Some large IT projects are doomed from the day they launch for a simple reason: failure to communicate. In this case, we’re not talking about the difference in language used by technologists versus that used by business people. We are talking about “radio silence”, a failure to communicate anything at all. It’s as if the project launched and flew into a black hole.
In some ways, this development into silence is predictable. After funding and launching the project, droves of people work diligently on project management planning, acquiring resources and technology, analyzing processes and designing systems. The IT leader correctly assumes that the business leadership is not too interested in seeing regular updates on the details of all of this systems development work.
However, management wants the IT organization to be their strategic business partner to deliver on the promise of productivity improvements and more. Bogging down in IT budget reporting, staffing, project tasks and other internal details is not going to raise the confidence of the business leadership. Nor will it have them engaged in leading the changes that will come about in the business as a result.
At a high level, the business leaders do want to know that major milestones are being met, costs are being contained within budget allocations and general progress toward the ultimate business process improvements are under way. Sometimes projects complete as planned and the business operations manager refuses to change their practices accordingly. This contradicts the request for, and funding of, projects to improve the process that imply changes sometimes significant ones. This occurs when the business leader was not engaged in the project during the planning, development, and implementation phases.
The best way to ensure acceptance of the finished product is to engage the business team throughout the process. First, involve all of the key leader stakeholders up front. Have them agree to an all-consuming short-term project to gather and clarify business requirements, develop process maps, and clarify expected outcomes. Keep their teams involved for weeks or months to help assure the project meets the goals of the plan. Help the leader stakeholder appear as a champion of the project visibly supporting its implementation. Another benefit to engaging the business team in this manner is they will have no time to reevaluate the goals of your plans in the context of their contradictory political ambitions.
Second, tie the outcomes of the project to the leader stakeholder’s goals and plans. You will only achieve new performance metrics and process improvements if the stakeholder to be visibly supporting and managing the project. This leaves the stakeholder little choice but to connect their success to the success of the new IT project – after all, the goals of both are the same.
Third, involve key influential employees in the plan early. In addition to leader stakeholders, many employees within the organization are key influencers of both management and other employees. Identify as many of the relevant influencers and engage them in the project. They will be your eyes and ears inside the organization to keep the project team on track. They will also help to squelch chatter from those who would derail the project. Reward these influencers and other key team members to help guide behavior.
Fourth, conduct regular, frequent progress review meetings. Include direct one-on-one brief interactions with leader stakeholders. Consistently support, encourage, and maintain the focus of the team on the goals of the project and the expected outcomes. Work to make the agenda of the project more important to the stakeholders than the agenda of the political network to prevent it from undermining the project. After an initial period of up to three months, integrate project reviews into the normal business operations reviews.
Fifth, communicate, communicate, and communicate. When managing large complex IT project, it can seem tedious to answer questions or present information on progress that may not appear to be significant at that moment. Maintaining a regular drumbeat of communication keeps the project alive and in the forefront of the minds of the business teams that you are counting on for acceptance and implementation.
Sixth, learn to develop strong relationships with potential allies. One potentially good ally is the head of marketing. Like IT, marketing often suffers from a lack of respect inside the organization. Unlike most IT members, marketing people can be good communicators. A good partnership can go a long way to improving your communication. The business leader stakeholders are also very important allies. They are accountable for the bottom line in delivering the product and service to customers. They need solutions to increase output, reduce cycle time, lower costs and so on. Aligning the project’s goals with theirs goes a long way to establishing the basis for an alliance.
The chief financial officer watches the numbers carefully. If you have a disciplined project management process and demonstrate that you are accomplishing your milestone at or slightly below the budget, you will gain the support of this powerful influence on the leadership team. Ultimately, the chief executive officer is always looking for a strategic advantage, and predictable performance of the business. By careful management and communication of these alliances, you will cement IT’s role as the place to go to for unmatched improvements of efficiencies, improved quality of processes, better decision-making and the path to competitive advantage for the business.