The most effective way to address senior management concerns is to develop a comprehensive IT plan rather than answering each question separately. The questions and therefore the answers are so closely related that they cannot be considered in isolation from one another. Our plan must include steps to change the perception of the IT organization. Today IT is a reactive, not well-understood cost center. To be effective IT must reverse that and become a proactive profit center. To do this the mentality of those in IT must also change. Technology only for technology's sake does not work anymore. IT has to become a business partner and by understanding the business determine what technology solution is appropriate to solve a business challenge.
This all sounds great, but how do we make it happen? First, we will list the steps necessary to get us to our goal. List is the appropriate verb at this point because we will need to prioritize the tasks later. A side benefit from going through this kind of process is that we will be using good project management practices that can be applied to all IT projects.
Let us start the analysis at the highest level where company direction is set. The highest level does not mean the people occupying the "corner offices." It does mean understanding what the goals of the company are. We are already adjusting the orientation of IT. Instead of never being told what the goals are or getting a biased view of the goals after the interpretation of the goals has gone through several layers of management, we are going to get as close as we can to the people who formulate the goals. Just as brief aside, do not assume that the goals that are written down are the most important goals or the only goals. Interview the individual senior managers to get their personal perspective on what is important. You will learn a lot about the process of developing the goals and get a sense of who wields the power among the senior managers. Put yourself in a salesman's position and qualify your leads. If a senior manager cannot get the money to fund a project, using your limited resources on his project is probably not the best way to get support from the entire senior management team. You may end up spending a lot of time and get nowhere.
Now that IT has better visibility into senior management's goals we can work ourselves down to the next level in the process. What strategies does the company feel will help accomplish the goals? To learn about the strategies we will use the same approach we used to gather information about the goals. Interview the people developing the strategies. Generally this will be the people reporting to senior management. Go through the same process of determining whether the list of strategies represents all of the strategies. Also match the strategies to the goals. If there are goals with no strategies to support them or strategies not related to any goals, we will dig a little deeper.
So why are we going through all of this? We have not written a specification or a line of code, is not that what IT is all about? The answer is that we have no idea if we are doing anything that is important to the company. We cannot answer questions about strategic applications if we do not even know what is strategic. Going to senior management and telling them that we wrote X number of specifications and X number of lines of code will not go over real well if the company is getting chewed up by competitors and IT has done nothing to help company sales.
Speaking of what is important to senior management, there may be a "knee jerk" reaction when they read something about IT expenditures. Their concerns must be addressed. How do we address the concerns? First we need to know where the information can from that is causing so much excitement. If the source is a magazine or a journal that we can receive a copy of, then we should subscribe to it and anticipate senior management reactions. IT's response to senior management will be quicker and more effective once we have put good project management practices in place. Our response will substantiate where we are spending money and which corporate goals are being addressed. Take the process a step further and do a thorough cost benefit analysis and calculate the return on investment (ROI) for each project. The company goes through this process to justify building a new plant. The same process should be applied to IT projects. IT has not had much practice doing this kind of analysis so why not enlist the help of people from other parts of the company who have done this many times. On all projects the build vs. buy argument needs to be considered. For example there may not be enough resources available to complete a project by a hard deadline or the business process may be very standardized, such as payroll processing.
IT is now at a point where there is a better chance that the focus of the IT effort is on the right projects. That is nice, but IT has done a poor job developing a plan to accomplish the project, a poor job communicating the status of the projects, and worst of all a poor job identifying when a project is behind schedule and making appropriate adjustments. IT has to start doing some kind of consistent planning. For all large projects the project managers are going to list the tasks, the dependencies between tasks, beginning and end dates, and the number and type of resources required to complete the task. Even though IT has never done this before, now is the time to start. With no history to work from developing a plan the first time will be painful. The process will be a lot easier as we develop more and more plans. IT managers will be able to pull a plan for a similar project from the archives. One item that will probably be defined for you is the end date of project. You will have the new customer management system implemented by January 1. As the planning effort matures it will be much easier to respond to these arbitrary deadlines. The importance of tracking the actual time spent on each task cannot be underestimated for future planning. Have everyone begin accounting for his or her time. Not down to the last minute, but at least in days if not hours.
This leads to the other areas where IT has not done well managing project. We now have a plan from which to work. We can roll the details up to the degree that is appropriate for each level of management. Now we will have some idea about how the project stands relative the plan. Best of all we can actually tell where we are falling behind and when we are falling behind. Often times the cause is the death knell of many projects, "scope creep." The sponsor of the project or other interested parties decide that they need a little more functionality here and a little more there. Keep in mind that these are the people who are paying the bill so we need to listen to what they are asking for and understand how that will impact the schedule. It is much easier to reach a resolution if there is a good plan in place so that the effect of the additional functionality can be quantified. The discussion may be that something has to be removed from the project so that something new can be added. This process gives us plenty of time to consider the classic types of adjustments that good project management dictates. We can balance our resources by moving some from tasks that are in good shape to those that we are falling behind. We may also need to think about narrowing the scope of the project to enable us to deliver the product by the deadline.
Another to approach the problem of resources, programming resources, is to send some of the work overseas. This has worked extremely well for the manufacturing division. For IT the result has been terrible. Let us look at how manufacturing is doing it successfully. They begin by visiting the country where the manufacturing will occur. If the physical facilities are insufficient, more and/or better facilities are constructed. Manufacturing sends the best managers over to the other country to get the plant going and possibly train native people to eventually take over management of the facility. Particular, discrete sets of tasks are allocated to the foreign plant. They are not given responsibility for starting with raw materials and ending up with a complete finished good. They are given a set of tasks that fit the skills of the people…