When I was developing Project Pre-Check way back in the early 21st century, I targeted the practice at stakeholders, to help them manage major change initiatives successfully. There was, and still is, a significant project delivery problem. Stakeholders, those managers initiating, directing and affected by a change, are the key to success in my view. Most other commentators and pundits agree.
Project Pre-Check makes absolutely no distinction between business initiatives and technology changes. It states:
“Project Pre-Check views any change as a “business” initiative, demanding appropriate due diligence, prioritization mechanisms, justification and funding authorizations. That means that new technologies and enhancements to existing technology infrastructure should be managed by the same stakeholder practices that are used to deliver new products, manufacturing changes, mergers and acquisitions, new channels, new markets, business process enhancements, organizational restructurings, etc. Why? Because, for a change to be successful, each of these ventures requires the active involvement and agreement of stakeholders throughout the enterprise. Project Pre-Check applies to all equally.”
The organizations I’ve worked with view change that way. So, I was surprised when I came across a couple of articles recently that suggested some folks have a different perspective.
The first article, titled The Business Value of IT by Larry Bonfante, CIO of the USTA and founder of CIO Bench Coach, originally appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Baseline Magazine. In the article, he states:
“I am a firm believer that the true value of IT is to drive tangible business value. I’m not a fan of technology for technology’s sake. Nor am I a big fan of people who become enamored with technology because it’s “cool.” IT is meant to help drive business outcomes, plain and simple.
For the past few years, you couldn’t attend a conference or pick up a technology publication without reading about the need for IT to “align” with the business. To me, this may be the single stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Do you hear CFOs or CMOs discussing the need to align with the business? Of course not. Why? Because they know they are a critical part of the business.
Well, so are we! The concept of IT aligning with the business suggests that IT is somehow separate from the business. Instead, we are a critical component that should be engaged in every aspect of operations and strategy.
I often tell people that my organization doesn’t have any IT projects, which makes them look at me as if I had three heads. But it’s true: We don’t have any IT projects.”
He goes on to say “Have you ever met a business executive who isn’t focused on the financial bottom line and who isn’t held accountable for financial outcomes? If we as CIOs are truly business executives, then we should be held to the same set of expectations as the other business leaders in the C-suite.”
That should put the matter to rest, right? Here’s a CIO saying he has no IT projects! And then I came across the next article, in the September 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review! The article, entitled Why Your IT Project May Be Riskier Than You Think (the bold is mine) is by Bent Flyvbjerg, a BT Professor and founding chair of major programme management at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and Alexander Budzier, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and a doctoral candidate at Saïd.
They present a number of examples of large IT projects that have failed, costing the organizations involved countless millions. They state:
“IT projects are now so big, and they touch so many aspects of an organization, that they pose a singular new risk. Mismanaged IT projects routinely cost the jobs of top managers. They have sunk whole corporations. Even cities and nations are in peril.”
Yikes! They go on to say “The CEO’s of companies undertaking significant IT projects should be acutely aware of the risks. It will be no surprise if a large, established company fails in the coming years because of an out-of-control IT project. In fact, the data suggest that one or more will.”
So who’s right? Larry Bonfante, CIO of the USTA or our friends at the Saïd Business School? The answer lies in the latter’s analysis of a successful merger between the Emirates Bank and the National Bank of Dubai in 2007. Flyvbjerg and Budzier identified seven key steps taken by the project leaders that contributed to the project’s success. Number 6 on the list was: “Framed the initiative as a business endeavor, not a technical one”.
So there you have it – if you want any chance of delivering a major technology change successfully, treat it as a business project and engage the business stakeholders whose involvement and agreement are essential. It doesn’t matter whether it has lots of technology change or a little, lots of business change or a little, it still has to be treated as a business venture. Sure, the other six items on the list are important too, but if you don’t have the right stakeholders, you don’t have a chance!
Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. 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 that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success.