Managing Large Scale Projects: Best Practices

The article was updated on December 27, 2023.

Large and ambitious tech initiatives make far-reaching technological changes and ultimately alter how people live and interact globally. As an IT leader, you understand that such complex IT projects require meticulous planning, ample resources, and skilled teams to execute them properly.

Meanwhile, results of the studies done by McKinsey and UO show that a significant percentage of large software projects run over time and budget, underdeliver, or even fail. If you want to avoid joining unhappy statistics and ensure your next major initiative is completed successfully, it is critical you understand the common challenges that threaten to derail your technology rollouts. Plus, adhering to the techniques used by those who have triumphed over tangled difficulties and emerged victorious is vital.

This article highlights the pitfalls that stand in the way of the biggest and boldest technology goals and suggests the best practices on how to manage a large software project. Following the recommendations, you will be well-positioned to steer your company’s most daring tech projects to completion efficiently and effectively.

Challenges in managing large IT projects

The initial stage, when the complexity seems insurmountable, and success is a distant mirage on the horizon (yet prevail, you must), is rough seas for many. To make your project a success story, first, let’s outline the most frequent hurdles that cause promising projects to get off track.

Lack of strategic alignment

When starting a large software project, it is crucial to have a clear set of requirements that align with business objectives. Technology projects are at risk when stakeholders do not have a shared understanding of goals and specifications from the start.

Getting widespread agreement across departments and partner organizations can be difficult, especially given geographic and complexity factors. Ambiguous requirements make it nearly impossible for project teams to estimate timelines and resources accurately.

Skills gaps

Without knowledgeable professionals who understand the technical complexities involved in software development, the solution may not meet business requirements or integrate properly with existing systems. Cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and augmented reality require highly skilled professionals to implement effectively.

A lack of qualified personnel to handle the project can jeopardize client deliverables and timelines. Inexperienced staff may also waste resources while learning complex systems.

Shallow project design phase

An airtight project plan keeps executing a large software project on track. Without diligent oversight and management of the plan, schedules slip, budgets creep up, and goals get missed. As the project progresses and requirements evolve, the plan must be revisited and updated.

Some common failures in managing a large-scale project plan include the following:

  • Not planning in enough detail. Project schedules should extend down to the task level.
  • Not updating the plan as changes happen. The plan must remain a living document.
  • Not closely tracking progress and budget burn rates. Problems can’t be fixed if they aren’t detected.
  • Poor risk management. Risks should be identified, assessed, and addressed by recovery plans.
  • Lack of change control. A structured process helps evaluate change requests.

Scarce stakeholder engagement

When stakeholders are not adequately involved in the large-scale IT project, major technology rollouts often run into issues. Stakeholders have valuable insights into current processes, pain points, and desired functionality that project teams may lack. Failure to solicit this input can lead to solutions that do not properly address the root problems.

If stakeholders are not engaged during the design and build phases, the final product may not meet expectations. Stakeholders should review the working software’s wireframes, prototypes, and iterations to ensure it is progressing correctly.

Subpar communication

Oftentimes the success of a large software development project is determined by efficient communication between all parties. When communication channels break down, it becomes difficult to collaborate and align teams, ultimately impeding progress.

Moreover, when teams work in isolation, they lose sight of interdependencies and how their work impacts others. This results in duplications, incompatible solutions, and delays. All parties must be updated on progress through status reports and discussions to facilitate coordination.

Rollout of the raw solution

Lack of sufficient testing prior to launching a large software project can ultimately lead to failure after going live. Testing complex solutions often requires more time than anticipated. Project teams must build adequate testing timeframes and resources into the schedule to identify and remediate issues.

But even with extensive testing, issues can emerge once a solution goes into production. Continual monitoring and improvement help transform an acceptable launch into a successful one.


How to approach large scale projects

While complex IT initiatives often face significant challenges, successfully delivering such projects is achievable through careful planning and coordinated teamwork.

Based on our experience, achieving success in this domain is not a matter of chance but rather stems from sticking to efficient practices in project management and assembling an empowered team from the outset.

Following these 7 steps has a meaningful positive impact on the result, even when the scale or complexity is considerable.

1. Establish your activity scope and requirements

The first step for complex projects is to gather input from all stakeholders to determine the key objectives and priorities.

Then you should

  • Outline the must-have features and functions versus the nice-to-haves.
  • Map out how the new system will integrate with existing infrastructure and tools.
  • Specify any constraints for timeline, budget, resources, or technology.

Document this information in a project charter or statement of work. It helps set expectations upfront and provides an essential reference point as the project progresses. Having done that, define the scope by determining what is included in and out of the project’s purview.

For example, you may need to decide whether your work focuses on front-end, back-end, or full-stack development. Determine if it involves building a custom system from scratch or enhancing an existing product. The scope outlines the boundaries of the work and helps avoid costly mistakes down the road.

2. Select a vendor and assemble your team

To ensure the triumph of a large-scale project, look for a software development partner that has successfully delivered similar solutions. Their expertise can help avoid common pitfalls. An experienced vendor should have

  • attested accomplishments of on-time and on-budget delivery of products of similar scale and complexity;
  • proficiency in the necessary technologies, languages, and frameworks;
  • large pool of resources with diverse and complementary skills (architects, developers, testers, deployment specialists, etc.);
  • effective PM processes and collaboration and knowledge-sharing tools – these can adapt to changes and promote transparency; and
  • risk management strategies derived from experience.

3. Craft a comprehensive blueprint with milestones

Knowing how to plan a large software project and actually crafting a comprehensive action list is your next essential step for keeping your project moving. Break down the overall project into 3-5 high-level milestones representing significant achievements.

For each milestone, determine the specific tasks, timelines, and resources required:

  • Assign team members to be responsible for completing each task and provide precise expectations about each person’s role.
  • Develop a budget that allocates funding for each milestone.
  • Create a schedule with target completion dates for all tasks.
  • Plan for extra time to account for unexpected complications.
  • Determine the metrics you will use to measure the success of the project at each milestone and upon completion.

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4. Enable collaboration through PM tools

Many PM tools are available, from simple free options to enterprise solutions. They provide a centralized platform for task management, communication, file sharing, and more. For large projects, options like Jira, Asana, and Smartsheet offer helpful features like

  • task boards to visualize the workflow and status of tasks;
  • charts and timelines for scheduling and tracking progress;
  • document sharing and version control to ensure everyone is working from the latest files;
  • customizable fields, workflows, and permissions to meet your specific purposes;
  • integrations with other tools your team uses, like Slack, Google Drive, and others.

Once the project is underway, regularly review how the tools are being used and make adjustments. See what’s working well and what could be improved. Look for any duplication of effort across tools that you can consolidate.

5. Utilize methodologies of Agile software development for large-scale projects

Rather than attempting to define the entire activity scope in advance, take an iterative approach to development. Break the project into smaller deliverables, focusing on one iteration at a time. This allows for flexibility as business needs or technology changes. At the end of each 2-4-week sprint, assess what worked well and what needs improvement to incorporate into the next iteration.

Release updates frequently, even if just to a small group of users. This collects early feedback to make improvements. Minor releases also lower risk. It is easier to catch and fix issues, and less is at stake with each update.

6. Track progress and review performance regularly

Compare the progress to the timeline established in the plan. If delays are identified, find out the cause and make adjustments. It may require revising the schedule or plan, bringing on additional resources, or re-scoping the project.

Also, while working on the application development, monitor and evaluate the following:

  • Quality. Assess if it meets the outlined quality standards and review any emerging issues.
  • Budget expenditures. Review how much of the budget you have spent and look for areas where costs are overrunning.

Additionally, request input from team members and stakeholders on what is going well and where you can improve. Large projects often change in scope and direction over time. Listen to feedback with an open mind and be willing to adjust the plan, timeline, budget, resources, or other elements to adapt to the change.

7. Manage risks proactively

In large-scale project management, risks will always emerge and require mitigation. To avoid their impact on scope, schedule, or budget, perform the following:

  • Identify risks. At the start of the project, conduct a risk assessment workshop with key stakeholders to realize potential threats. Categorize them as high, medium, or low probability and impact. Focus risk management efforts on high and medium threats.
  • Develop a mitigation strategy. For each identified risk, make up a plan to minimize it. Update the plan as new information accumulates.

Risk oversight is a lifelong process. Monitor threats continuously to determine if their probability or impact has changed. Conduct their reviews at each stage, assess the effectiveness of mitigation plans, and make any changes if required.


How Eastern Peak can help you successfully launch your next complex project

Embarking upon an ambitious project requires extensive planning and preparation to set it up for success. While challenges will inevitably arise, with the right partnership, you can navigate obstacles and make it big.

Eastern Peak offers end-to-end software development solutions of any scale to meet your business objectives by utilizing technological advances such as IoT, AI, Cloud, Big Data, AR/VR, and others. We can assist you with

  • Business analysis to determine project scope and specifications;
  • UI/UX design to optimize the user experience;
  • Development of web, mobile, and enterprise solutions;
  • Quality assurance testing at every stage; and
  • Launch and ongoing support post-release.

Contact us to discuss how our team can make your next large-scale software project a resounding success.

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