In these days of rapid change, accelerating the delivery of targeted benefits is essential. Leveraging proven best practices can reduce costs and risks and accelerate the feedback cycle but more importantly, it can cut down on the time required to deliver planned value.
In this post, we’ll look at how the CIO of a relatively new government agency used a comprehensive best practice based framework to quickly deliver a decision support mechanism that would guide the leadership team in their decision-making activities related to IT application and services investments.
Thanks to J.S. for the details on this case.
This government agency had a veritable grab bag of technologies supporting its various business operations, from internally hosted mainframe applications to spreadsheet solutions to externally hosted applications. The technologies had been put in place one by one as business needs emerged with little over-riding guidance or architectural influence.
As the business grew and demand for and investments in new technology solutions increased, the new CIO recognized it was time to put some structure in place to guide the organization’s technology platform and hosting decisions. The agency did not have a centralized, consistent, transparent and repeatable approach for assessing applications and services. This resulted in ad hoc procedures for submitting, assessing, authorizing and monitoring application and service provisioning initiatives. With maturing platform/hosting advancements in the industry (e.g. Cloud, SaaS, and Managed Services), the agency needed a mechanism to look at more efficient and cost effective provisioning options.
In 2012, the CIO engaged The Manta Group (now Fruition Partners) to design and assist with the roll-out of an end-to-end Decision Support Framework (DSF) process that would support the leadership team in their decision-making activities related to IT application and services investments. The Manta Group was a professional services firm with disciplines in management consulting, workflow automation and talent management. Manta has developed its Best Practice Ecosystem (BPe) based on implementing various best practice frameworks and methodologies, including Project Pre-Check, in large complex organizations.
The initial scope of the project was limited to corporate IT investments. Manta was charged to leverage best practices from the Project Pre-Check framework, which is itself built upon guidance from numerous well-established and recognized industry frameworks and methodologies (e.g. ITIL, Cobit, PMBoK, SEI, ValIT, Gartner, etc.).
Full disclosure here – as you know, I developed the Project Pre-Check practice referred to in this case and, in fact, all my other cases. I have also worked as a Manta consultant over the years and was involved at the start of this engagement in an oversight capacity. However, the project was carried out by other Manta staff to its successful conclusion, much to my delight and the delight of our clients.
The objectives of the DSF process were three-fold:
- Provide a consistent and repeatable approach for capturing required information for effective management decision-making
- Develop a DSF model to assist with decisions on proposed IT expenditures.
- Develop and deliver an operating solution within three months.
Initially the CIO asked the Manta consultants to work with his own managers within IT. The consultants urged him to go beyond IT, to engage with the other executives and make them a vital part of the development effort. After all, the decisions the DSF would be facilitating would underpin the organization’s core applications and involve changes throughout the agency, not just IT.
Not quite convinced, the CIO agreed to a trial with one executive, a trusted colleague. The executive’s response and feedback would determine the approach going forward. The executive was taken through an introduction and interview exercise in which he was asked to identify which of the 125 Project Pre-Check decision areas (specific questions that needed to be assessed) were relevant to platform and application hosting decision making. The meeting took fifty minutes. He chose 62 decision areas. Most importantly, the executive was thrilled to have participated in the process and looked forward to ongoing involvement.
Based on those results, the CIO asked the consultants to ensure the DSF was proactively socialized with all impacted stakeholder groups to solicit buy-in and support, as well as identify any stakeholder concerns before investment dollars were spent
The first phase of the project took approximately 1.5 months and included requirements gathering, a review of existing practices, followed by design and development of the process. Process design activities encompassed the identification of decision areas required for decision-making, integration with other agency process/procedure models, governing policies/principles and process roles and responsibilities definition.
From the 125 decision areas included in the Project Pre-Check framework, 66 were identified as relevant across all the stakeholder groups. An additional two decision areas unique to the agency’s needs were added to the list. A worksheet based prototype of the model was developed to back test existing applications and services, and included a DSF Request Form that captured initiative information for input to the model. Reporting included several views based on agency groups (e.g. compliance, security) with graphical representation of platform options.
The first phase also developed a six stage model that placed the DSF process in the context of the overall strategic planning, solution development, implementation and monitoring cycle. It provided an end-to-end view to ensure initiatives were assessed objectively, launched right, and delivered the targeted value quickly and effectively. Of the 68 Decision areas identified for the DSF, 8 related to the development of IT strategy, 20 related to the assessment of platform alternatives, 25 related to the assessment of providers and 15 related to change readiness, implementation and monitoring.
The second phase of the project, development of the process, guide book and final model took approximately 1 month. This was accomplished through design workshops and a few test and tweaked iterations to tune the model.
This stage encompassed:
- Process awareness and education activities through workshops.
- Consensus on decision areas and the key characteristics for application and service scoring.
- Testing and tuning the model with existing corporate IT applications as cases.
- Process “tweaking” and developing additional process support materials.
- Development of two corporate IT iterations based on submitted initiatives.
A key element of the DSF model/process was the ability to report on existing and proposed corporate initiatives. These reports provided the agency leadership team with a view of initiatives by benefit, as well as impact (compliance, technology, privacy, and security). In addition, a number of other views were produced to provide insight into decision areas by agency group.
The DSF process provided the following benefits to the agency:
- Proactive socialization of the initiative helped with gaining support and resource commitments from peers prior to submission for executive consideration.
- Ensured initiatives were assessed in a more efficient and effective manner through the application of a consistent, repeatable and scalable process based on best practice.
- Provided an objective way of addressing multiple initiatives and created the framework for appropriate communication among agency executives.
- Provided centralized coordination, management and oversight of technology spend on continuous improvement initiatives.
- Minimized waste and/or duplication of effort by monitoring and managing initiative viability from the point of conception.
After just 10 weeks, the agency had a robust and standardized approach for assessing, authorizing and managing internal continuous improvement opportunities that were aligned to corporate and department strategies.
How a Great Leader Achieved Success
The CIO succeeded with this initiative for a number of reasons:
- He recognized the advantages a best practice based platform would provide for his organization in terms of comprehensiveness, objectivity and responsiveness and chose Project Pre-Check as the base framework.
- He engaged a consulting firm with expertise in the use of Project Pre-Check and decision frameworks.
- He set a short three month target from start to finish to accelerate value delivery and reduce risks.
- He initially tried out the fact finding process on a trusted and willing executive to get the executive’s reaction. It turned out the executive in question was thrilled to be involved and fully supportive of the process.
- He worked with the other executives to understand the challenges and opportunities, participate in the development of the DSF and contribute to the ongoing assessment of application and hosting options. They were all willing and eager participants.
- He encouraged the consultants to test the DSF on existing applications and platforms as well as planned initiatives to confirm the process was delivering decisionable and actionable results.
After just 10 weeks, the CIO had delivered to the agency a standard application and hosting assessment practice that the executive group helped develop and were fully committed to going forward. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, leverage all those practices you know have been proven and add value. Engage the affected stakeholders right up front. Do things quickly, in four to six week intervals. And measure and report how you’ve done. Finally, put these points on your checklist of things to do in future endeavours so you too can be a Great Leader. And remember to use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks right up front so you don’t overlook those key success factors.
In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll present it for others to learn from and comment on. Thanks
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting, a senior consultant at Mapador Inc. and a blogger on Project Times. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check – The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath – The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org