In an earlier blog we discussed below horizon risks that the CIO has to face and manage. These are largely unknown to the organization, at least until they get it totally wrong! In the cases where initiatives fail, often the reason isn’t the technology, but how well it is managed, and that leads back to project management.
Project management should be a factor in everyone’s job, so that they are aware of the expectations and their role. This is rarely so as the responsibility is often put in the hands of a project manager. Sadly good project managers do not grow on trees.
Most project managers manage retrospectively, record what has already happened, or as I like to say “stabbing the wounded and killing the dead”. This isn’t project management. It's project recording. It’s also largely unaware of the impact of one component versus another, everything gets treated equally.
Good project management should be looking ahead at what should be happening with an eye on the things that have the greatest potential to impact the effort.
Often related meetings involve hordes of people. Many of whom do not speak and just take notes – what I call the official witnesses. As why else are they there? Those that do speak, often go into low level detail on things of no great relevance to the overall success. These meetings add up to multi-thousand dollar costs, and the ROI is pretty awful. Generally the attendees are the mid-level people, and they have only limited capability to make decisions when blockages are identified, or things go off the rails.
That's why senior management exists. But how to communicate with them in a simple focused way? In a way they understand the potential impact so they can realign resources, goals and approaches, or come up with alternatives.
Having been through years of significant systems builds and mergers, the overall project management process has to understand the risk landscape involved to ensure success. This requires pulling all the involved parties together (not just IT) to map out the component parts of the initiative, and then identify them by their level of difficulty and impact they will have on it. This has to include identifying all the dependencies, particularly to events that are ancillary to the effort, but not a part of it. E.g. “move into new office”, doesn’t mean that you have to manage the build, but you do need to know its fully ready to move into.
Put into a quadrant, low to high difficulty vertically, low to high impact horizontally, immediately highlights the things that are most likely to cause failure. That top right square in the quadrant (most difficult, most impact) should be the focus for everyone, and monitored closely as this is material for senior management.
Then applying a simple rule to them for monitoring purposes as work proceeds helps everyone understand the risk portfolio in the effort:
- Green - on target;
- Amber - off target but can be brought back on target with extra efforts, change in approach, etc;
- Red - will fail to meet target.
This provides an easy to communicate dashboard, and means that project manager or steering group can focus on the important things. The green can be acknowledged but not discussed. Focus should be on the ambers and how they can be made green, and on the reds and what options there are to deal with these challenges. Often the reds need to be pushed up to senior management as they need stimulus along the command chain, reprioritization, management and/or organizational change.
This process works for the medium to heavyweight efforts by cutting down the chat sessions and redirecting the focus to real issues. This allied with the rule that these types of meetings should only be attended by management and those with executive responsibility so they can make commitments that they will be held to. This will lead to a drastically improved ROI.
Clearly this process would work for any effort, even those not involving IT. However, much of what happens inside an enterprise requires significant IT involvement. So IT is often required to ensure efforts are managed effectively as success will require more than meeting its commitment.
This process will only run successfully when the following items are present:
- a central command structure;
- monitoring progress;
- verifying green items;
- monitoring dependencies;
- front-running identified risks to ensure they don't go red;
- holding senior management to their commitments.
As we have discussed earlier, the CIO’s available capital to spend has two legs. The big challenge is to ensure that capital is spent on the things with the greatest impact. Then it’s down to “doing it right”, and that's where this approach fits in.
What are your steps to successful project management and IT ROI?