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Do you drive to the supermarket happy to forget, let’s say, 20% of the items on your shopping list?

Alternatively, perhaps you prepare Sunday lunch and leave out one or two items? Would you go on holiday with half the clothes and 80% of the petrol you need.

You don’t do that? Then why do you accept it in an IT project? Building in a mop-up ensures:

  • A decrease in benefits
  • Overspend
  • Quality issues

Loss of benefits

Loss of benefits is easy to understand. Miss out some people and you lose their productivity gains. Even worse, you commit to legacy hardware and unsupported software. Missing whole teams can break busiess processes. For example, I once worked in a team left behind in a Windows/ Office update. We could open no attachments sent by migrated colleagues and all our work suffered.


Let’s be honest. Phase one will consume the original project budget. Anyone demoted to a mop-up phase will be the subject of another business case. The organisation then has the false choice of leaving a team behind or spending more money.

Should you keep a legacy system for one team (or activity), you will spend that extra money, anyway. For example, I have seen the decision to roll out geographically lead to dual identities so that a team could work on multiple sites.

Quality issues

The mentality of ‘fix it later’ is contagious and I contend that a project team willing to mop up, ignores risks and issues. For example, I mopped up after a project that used a tool to support readiness activities. But the tool didn’t work. Rather than fix the tool, the first team let people opt out of the migration. Many of those who opted out had no need for the tool, but the project team let it ride.

Why are mop-ups so common?

I am afraid this will sound cynical:

The IT service industry depends on repeat work and mop-ups are the most lucrative of all activities

Businesses and service providers assume the cost of an activity, often during competition, before understanding the job to be done

“It’s so bad that maybe the government should give up the ghost on trying to do anything and simply accept that multibillion [dollar] failures are a permanent part of the landscape,” said analyst Michael Krigsman, CEO of consulting firm Asuret and an expert on IT project failures – Computer World December 2012, ‘Let’s Plan the Mop Up’

How to avoid mop-ups (and other project failures)

Start right and be honest; every shortcut will come back to haunt you

Your business case must be explicit. List the systems to be decommissioned and quantify the acceptable level of business disruption.

Describe the people, understand where they are and how they work. Are they mobile workers, are they customer facing, do they have project deadlines? What data do they receive and from whom?

Audit the environment against your assumed ‘standard’. Uncover and document the variations. Understand the times of the week, month and year that can brook no disruption. Get to grips with the IT literacy of the target population.

Build project governance across IT, the organisation and third-parties. Foster open, robust risk and issue management. Set up approval processes for the process and plans, and agree go/ no-go criteria. Make clear the responsibilities and vision for the change. Set data led performance targets.

Apply best practice, you need good people, strong processes and robust data. Agree the Quality up front and ensure compliance.

Learn lessons. Use pilots for customer acceptance and to test your processes. Assess each activity and build improvements into the process.

This list holds no surprises, except the fact that few projects do all this, let alone do it well. However, there is one more factor to consider – how well the IT department works with the business.

Stakeholders are your best friend

If your IT team sees the organisation as something that exists to use IT, you will not do well. On the other hand, if your IT team listens and responds to the business, you have the potential for success. During every IT project, capitalise on this relationship, ensure contact at every level of the project, from steering group to specialists and their customers.

If you can do all this, you will avoid the phrase ‘let’s plan the mop-up’.

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