Advice from a Project Manager on delivering “Business Value”

Ever so often, I poke my head up from my projects to review what’s going on in magazines like HBR, CIO, and Forbes.  In this recent round, I came across a “trend” that directly impacts the projects that I have been working on – Justifying the Business Value of IT.  These articles, though, are focusing on all of the same topics that we have been kicking around since Y2K – delivering to expectations, managing customer demand, and providing professional service.

As someone who has worked with IT (either in, for, and managing) for the majority of my career, I really don’t want to get into the argument of whether IT matters or not, because it does (like any other service organization).  However, I have only ever worked with one company where IT was not the “problem child”.

Successfully managing IT should not be a hard task, but is often made complex due to an unmanaged gap between expectations and reality.  More often than not, IT does it to themselves by not understanding their clients, the constraints of service delivery, and remaining aloof with a black-box mentality.

I would like to offer some advice from a Project Managers perspective on how to run Corporate IT.

I know that the PMBOK specifically differentiates between projects and operations, but a lot of the same principles apply. Managers of IT, CIOs, VPs, and every other title that is tasked with running an IT group should put on their Project Manager hat when thinking about how not to be the scapegoat how to deliver to expectations.

1. Start with the basics of Scope; what are your clients expecting you to deliver?  What can your organization deliver?  Your role, as as a manager, is to exist at the intersection of wants and abilities.

2. Think about the Schedule (and schedule constraints); If your organization cannot solve break/fix work in a reasonable amount of time, do you have the right people, resource levels, or planning processes in place?

3. Budget may be a moot point for some organizations, but if you cannot tie results to costs (aka delivered scope and schedule to costs) seeking an increase may not go as planned.  Alternatively, you may find yourself in the position of “the Business” paying for important work so that they retain some ownership.

4. Communication and Stakeholder Management is arguably the most important thing that IT groups mess up.  Rather than relying on Business Relationship Managers (BRMs, the new soup de jour in IT trends) to wield a big stick to escalate issues, work on basic communication first. Start the conversation by asking who are your stakeholders, what do they want, what do the expect, and what do they need?

What is your communication plan?  How do you ensure that the right people have the right information at the right time?

In my experience, folks are reasonable so long as they know what is offered (services – both in house and outsourced) and where their inquiries (incidents, new project requests, new technology requests, etc) are in the organizational process.

5. Human Resources Management is imperative to ensuring that you have the right people to perform the right roles.  Like in a well run project, a Project Manager relies on their technical leads to have subject matter expertise, so too should a Manager of IT.  Further, it is critical that your organization have the right staffing levels to support Scope and Schedule within the constraints of Budget.  If your organization is project focused, who will solve the basic reliability issues? Do you really need to be researching Emerging Technology when your Incident Management process cannot support your user base?

The above is not meant to be prescriptive; rather it just scratches the surface of the complexity behind.

The actual “doing” of IT is quite complex, but is so often made so by attempting to take on stretch goals (aka gold plating scope) without satisfying basic expectations.  Like any CMMI evaluation of capabilities, unless your organization can meet the base requirements of one level, do not move onto the next.



About Jason H Zalmanowitz
I am a nerdy Management Consultant / Project Manager with a MBA, have spent the majority of my career working for consulting firms in Calgary, and I race in triathlons because of (and thanks to) my wife. As a Project Manager, I have managed field implementations, strategy development projects, software development projects, and hardware implementation projects. As a consultant, I have helped companies articulate how and why they are going to implement and interact with sustaining technology to support their business.

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