If you want to make progress with your project, the support of your CEO is mandatory, says Catherine Rusby. Here’s her advice on how to get the CEO and management team onside. 1. Make sure you attend management meetings. Demonstrate that you understand their issues, but most importantly engage with them.
2. Give your management team responsibility for your project. You will depend on them to vote for your resources throughout the entire process. They will need to manage the changes that the project will inflict on them and their staff. Keep in mind that they manage their changes — the project doesn’t do that. All IT does is give them parameters and systems to help with the business.
“They need to support their staff because it can be tough in the ‘business as usual’ environment when people are taken away to work on a project,” says Rusby.
3. The management team needs to participate in the steering committees to reinforce their ownership of a project. The CIO will need fellow managers to help resolve some of the inevitable conflicts that will arise.
“There will be priority conflicts, resource conflicts … The fact that people will be asked to change the processes they own and love will be a source of conflict. They have to move on. If the business isn’t prepared to change, you are wasting money on technical investment,” says Rusby.
4. The incentive plan. When everybody in a company has an incentive to make the project a success, a happy outcome is most likely. “If you can get your CEO and fellow managers to buy into an incentive plan, that immediately aligns everyone to the same outcome,” says Rusby.
5. Tie your project to the annual planning and budgeting process. Once everyone agrees they want to go ahead with a project, they will give it priority and allocate funds and resources. The planning process will focus managers on your project and its allocations. Their involvement will ensure their ownership as well. The CIO will have the benefit of knowing that all the costs and benefits are now recorded in the business plan.
“When I did my business case the only way of gaining approval was to outline the benefits,” says Rusby. “We budgeted two years out, and we are expecting to deliver on time and on budget this year, keeping in mind that this year is about price. Next year will be centred on delivering the benefits. So if we don’t do what we said we were going to do, and if we don’t change the business and get the benefits … Well, money talks.”
6. The governance process. This is about having an approval process and documenting the projected benefits. Rusby says she has been like a broken record every time one of her colleagues has described the Sirius project as an IT project. “I go, ‘No, no, no. It’s a what …?’ Now they all say this is a business initiative — every single one of them. When everyone understands that this is a business project they all take ownership of it.”
What would I do differently?
Catherine Rusby acknowledges that she is learning new things all the time. But when it comes to the Sirius project at NRMA, she can think of only one thing she would have done differently.
“At this point I have a lot of large activities on the go within IT,” she says. “My team has been stretched a bit thin.”
Rusby says that when she joined NRMA her brief had been to make IT valuable to the business. That requirement meant there were several areas she and her team had to work on.
The outsourcing arrangement with Gen-i had been a big effort because of its significance. It had involved reformulating an exit strategy, among other things.
Rusby’s IT team currently numbers between 70 and 80. Of those, 25 are contractors in the development area. Eventually the IT operations will be totally outsourced, with the exception of the helpdesk and a couple of people in strategy and architecture.
“My executive contract is for two years,” says Rusby. “I am a naturalised Australian, which made it easy for me to come to New Zealand. I am in the second year of my contract but NRMA can extend my stay.”
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