The Anatomy of a Great IT Project

Nobody wants an IT project to fail.

No matter the budget, or how complex the challenge, it’s in everyone’s interests to deliver something great. Despite this, 14% of IT projects fail. And of the 86% deemed “successful”, almost a third do not reach their goals (31%), two-fifths go over budget (43%), and half are late (49%). Which doesn’t sound much like success to us.

With such common pitfalls, how do you make sure that your project is not just “successful” then, but great?

The simple answer: A clear and comprehensive process.

Every challenge you face is different, but the structure provided by a clear process will allow you to progress with purpose and deliver something great every time.

To drive a great IT project from initial challenge to completion, you, your team, and your external partners will ideally go through a four-stage process together. A process made of the four Ds:

  • Discover
  • Define
  • Design
  • Deliver

Now, most people focus on the final two stages of the process, Design and Deliver (the Implementation phase) as they feel like that’s where the “magic” happens. But in reality, getting the Discover and Define stages (the Understanding phase) right is what makes or breaks a project.

All need to be given proper consideration though because in combination, the four individual stages form the anatomy of a great IT project.

Here’s how…


Whether designing brand new websites or digitising specific services, all projects begin with a challenge. Understanding this challenge is vital for all parties involved. Lack understanding and you risk not “answering the question” posed by the challenge at hand.

The Discover stage widens your perception of the challenge and gets you to consider it from every angle. Doing so gives you a far greater scope of understanding of both the problem your tackling and all its possible solutions.

Use discovery to build a broad view of the situation.

Research as broadly as possible – from a data security audit to competitor analysis to customer journey mapping – to give yourself the well-rounded context you need.

It cannot be overstated how crucial this step is to figuring out where you are at present, where you want to do get to, and expose potentially hidden issues in the process.

While this might feel laborious it is far better to understand everything that’s going to impact the success of your project from the off. If it isn’t going to work as first imagined it’s better know now, rather than at a later stage when money and time has been wasted.

Ideally, you won’t come across any red flags, but if you do you’ll be well prepared to deal with them.


The aim of the Define stage is to narrow this broad perspective you’ve build during the Discover stage to create a comprehensive yet succinct problem statement, setting reasonable and realistic goals for the project.

Much of the process of defining is user-focused, centring on how the result will look and feel for the intended audience.

Mapping user personas and journeys, as well as detailing scenarios provides clarity and a focus on the project value add, rather than product features. Which is what the end user will actually care about.

Here, you drill into what is most important from the discovery phase uncovering the minutiae of detail you need to inform the rest of the process.

The value of definition is inestimable.

Keeping a shared, specific problem statement at the heart of your project aligns everyone’s expectations and allows everyone to progress into the next stages of the process with purpose and clarity.


Only once you have reached this shared clarity can the second phase of a great IT project begin: Implementation.

Without it you’re simply guessing about what’s going to work.

Formed of two steps – Design and Deliver – this phase is too often viewed as the entire process, resulting in a disconnect between clients and suppliers. Instead, designing with the insight afforded by the Understanding phase brings brilliance to a project.

Much like the Discovery stage, this is a chance to broaden your perspective, thinking widely about what kinds of design will work best.

Broaden your perspectives again at the Design phase

There are a multitude of components to consider, from business concerns like recruitment frameworks to software requirements like capacity planning and security architecture.

This step should be as comprehensive as possible, ensuring that every element of the project is aligned with the central problem statement. Wireframing and mock-ups should be shared with all stakeholders to allow for collaboration.

By the end of the design stage, you should be confident that you have considered as many options as necessary to have found the best possible solution.


The Deliver stage then puts a chosen solution through its paces, narrowing things down once more. With a clear focus on what the project needs to achieve, the Deliver stage is an opportunity to finesse.

At this stage you’ll be stress testing your chosen design looking at feature, penetration, and browser & device testing. And this testing is an often-undervalued element of digital product development.

Test, test, and test again. It is far better to understand exactly how a product will work and deal with any bugs now, before it is made live and users pick them up for you. Yes, it can be time consuming and require considerable effort, but the potential loss of customers, revenue and brand perception from launching poorly-operating solutions can have a much greater impact on the business.

Bringing your project journey to completion often involves a more significant element of support than initially thought, too.

Training, environment setup, and recruitment support all contribute to a successful delivery and ensure that the product is implemented with the same clarity that has been central throughout.

From the initial challenge to this final moment of completion, the anatomy of a great IT project follows a double-diamond shape (see below), centred on the crux of shared clarity:

The Thought Quarter Double Diamond

Unfortunately, too many project leaders devalue or disregard the importance of Understanding and jump straight to Implementing.

Without collaborating on a high-quality specification, you will ultimately be dissatisfied – no matter how much great design and delivery work has gone into the new solution.

In Conclusion

A great IT project really isn’t about technology – it’s about the business problem you are trying to solve.

When clients and suppliers share the same understanding of this problem, they work together to implement a solution that’s great, not just successful.

In need of some advice or guidance on how to make your next IT project a great one? Check out our client stories to see where we’ve done it before and then let’s talk.