Let’s ban IT projects! I have already stated one of the causes of the often poor relationship between business and IT – and the subsequent poor performance of business projects with IT components – is a lack of understanding between the two camps. You will note I said “business projects with IT components”, not “IT projects”, and therein lies a very important distinction. My view is, there is no such thing as an IT project, but rather there are business projects that may comprise, to a greater or lesser extent, some IT components. Unfortunately, this view tends not to be apparent or pervasive.
This view is important because from that philosophical starting point subsequent accountabilities and behaviours are driven. When a project is deemed an IT project, ownership and accountability are deemed to be within the domain of the IT shop. IT calls the shots and, if the project fails, IT takes the blame.
When a project with significant IT components is deemed a business project, ownership and accountability become the dominion of a business owner who enlists IT to assist them in delivery. The business owner is calling the shots and is held accountable for delivery.
In many organisations this is not the way things work. Business ‘owners’ will often loosely define what they want from IT and an IT project is then kicked off. As the project progresses, the business owner tends to maintain an arm’s length relationship as IT does its thing.
At some point the team delivers its work to the business owner, who may be upset it does not resemble what was originally envisaged. Both sides end up unhappy. The business owner, meanwhile, is frustrated at IT’s inability to deliver and the whole mess is viewed as a failed IT project
This is an example of misplaced accountability and unclear definition driving the wrong result. Business owners are often guilty of abdicating their responsibilities by pushing a responsibility into IT’s camp without providing IT with the required direction or information to meet the needs at hand, and by implicitly leaving IT to make functional decisions that should really be made in a business owner’s domain.
IT, on the other hand, is often guilty of accepting limited business direction, and rather than pushing back for greater business involvement, IT will often make assumptions about what they think is important, delivering a product with which the business owner is unhappy.
Something is badly wrong with this picture. For starters, if one is an ‘owner’, then one must assume the mantle of direction and involvement ‘ownership’ implies. This starts with a clear definition of the business benefits IT components will contribute, adequately defining requirements and rolling up one’s sleeves, so to speak, to actively work with IT to ensure these benefits are delivered.
It also means being held accountable for the outcomes of all project components, including IT components. In short, there are no more ‘IT projects’! Every project is a business project.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.