As a business manager, what do you do when your IT team tells you a strategically important project can’t get done because there are too many other business critical projects ahead of it? Do you arbitrarily prioritize your project ahead of the others? Do you know what those other projects were going to do for your business?
I’ve just spent some time with an organization that is going through a lot of change and the projects that IT is working on are key to getting the company rolling forward. However, the projects are missing deadlines, aren’t meeting user expectations, and generally are failing to deliver on promises-made when the projects were started.
It’s not that the IT guys aren’t working hard getting done what they think is the right thing to do. It’s not that the software vendors are delivering bad product. The challenge is one of focus. The management team decided to embark on some ambitious projects and then threw the project over the wall to the IT team and said go. They didn’t put in place any form of governance/management structure that would ensure a project was meeting expectations or understand why if it wasn’t. I’ve seen this countless times.
It is imperative, to set up a structure that ensures project progress is reported to executive management on a timely basis. That structure consists of three layers the executive management oversight team, the project steering team, and the project implementation team.
Each of these groups has a specific function in the success of a project:
The executive oversight team, sometimes called the IT steering committee, is responsible for coordinating and prioritizing all IT related projects company-wide. This group is typically comprised of the executive management team including the CIO. They will typically invite project steering team leaders to provide current status of projects underway. This team will meet on a regular schedule typically bi-monthly or quarterly, depending on the number and duration of projects that have been authorized.
The meetings of this group can be contentious since each member of the management team has their agenda that they would like to see advanced. This is also a good forum for sorting out the relative strategic value of the projects under consideration. It almost becomes a review of the strategy and company goals.
The project steering team sets project direction, allocates resources, monitors progress, and oversees the budget. This group consists of the leaders of all the stakeholder departments affected by the project as well as the executive sponsor and the project manager. This team will meet regularly on a monthly basis. They may meet more often if there are contentious issues that are unable to be resolved by the implementation team.
There needs to be a project steering team for every major project in the company. If there are resource or progress issues that surface at this level, this team will resolve them if they can. If the issues are related to other projects or affect the business strategy, they may be referred to the executive oversight team. This team has the primary responsibility for delivering a successful project on time and within budget.
The project implementation team is where the rubber meets the road. This team is responsible for developing and managing the project plan that will meet the objectives of the project. The team consists of the project manager, direct stakeholders, and subject matter experts as needed.
The project manager is the interface back to the project steering team. This team typically meets weekly to discuss cross-departmental business requirements, prioritize implementation tasks, test system functionality, and train other users. These individuals are responsible for communications with their departments. These are the people who have the most to gain from a successful project. Their departments will run better, their jobs will be easier and they will be more productive.
I know this all sounds like a lot of bureaucracy, and maybe even a little elementary, but making sure the business critical projects are making good progress is more about communication and good decision making than it is about a lot of people working hard.
Projects are hard work, but if no one knows that good progress is being made, then it becomes an “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” problem. The resources will dwindle, the team members will lose their enthusiasm and the project will, if not fail, not be as successful as it might have been.
Mike Scheuerman is an independent consultant with more than 26 years experience in strategic business planning and implementation. His experience from the computer room to the boardroom provides a broad-spectrum view of how technology can be integrated with and contributes significantly to business strategy. Mike can be reached at [email protected].