Task Mastering in IT

The last time I checked, The Standish Group (which tracks these things) stated that approximately 34 percent of IT projects are delivered on time and on budget. That leaves a whopping two-thirds that are unsuccessful in meeting their stated commitments.

After so long, why is it still so hard for IT organizations to deliver successful projects?

Let me share what may be a startling metric regarding project delivery at the USTA. We have delivered 100 percent of our projects on time and on budget for seven years running. Are we that much smarter than the average bear? I doubt it. But we are doing a few things that have made a real difference for our community in ensuring successful outcomes.

First, we have almost no “IT projects.” We have lots of business projects every year that have technology and information as key underpinnings. However, they are viewed and managed as business projects, not IT projects.

What does that mean? Every project needs to have a business sponsor that is willing to be accountable for requesting the funding and helping to manage the effort. It is amazing how much easier it is to get approval and funding and to keep a project on track when, for example, your chief marketing officer is the one seen as the project owner.

Every project put forward for consideration also has to have either a qualitative or quantitative ROI. If a project doesn’t drive revenue, reduce costs, drive efficiencies, improve customer satisfaction or help us accomplish our mission, it is not put forward for board approval. Even infrastructure projects have a business sponsor: me! We simply won’t upgrade to the next version of an operating system unless there is a real business reason to do so.

Another reality is that every one of our projects has a clear customer–a clear recipient of the project’s value. This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many IT groups run projects without having sponsorship or buy-in from anyone for what they are attempting to accomplish.

We have a three-tiered governance process for project approval, which ensures that before any project goes before the board for consideration, we have effectively vetted the value, approach and costs associated with all key stakeholders in the process.

We have also implemented what I would describe as “PMI-Lite.” This is a painless, high-level version of the PMI project management methodology that’s simple enough for business clients to embrace, but focused enough to make sure that you have the key principles of sound project management in place.

What has all this meant for us? Well, we don’t put forward “frivolous” projects. If a project isn’t mission-driven or has no real ROI, it doesn’t make the cut. Second, we have a strong partnership with our business clients, who feel a sense of ownership and accountability for the project’s success. People don’t just toss projects over the fence to IT, not to be seen again until they’re unhappy with the finished product. We have total transparency as to what we’re doing, how money is being spent and the impact each initiative has on our goals as an organization. This has made a huge difference in our credibility, as well as our success in delivering value.

Project management is a critical capability for IT credibility. Don’t go to war alone–make sure you have the support, partnership and focus of all the parties required to enable project success.

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Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.

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