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the top tens

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Over the past decade, businesses large and small have become increasingly dependent on software business applications and the IT groups that build them. Yet the success rate of development projects has stubbornly remained below 40 per cent for much of the decade – and continues to fall. With business becoming increasingly mobile and social, it is mission critical to close the 'collaboration gap' between business stakeholders and the IT group that causes so many software projects to stall or be cancelled.

Here are 10 best practices from companies charting a new course in the way they envision and deliver business apps:

1. Iterate and be agile

Application development for years was conducted using the 'waterfall' approach where the first usable piece of the business app was not available for review until late in the project. When stakeholders did get to see what IT was building they were often disappointed. Today the trend in app development uses a more 'Agile' approach where usable portions of the app are delivered on an iterative basis, each building on the previous version. Stakeholders get to 'see' what's being built early and can influence adjustments along the way.

2. Begin with the end in mind

Probably my favorite takeaway from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People is focus on the desired outcome from the beginning. In this case it means the need to have a clear vision of what you'd like your IT and business processes to be if you want success outcomes. A clear vision provides a set of goal posts that aligns everyone and helps them move forward as a team through to a defined end point.

3. Collaborate with stakeholders at every step

End users are often consulted at the beginning of a process improvement initiative then never revisited until changes are rolled out – when many incorrect assumptions are exposed. Stakeholders should be revisited at every step to continuously validate requirements and ensure changes in business conditions are incorporated.

4. Analyze business applications and trace to your vision

On average 43 per cent of the features of a business application are never used. By mapping your current inventory of business apps you expose parts of or even entire apps that serve no purpose. Culling and reconciling these apps can save precious dollars in support and maintenance costs and help to define requirements before building new ones.

5. Invest in a business analyst

Business analysts sit at the intersection of business and IT and are uniquely positioned to help businesses overcome the distinct challenges each brings to the table. For businesses they will reconcile regulatory pressures, demand for mobile access, business trends along with IT challenges such as legacy applications, cost containment, and poor software success rates. They can help define a new collaborative language to ensure better project success.

6. Visually model the business

Models are essential for analyzing, understanding, exploring, and communicating anything complex. They are vital for building aircraft, office towers, bridges, as well as predicting the weather or making an informed investment. Building an as-is visual business model can be truly eye-opening and expose areas of inefficiency or gaps that create opportunities for improvement.

7. Visually define new areas of automation

Analyzing your portfolio of business applications can also expose manual tasks that aren't currently supported by any apps or are inefficient. Automating tasks provides enormous benefits and cost savings. Modern toolsets exist that let you visualize how new apps would behave - a tremendous aid when either shopping for commercial off-the-shelf software products to fill the gap or budgeting for a development team build a custom app.

8. Collaborate with those on the front lines

Too often those creating processes in a business assume they know what all employee groups are doing, where the problems are, and the best way to fix them. While being a former 'front line' staffer can be helpful in designing new business functions, there is no substitute for direct interaction with those currently working with customers or tackling ongoing business challenges.

9. Consider people, process and tools

An IT or business process is really about people performing tasks using tools to produce work products. So when you consider streamlining IT and business processes you need to have appropriately skilled people and well-defined tasks to produce a successful end result – but if they aren't equipped with the tools needed to get the job done, the process will fail.

10. Measure, measure, measure

This is surprisingly one of the most often overlooked aspects in process improvement. Having feedback is essential if you're to control something - whether it's a coffee pot, a spaceship or a process improvement initiative. You need to have a vision with measurable goals and measure progress against those goals continuously.

Special to The Globe and Mail

David Nyland is president and CEO of Blueprint, whose software platform improves the success of revenue-generating business application software projects by closing the collaborative gap in the development process through standardizing requirements and providing visualization and social features that enable strong and effective team collaboration.

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