Whose Project Is This Anyway?


Nearly every company has been there.  A big, “strategic” project encompassing major changes to systems and business processes, and the Executive Staff has their focus on the project team to bring this effort in on time, on budget and on goal.  Once again, the CIO, is in the hot seat.  As they say, it’s lonely at the top.  But wait…along comes a new strategic project to the company and it involves major changes to systems AND business processes.  So where are the business leaders?  Of course, they have designs to do, products to assemble, orders to ship and books to close, so it is up to the CIO and his or her organization. What is wrong with this picture?


Not all that long ago, IT was the recipient of an abundance of funding for people and projects.  Almost without regard to payback timeframes or ROI goals, IT was given the task of changing the company through systems implementations and enhancements.  Of course, the CIO was held accountable for the success of the project – or for its failure.  Experienced CIO’s knew this pattern all too well and they took steps to make sure that they were not in it alone.  So should you.


Projects that accommodate or require business process change must be sponsored by, and should be led by, the business team rather than IT.  The IT team and the technologies that they bring to bear are the enablers, not the drivers.  We no longer do projects that bring in technology for the sake of just the latest of the technology.  The business must benefit, and to insure that they do, the business must lead the way.  This starts at the very beginning of the process for getting the project into the active queue to be funded and launched.


As part of the annual budgeting or strategic planning process, it is the business which should have these projects on their list of critical investments.  It may have been their IT staff that brought the technology opportunity to the attention of the business leader, and IT may have even provided the documentation for the justification of the expense, but it is the business that benefits, so they should propose, provide funding for, and lead the project.  Certainly, in many companies, this is a very different approach and so some guidance will be essential.


From the viewpoint of the business, it all starts with the benefit to the business going forward.  The implementation of technology must satisfy or enable a necessary business change.  This can be the solution to a long term problem, or a new business process improvement opportunity which presents itself with the appearance of a new or enhanced technology.  There will be occasions when the IT staff discovers these new technologies and brings them to the attention of the business for review and evaluation.  Upon concurrence from the business leaders that a true business value exists, IT will then work with the business to help THEM create the business case and justify the investment for the company.  This means that the business sees enough of a value that they place it higher on their list than some other investment ideas that they had previously developed on their own.


Once the primary business area is sold on the idea and is willing to back it, it is up to that business team to then justify it to the other business team leaders so that when the decision is before the Executive team, the support will come from more than just one area.


Once the project is funded, it is time to create the project leadership team.  Once again, this should fall to the business.  While IT may have more project management expertise, it is IT’s job to enable, not to take over.  From an accounting standpoint, the budget for the project may end up in IT’s budget, but that does not preclude the business team from driving and leading the overall project.


Having the project driven by the business teams resolves many of the problems encountered by project teams:


·        Priority – if it is on the list of things for the business to do, it is on their list of priorities

·        Management by Objectives (MBO) – now the project will be on everyone’s MBO list – not just the CIO’s.

·        Focus – with the business justifying for the project and budget, and with it firmly placed in their MBO’s, there can be no question that the project deserves the focus required to get it done.

·        People – In these projects, when IT is leading the way, IT asks for the “best and the brightest” from the business team to participate.  That battle is always difficult, at best, and the project usually gets the people that “the business can spare”.  When the business is leading the way and their MBO (and potential bonuses and promotions) are tied to the success of the project, they are going to put the best people on the project.


Of course, the CIO is not off the hook.  The Executive Staff will certainly expect the CIO and their team to enable the success of the project.  While a successful project will not necessarily put the CIO in the spotlight, a failed project will certainly bring the often heard definition of CIO – Career is Over – to the forefront.  As a team, IT and the business can make every project a success.