Pssst….Heard the one about the successful business IT project?

In aviation, it is said that “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but very few old, bold pilots.”

This has its analogy in the enterprise in that “There are successful business projects and there are successful IT projects, but there are very few successful business IT projects”.

Sound familiar? If this resonates with your experience in delivering, funding, being part of, or on the receiving end of enterprise IT projects, then welcome to the real world, where we rarely seem to learn from the past.

Lost in a sea of perceptions

For each enterprise IT project, there are often as many versions of reality as there are stakeholders.  Managing the sea of perceptions about what, when, where and how IT technologies should help the business is no trivial task for those involved, whether in IT or from the organisation. Gain clarity on the exact business problem being solved, as well as its scope.  This should not rely on just one person’s perspective.  Broad consensus and stress testing assumptions on the basis of evidence, wherever possible, is crucial.

Whilst there are a plethora of conventional project governance approaches and frameworks such as PRINCE2, PMBOK and others, their rote relevance in complex, fast moving and volatile business environment is questionable. If, on the other hand, you are building or implementing IT systems along the lines of a Soviet era industrial complex, these frameworks may be very appropriate.

Project rigour, not rigor mortis

The attempts at adopting the ‘agile’ methodology for enterprise IT projects is proving to be not that straightforward in many organisations. The reality is that the delivery of stellar enterprise IT projects under the moniker of ‘agile’ requires a cross-functional collaborative culture, supported by a well defined, and maturing agile framework.  If your organisation is at war with itself and/or the IT department (or your IT vendor if you’re outsourced, for that matter) the probability of a truly successful ‘agile’ project emerging is very remote. You’re likely to get better odds of success by putting your money on race number 5 at the Royal Randwick.

The harsh reality is that for enterprise IT projects to really be able to deliver realisable (not perceived) and sustained value, there are a few factors which may just prove the game changer, in a positive way that is.

The power of the conditioned response

Humans are, for the most part, driven by incentives, and financial incentives, for the most part, rank highly in the eyes of business managers. In his famous canine experiment, Pavlov showed that conditioned responses are easily elicited when subjects are presented with an incentive.

If your enterprise IT project is important for your organisation, the incentive schemes of the relevant line-of-business executives should be adjusted to reflect their share of accountability in the project’s ultimate success. With no ‘skin in the game’, business stakeholders may be less inclined to really get behind the project, preferring to defer responsibility to the of the IT department.

  • When it comes to implementing and maintaining major new enterprise IT initiatives, management incentive schemes for those outside of IT should be adjusted to reflect their share of accountability in ensuring that these project’s outcomes deliver their promised value.

Keep your HIPPOs under control

The unintentional distraction and destruction wrought by an out of control HIPPO, or Highest Paid Person’s Opinion, can wreak havoc on an IT project.  The most influential and prominent people are targets for a constellation of stakeholders attempting to influence their decisions in a way that might be in that stakeholder’s best short term interest, and not necessarily those of the organisation.  Examples include a vendor primarily concerned with their revenues or managers keen to steer the IT enterprise project towards outcomes that might help them rise through the ranks. Allowing HIPPOs to dominate major projects could  be the project’s undoing, especially if they are unaware of the project’s interdependencies, complexities or risks.

  • Your IT project governance processes should embody rigor but not rigor-mortis. Agility is key. Welcome input from your HIPPOs, but they should be moderated.

Cutting cost is easy, but realizing value is hard.

Expecting an underfunded, poorly structured IT team with the wrong mix of skills to be able to drive real value for your organisation is an assumption that needs to be tested. Equip your IT team adequately or select your IT vendors that can peer with the organisation

Organisations that still adhere to the outmoded managerial model that IT is a ‘service’ function to the business, and therefore, subservient to its demands, potentially miss the golden opportunity of having IT precipitate, drive and support your technology-based enterprise innovation and transformation  initiatives that take the form of IT projects.  Shifting this attitude is critical  for technology  to deliver the optimal outcomes for your organisation.

So, recognition that an effective, trusted and engaged IT function should be a key element in ensuring that your organisation thrives and survives in our technology dependent, competitive, volatile environment.