People lessons learned from working on technology projects

NB: I wrote and published this post originally on my old blog between 2013 and 2014 whilst still in my full-time corporate career.

“There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience”. –Laurence J. Peter

I think this statement from Laurence J. Peter signifies the importance and value, and I would even say power, of learning lessons perfectly.

In my previous post I already felt compelled to elaborate on one particular learning I have gained from working on web development projects and summarised it as ‘a project is nothing without its people’.

In the following post, rather than focus on one single aspect, I wanted to think more about a list of key learnings. To do this I will also recap the initial thoughts from the previous blog post.

People over technology – people transform not technology.

To bring about change it’s not enough to change tools, but it’s actually behaviours and habits that need to change.

In other words, much more than on the technology and tools themselves, success will depend on the organisation’s ability – and perhaps willingness – to examine and redefine business objectives, policies and procedures, organisational culture and ultimately management and leadership practices.

“It’s not a faith in technology, it’s a faith in people.” –Steve Jobs

Leadership – leadership is not management.

Management is all about planning, monitoring, co-ordinating, and generally managing tasks and being transactional. Whereas leadership is all about seizing opportunities, creating a vision, inspiring, empowering and leading people, and overall being transformational.

While both, management and leadership are crucial business functions, considering my first point about changing behaviours above, it seems that the key to success is in fact, leadership.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” —John Maxwell

Development is quick – it’s the solution definition and adoption work that take time.

When it comes to deliveries and timelines, especially for technology projects, I have found that expectations of super fast turnarounds and underestimation of efforts are all too common.

I would tend to agree that the development itself may well be one of the quickest jobs, however it’s the prerequisites that are most time-consuming. For a smooth development process these are foremost crystal clear requirements.

Crystal clear requirements are a result of a clear vision and SMART objectives and this is where I believe the challenge lies, and hence the time gets consumed.

It goes back to the ‘people over technology’ issue, where organisations formulate strategies based on technology capabilities rather than their people’s needs, impose change rather than facilitate it through engagement and finally where solutions are specified without consideration for maintenance and long-term governance requirements, or sometimes even content migration, maintenance and development.

“The sooner you start coding the later you finish.” –Unknown

Less is more – simplicity all the way.

I’ve always been a massive fan of simplicity in all areas of life, and of course it’s no news that in project management the likes of work break down structures, action logs or various prioritisation methodologies are based on concepts of simplicity.

Looking specifically at web development projects, there are also a number of areas where I would always keep the ‘less is more’ principle in mind. I’m sure I will write about some of these more in future posts, but for now just to mention that when scoping the project and when designing the user-experience, graphic design or the technical processes (avoid ueber-automation) simplicity may well hold a key to success.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” –Proverb

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” –Leonardo da Vinci