CIO Careers: It’s Back to School Time

What does a CIO need to be successful? We each have our own answers. Some may say that technical excellence and knowledge count most, others might place the emphasis on business awareness, relationships or just hard-core ambition. Certainly, all of these are necessary to reach a certain level in an organization. But to take the final step and be accepted as someone who is truly a member of the C-suite, you need one more thing: influence. This is the sixth in a series of articles on how to position yourself as an influential leader in your organization. Previous installments were:

Enough with the Management Platitudes

What do you feel (not think, but feel) when you hear one of those overused, super-obvious platitudes about IT management. You know what I’m talking about. Phrases such as: “IT needs to be aligned with the business,” and the like. Personally, these drive me nuts. When I hear such platitudes used, they’re usually coming from someone who is doing exactly the opposite of which they speak.

There is one particular platitude that’s jumping out at me of late. So much so that I now believe that deafness to its real message is one of the biggest reasons why so many IT managers are struggling with professional success. The platitude of which I speak: “IT projects cannot succeed without effective change management.”


We’ve all known this for a very, very long time. Yet it seems like this old and, by now, very obvious idea is frequently ignored. What makes it so strange–and worse–is that it is being ignored at the very same time as it is being spoken aloud in conference rooms across the world. It’s as if IT leaders think that just by saying the magic words it just sorta happens, on its own.

The Governance Process – The Prototypical Case Study

In my line of work, I get to be a fly on the wall as IT leaders think about and review their project portfolios. This scenario provides the perfect case study for what I am talking about.

As part of the on-going project governance process, the CIO inquires about the change management for a particular project. In response, the project managers (or their bosses) assure the CIO that there is a comprehensive user-training program in place. Everyone nods their heads in agreement and the meeting moves on.

But wait, I say. User training is, of course, very important. But that isn’t change management, that’s just user training. Change management is much more than that. Change management needs to cover … blah, blah, and blah. (No need for me to go on and on about it, you know exactly what I mean, right? Right?)

Anyway. After I finish my little speech, everyone once again agrees. The project manager is told to come back next time with a change management plan and then the meeting moves on.

Fast-forward 30 days. Again the project is reviewed, and again the exact same scenario plays out.

This usually continues for another one or two review cycles, by which time 120 days or more has passed since the issue of change management was first raised. Usually, by now, the user training is over.  The implementation is solidly in beta, if not GA.  And the aches and pains of the new system fill the hallways of IT.

And Away We Go

Then comes the big project review meeting. Out comes the platitude to explain the problems with the project: “IT projects cannot succeed without effective change management.” At this point, I’m ready to jump out the window.

I know you understand what I’m talking about. You’ve been there yourself.

The question is: why is this happening?

Actually, there are two questions here–one big question, and one small question.

  1. The big one: Why isn’t change management being properly integrated into IT projects?

  2. The small one: Why do so many IT managers and leaders confuse user training for change management?

The answer, I believe, to the big question lies embedded in the answer to the smaller question.

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