The CIO’s Role in Project Management

As is the case with many CIOs today, Dennis L’Heureux’s IT organization is being tasked with more projects than it can handle.

“We have so much demand we can’t meet it,” says L’Heureux, who for the past 14 years has served as CIO of Rockford (Ill.) Health System. “I have to keep telling business managers that their demand exceeds our capacity.”

His experiences reflect the tremendous pressure CIOs feel: too many projects, tight budgets, shrinking staffs–all while the business expects IT to deliver, and deliver fast.

“Business leaders are interested in results; they are not interested in why certain applications are running into problems,” says Gregory Balestrero, president and CEO of the Project Management Institute. “The CIO is going to have to talk about the results and the scope of the projects and programs they’re trying to achieve.” So if a CIO needs to provide an update on an ERP initiative, for instance, he or she must be able to talk about the project’s benefits in business terms, explains Balestrero.

To help keep the physicians, nurses and department managers aware of his IT organization’s project constraints, L’Heureux meets frequently with organizational leaders who participate in an information management advisory services steering committee. This committee reviews the inventory of projects being worked on, the resources being applied to them, and the pros and cons of pulling back or pushing ahead with certain projects.

To help put some structure and discipline around project management efforts at Rockford Health, L’Heureux created a project management office (PMO) about a year ago. A PMO officer recommends who should be placed on various project teams, while L’Heureux lobbies senior management for the staff needed for different projects, as well as to determine the timeline for utilizing each of those people.

L’Heureux describes his role in project management as a careful mix of art, politics, and identification of resources and staff availability. “It takes some bobbing and weaving,” says L’Heureux. “We have business managers identified as the project leaders, and I shadow them. If they fail, I get hung. If they succeed, I get glorified.”

L’Heureux’s experiences are partly a reflection of how CIOs need to set the standard for establishing discipline around project management while communicating their objectives and status effectively with line-of-business peers in terms they understand.

The CIO also plays a critical role in the governance processes associated with project management, says Andre Spatz, former CIO at UNICEF. While in that position from 1997 through 2006, Spatz made sure that he co-owned every project with the business leaders whose organizations were responsible for the results of those efforts. In other words, they had skin in the game.

“That feature was critical because I didn’t want to have sponsors,” says Spatz. “I wanted owners who were fully accountable for the investments and attached to those investments.”

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