By Kristina Roth
Clients often struggle with obtaining the projected Return on Investment (ROI) from large Information Technology projects. Many key improvements are delayed to “Later Phases” that frequently don’t materialize or lose momentum. How do you maintain client focus, and deliver the value that they demand?
It starts with building a list of qualified opportunities, establishing an executive consensus, and then building a program structure that can guide, champion, and govern the resulting projects. Here’s how.
THE CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS INCLUDE:
CLARITY OF PURPOSE
What business processes or outcomes do you want to improve? Be specific. You can’t judge whether your program is achieving success if you aren’t clear about what success looks like. What specific improvements are desired? Wherever possible be quantitative (measurable). “Reduce Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) by two days” is a much better objective than “Improve the Accounts Receivable process”. If a qualitative (non-measurable) outcome is essential, at least describe how you will judge if you have achieved that goal.
Lastly, establish an executive sponsor and executive consensus for the affected areas. Now is also a good time to determine who will sit on the governance committee that will guide this program. Choose respected senior leaders from the business who will have the vision and authority to ensure the program’s success.
ASSESS THE PROCESS FOR OPPORTUNITIES & DOCUMENT THEM
Interview key subject matter experts (SME’s) to determine what they know about the current process. Leverage process documentation if it exists (and you can verify it is accurate). Determine if the process is measured today and if so how it is performing. Document the pain points for those working in the process today.
Include the organization’s executives and visionaries in the interview process. SME’s can give you great detail about processes and requirements, but may not understand where the organization is headed in the future. Make sure your targeted improvements are consistent with the organization’s direction.
Gather data (reports, data extracts, etc.) to verify the input received from the SME’s, and to quantify the opportunities for improvement.
SMALLER PROJECTS TARGETING A SPECIFIC IMPROVEMENT AREA IN SEQUENCE ARE A BETTER APPROACH
Large, expensive projects can sabotage your improvement efforts. The more components to the project the more “the tyranny of the burn rate” starts to force the project to move forward even if the design doesn’t meet improvement objectives. The pressure not to “waste money” by slipping the schedule leads to “going live” with processes and systems that do not deliver improvement. By keeping individual improvement projects to a more manageable size and managing them as a program, you get the freedom to pause or cancel individual projects that are not on track to delivering their intended benefits.
THE BUSINESS NEEDS TO DRIVE THE EFFORT, GUIDED BY I.T. IN TECHNICAL AREAS
The program and its associated projects are focused on delivering improved business results. Therefore they should be led by business leaders, not Information Technology leaders. I.T.’s role should be to provide governance inputs on technical design and risk, not to lead the effort.
ESTABLISH A PROGRAM OFFICE TO GUIDE & NURTURE THE EFFORT
Most programs will span multiple years, and will need stewardship to keep them on track, ensure budget approval, etc. Have a clear business champion who will be the advocate, but also have a program manager who can work the day to day details to keep the program functioning smoothly. Support the program manager as needed with analytical and budget management resources.
ALLOW A PROJECT EXTRA TIME IN DESIGN TO FULLY MEET THE IMPROVEMENT OBJECTIVE
The burn rate is low on smaller projects, so slipping a month (or a quarter) to allow resolving process design or company policy issues is not catastrophic. Worthwhile improvements frequently require grappling with difficult problems. Remember, improvement is the goal.
Rushing to a deadline and bypassing design confirmation prior to implementation can result in costly change requests later in the project. Be realistic and include adequate time to confirm design and obtain buy in according to the organization’s culture for change adoption.
MANAGE THE PROJECT FOCUSING ON SCOPE & ATTAINING YOUR DESIRED IMPROVEMENTS
Apply the principles of a good program and project methodology such as that provided by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Augment this as necessary with a technology or package specific methodologies and tools. Avoid the temptation to “de-scope” valuable parts of the project to stay on schedule. Your program is targeted on specific improvement goals, so make sure you keep the focus on achieving them.
Spiral development type methodologies such as Agile can also be useful in managing the individual projects, especially when dealing with emerging technologies or areas where the detailed requirements (or market needs) are not clear.
DON’T OVERLOOK THE ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE ASPECTS OF YOUR PROJECT
Most improvements will impact how people perform their jobs, and many will change reporting relationships. Some involve teaching new business skills to your staff.
Aligning performance objectives and incentive plans with new processes and goals is crucial as well as being a highly effective way to implement improvements. Alignment helps to make all of your employees become “agents of change.” It is one of your most powerful tools so don’t overlook it.
Don’t short-change your training efforts. Employees need to be taught the business context and decision-making process, not just the system “clicks”.
USE A MIX OF EXTERNAL RESOURCES (for experience that you lack) AND YOUR OWN STAFF (for ownership)
Assign a strong leader to champion the effort and select a partner who will drive their success rather than merely deliver. Select external resources to supplement internal skill or knowledge gaps and make professional growth of your own staff an additional measurement of the program’s success. Ensure you have enough of your own people participating in the project that they can “own and operate” the solution after the project.
MEASURE THE RESULTS
Determine what success looks like and how it can be measured. Measure the current state, and then observe how the metrics change during and after the improvement project. Even the attainment of qualitative metrics discussed in the clarity section should be tracked.
Track the improvements created by the program over time to maintain momentum and show return on investment. Not only will this help you with your focus, it will help you justify continued funding.
LEARN AND ADJUST
Learn to improve faster, better, and at lower cost by learning lessons from each improvement project and incorporating them into the next project. Make it one of the program objectives to continuously improve your ability to continuously improve. Schedule regular program reviews to determine what is working well (delivering results) and what could be done better. Successive projects should deliver better, faster, and more predictable results.
CELEBRATE SUCCESS TO MAINTAIN MOMENTUM
Good projects take hard work and frequently ask employees to work outside their comfort zone. Celebrate success as a means of building the team and encouraging employee confidence. Keep these success factors in mind to guide your program execution and they will keep you on a path to significant business improvement.
Kristina Roth is CEO of Matisia Consultants, an IT and strategy firm focused on the telecommunications, retail, healthcare, licensing, marketing, travel and e-commerce markets.