just for Christmas.

Tina’s story may seem small and inconsequential, a Microsoft Office apps migration is not the world’s biggest IT Project, so consider instead Canada’s CSIO Portal (a common platform for brokers and insurers to improve workflow efficiency that cost in the region $15 million before being abandoned); or The United States IRS’ Customer Account Data Engine (a system for handling tax records and processing tax returns that cost around $500 million before also being abandoned) – both of which suffered with “low user adoption”. Here in the UK, the BBC’s ‘Digital Media Initiative’ was cancelled, but not before burning through more than £98m. It was judged to be obsolete, as much cheaper, off-the-shelf commercial alternatives existed (alternatives that end-users had been pointing out for some time) and the NHS Connecting for Health electronic care records system that was discontinued (having cost £12bn versus the budgeted £2.3bn) and described by a doctor to me as “ill advised”, “never going to work” and “as if they’ve never set foot in a hospital or surgery”.

All these millions add up – and you start wonder why canvassing end user viewpoints is not prioritised higher! 


David Luria was a guest recently in an episode of the PM Podcast with Cornelius Fichtner provocatively titled “IT Project Management – Why is it Broken?”. He summed up the challenge well saying, “Without a focus on users being successful in an IT project, then the business outcomes that are sought, whether that’s greater efficiency, or exploiting new markets, or providing new services, they either get diluted or they get delayed, or they never get achieved at all,” adding, “users are key, users are at the centre of success for projects and without a structured, intentional focus on users the outcome, the business objective is unlikely to be achieved in a timely way.”

This means ensuring that the team has the necessary skills and resources and providing them with the support they need to succeed. To return to Tina, if someone had only shown her how to achieve what she could previously, she wouldn’t have felt the need to ‘unplug from the matrix’ rendering the whole process a pointless waste of everyone’s time.

David’s interview with Cornelius Fichtner is worth a watch/listen, especially David’s Ready-Willing-Able formula which sort of does what it says on the tin. You need to ensure that your end-users are ready willing and, crucially, able.


In his book “The Failure of I.T. Project Management”, David Luria offers a great perspective on this – the key takeaway being that getting end-users to switch from one platform to another is about having an effective onboarding process. This will mean considering: How prepared end-users are for change; The level of support you have from key decision-makers; The level of agreement between your end-users and software teams; Having user adoption strategy that doesn’t sound draconian – less stick more carrot!

I got chatting to a train driver a few years back on a station platform. He was being trained on how to drive a new type of train that was coming into service – months in the future. If you’re a railways buff, these were LNER’s Azumas, sleek, new modern trains introduced on the 15th May 2019. I’ve scrolled through my camera roll, I met the driver on the 7th September 2018! That’s at least 250 days of end user adoption and training – literally onboarding! That’s what I’m talking about! That is the kind of culture we need in our IT Projects! Proportional training and onboarding delivers end-user engagement and adoption which, in turn, delivers business value (Tina didn’t need 250 days of training on how to use her “new” PowerPoint, an afternoon would have done, but she didn’t even get five minutes).

In terms of resources, David Luria recommends 5-10% of your overall time and budget resources should be dedicated to training and onboarding end-users.  

I wonder, how much time do we spend on identifying what an “engaged” and “bought-in” end-user looks like? You allocate all this time and resource to delivering the project, how much time do you spend ensuring that, when it transitions into service, the people whose day-in and day-out job it is to bring it to life are equipped to do so? Long after you’ve moved on to the next project, are your end-users still bought in and benefitting?


In my experience, IT Projects with an effective Project Management Office (PMO) seem to do end-user engagement the best. PMOs create a culture of governance, purpose and basically great project management best practice that organically lend themselves to end-user buy-in.

Business Analysts can play a key role here too. A BA friend, Cait, often sends out emails about project fails with the subject header “Show me a project without a Business Analyst …” and it is amazing how many of them, broken down, are issues with end-user adoption. BAs have a sixth sense for everything that can impact delivery of business need, and how to mitigate against it. Prevention is better than cure and BAs are masters of prevention when it comes to anything that dares to endanger realisation of business case, including disengaged end-users!

Whether its effective PMO, a great BA, or some other strategy (like training and onboarding), the important thing is making sure that all the folks affected by your project are with you from its green light to its transition into service and beyond.

If you don’t currently have a Business Analyst, then call and ask about Stoneseed’s Business Analysis as a Service (BAaaS). If you don’t have a PMO, or you do have a PMO that you would like to refine and develop, ask about Stoneseed’s PMO Services that are a part of our Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) offer.

If you DO have an effective Project Management Office (PMO) and/or laser-focussed Business Analyst/s, you’ll know that end-user confidence is just one of the many benefits!


Writing on LinkedIn David Luria says, “Anything that blocks users from success dilutes the hard work that goes into building a new solution, not to mention a colossal waste of time, energy, and money. Trust and credibility take a hit as well. Remember: the most expensive system is the one that never gets used. Or the most expensive system is the one that gets built twice. I’ve seen that too.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it?

Until we’re all replaced by AI, IT Project Management is a human endeavour – from start to finish! We talk about “business case” for our IT projects, but boil that down and whether we’re aiming to make more money for shareholders, sell more products to consumers or make life more efficient for our customers, “business case” is totally people centred. Your project was conceived by people, signed off by people and is delivered by the most brilliant people – but it’s the people at the business end of it that will define its success and who need to be fully engaged.

I’ll now always think of Tina, who still wants to push that printer down a lift shaft, and remember that, ultimately, the success of every IT Project depends on people – stakeholders, your project team and perhaps chiefly the end-users who will use it to actually deliver your business need.

  Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed


David Luria’s book