In my early career I can recall a meeting with the CEO of a major UK plc who lamented his lack of understanding of IT. Back then this was not an unusual comment. IT was still generally regarded as a ‘black art’ by many business stakeholders, particularly those at a senior level. But as technology has become rapidly more pervasive and consumer oriented, so consumers are more comfortable around tech and certainly more demanding, so we expect business stakeholders to understand more about it. That said there is still a litany of failed IT projects and programmes and so much opportunity, not to mention business benefit, lost. Why is this?
I believe a major cause is down to the mind-set of key stakeholders involved in these initiatives. It’s not rocket science, but it does take resolve and a sustained level of commitment to create the right environment for the project or programme to succeed – not to mention a large dose of common sense and pragmatism – particularly when it comes to committing the people and money to make it happen. So often programmes are underestimated. In fact, it never fails to amaze me how often a programme budget is set before any sense of what it will take to deliver and how much it will realistically cost is determined.
The related issue here is the need to take a holistic and realistic view of the programme. Senior level stakeholders need to maintain their commitment to the programme, deliver on their responsibilities, and ensure the priority of the programme is maintained. All too often commitment to the programme fades in the face of operational and business as usual imperatives.
Aspects that we often come up against when tackling such programmes include:
A lack of joined-up thinking
Initiatives are not sufficiently thought through, too many tasks are done in isolation, too many issues ducked with insufficient push back from the project/programme management – particularly from the business stakeholders when they don’t deliver on their commitments or where cost issues trump value.
All of this destabilises the initiative. Yes, the very project that the business is seeking to achieve is put at risk by simply not doing things properly. Sub-optimal decisions are made, leading to compromised projects and programme that fall short of expectations or fail altogether – and guess where the finger of blame will be pointed.
A misalignment between business and IT
We see new systems and technology being dropped into the business – often ‘point solutions’ to solve a particular problem – without a proper diligence process to sense check for wider synergies. Time and again readiness assessments, training and business change are not well executed. This means that the business is not ready and new ways of working don’t get introduced. The net result is that the business stays in its comfort zone and introduces workarounds so it can maintain old practices – it fills gaps with manual processes and spreadsheets and does not use the new systems to enable the changes and release benefits. This simply builds in incremental layers of process which become increasingly more inefficient and costly. The upshot is that IT and the new systems are blamed and solutions that could have been very beneficial to the business are never properly exploited and get a poor reputation.
So how do you avoid all of this?
By taking the right approach and getting the right people with the skills and experience required to lead, shape and deliver. Listen to good advice, act on it and keep acting on it until the job is done and the benefits of change fully realised.
I do understand that it is very hard to run the business and change the business at the same time. My advice therefore is:
- Don’t be afraid to bring in external expertise who are both independent and objective and can tell you how it is not what you might want to hear
- Be honest about the quality of your own team both in terms of capability and availability
- Recognise that the project or programme will need dedicated subject matter experts from the business to make it a success – backfill and make them available in line with the demands of the programme.
- Be realistic about the scope and size of budget – financial rigour is a necessity but make sure you fund projects and programme properly
- Communicate and engage regularly with stakeholders even as the project or programme progresses – maintain energy, enthusiasm and commitment
Considering all the time, energy, costs and commitment that goes into these large-scale transformation projects it is a shame that they fall at the last hurdle and don’t realise the promised business outcomes. Therefore my advice is that if you consider it a viable programme of work to undertake, make sure you allocate the right resources for success and that you do the project properly.