Despite significant research progress, alignment-related issues are among the top concerns of executives. Previous studies mostly focus on a company-wide strategic level of alignment; while this `top-down¿ view has benefits, it largely ignores the operational practices that help achieve alignment in IT projects as well as the impact that timing and complementarity of practices have on achieving alignment. In our research we apply four alignment practices ¿ communication, shared understanding, management commitment and IT investment evaluation ¿ to individual IT projects rather than at a company level; specifically, we look at the role of timing and complementarity for these alignment practices throughout different project phases. A detailed analysis of six IT projects carried out at three companies in the telecommunications industry reveals that IT projects creating higher business value employ all four alignment practices immediately from the start. No project was able to recover from failing to establish these four alignment practices in the first phase. While supporting the importance of complementarity of alignment practices, our findings also add the importance of the earliness of this complementarity.