In my humble opinion, one of the key contributors to why so many IT projects fail is because of simple neglect. I guess the best analogy is if you were starting to drive down a highway road. When you started driving, you’d keep your hands on the steering wheel and make sure that the car was going in the correct direction and that it stayed on the road. However, if later on you took both of your hands off of the wheel, then the car would start to drift and would eventually plunge off of the road.
IT projects seem to follow this same path: when they are kicked off, everyone, including senior IT management, seems to have their hands on the steering wheel. However, as the days, weeks, months go on it sure seems like nobody is holding on to the wheel any more and the project tends to start to drift. All too often, more people are then thrown at the project or, worse yet, the schedule is reduced which causes the project to speed up. This just makes the eventual crash all that more spectacular.
So none of this discussion is news to us IT folks – we’ve seen it over and over again. What we need to find is a way to stop this from happening. Jesper Simonsen is a European professor who has spent some time studying this problem. He’s come up with some suggestions as to how we can go about fixing it.
Simonsen believes that the key to getting senior IT management involved in a project is to use participatory design so that they feel that they have contributed to the solution. The specific technique that he believes can be used to make this happen is called “problem mapping“.
Too many IT staffers solve problems by sitting in their cubes and dreaming up new ways to deal with old problems. Participatory design requires IT staffers to deal with a problem directly. They share their views on the problem and then they offer their suggestions as to how IT can be used to solve the problem.
In order to engage senior IT management, they need to be involved in this development of an answer to why IT needs to be involved in solving the problem. This is where problem mapping comes in.
Problem mapping is designed to allow the argument regarding if and how IT should be used to solve a problem to be evaluated. It provides a means by which the argument can be visualized and helps in seeing the structure of the argument.
When you use problem mapping, you create a table that has four columns with the following headers:
- Problem / Need
The real power of using a problem map is that it will force all involved to talk about what they see as being the real problem. The link between what they are proposing as a solution and the original problem is very clearly shown.
The key point to make here is that by making the whole problem solving process so visible, you will actively engage the top management in the process. They will be given an opportunity to sit back and challenge, make changes to, and review the solution that is being created before their very eyes.
Once you’ve achieved this level of participation at the start of a project, the senior IT management will remain involved during the entire project because they will better understand what is being done and they will feel as though they have contributed to the solution.
Do you have problems keeping your senior management involved in projects after they get started? What have you tried to improve their involvement? Was it successful? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.