In my experience, successful IT projects succeed or fail based in large part upon the strength of the partnership between business and IT leadership. It sounds so boringly simple, and it is, in theory. Projects that are bound for success usually have some things in common:
- The business leadership has identified a problem worth solving, can articulate the need, can demonstrate the return on the investment, and can assign appropriate resources to help lead in developing a solution.
- IT leadership understands the priority of the business, can articulate a possible solution, and can assign appropriate resources to developing the solution.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In our practice it is surprisingly common to see a disconnect between our clients’ business and IT departments, where either party has decided to go at it alone on a project and gain buy-in from the other party later on. This disconnect usually takes one of two forms:
1. “Build it and they will come.”
The first common disconnect is when IT leaders feel compelled to take on projects that highlight the capabilities of a new technology. I will call those “skunk works” projects. The rationale is that if only the business could see what the tool could do, they would immediately “get it” and jump on board. These projects usually get started with internal IT budgets and deliver pilot projects with a scope designed to show off the new tool’s capability. However, the big reveal with the business leaders frequently falls flat as they fail to see the relevance of their operation, and the project gets no further funding. The key problem here is that there was not a relevant business case, nothing to move the business to support adopting the new technology.
2. “IT is just a blocker. We’ll do it ourselves.”
The second, and arguably more expensive disconnect is when business leaders, frustrated with what they perceive to be a lack of speed, flexibility, and sometimes competence from their IT departments, decide to execute their own projects without IT input. These projects usually get executed using an operating budget, but without proper insight into the infrastructure, approved design patterns, scaling considerations, software licensing, and support capabilities of the IT organization. At some point, usually toward the end of the project, the business acknowledges that they actually do need the support of IT to put the system into production. Only at this point is the true cost of the project revealed. The IT department either tallies up the new licensing, infrastructure, and support costs, or simply refuses to support the new system. Either way, the business leader now has three basic options, 1) pay IT to support the non-standard system; 2) build a costly shadow IT team; 3) abandon the system altogether.
So, how do you avoid such costly disconnects ? Fortunately, there is a simple tool that can help identify and avoid such disconnects. At CTS, our experience shows that a Project Charter authored by the team at the beginning of a project can greatly reduce the chances of these disconnects. A written charter answers the most basic questions about the project:
Why – What is the business justification, vision and goal of the project? How will we measure success? This is first on the list for a reason. A compelling business case is essential for project success.
Who – Who are the stakeholders that will be affected and need to have input? For example, if your business justification assumes an increase in revenue, then your sales and marketing team should be on the core team to validate the assumption.
What – What is the high-level scope and content of the project and how does it contribute to the goals?
When – What are the project deadlines and are they realistic?
How – What is the initial game plan for the project regarding resources, technology and process?
Risks – What risks have you identified and how will you mitigate them?
Yes, it is basic and boring, but in our experience, if your combined business and IT teams can come together to create a quality Project Charter that answers the questions above, you are likely to avoid common disconnects and have a much more successful project.