It Turns Out That Top-Down Decisions Are What CIOs Need To Make

To Get An IT Project Done On Time, The CIO Needs To Make Some Decisions
To Get An IT Project Done On Time, The CIO Needs To Make Some Decisions

What’s Wrong With The Way That We Schedule IT Projects?

At the end of the day, an IT department is simply a collection of projects. Some of these projects are short lived (“we’ve got an outage!”) and some are much longer (“let’s install a new ERP solution”). However, it turns out that today’s CIOs have been taking the wrong approach when it comes to scheduling these IT projects and it shows.

All too often once the decision has been made to fund a project, the CIO takes a hands off approach until the project has been completed. What this means in practical terms is that the planning for the project is done by the project team itself. This is where things start to go off-track from the very beginning.

Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of the poor IT planner who has just been handed a large IT project. Sure, you’re excited about the opportunity to manage so much responsibility; however, you also realize that not delivering the project when you say that you will can sink your career. What will you do?

Simple – it’s called “sandbagging” . What you will most likely do will be to add extra time to the project so that when things start to slip, the end date for the project won’t be impacted. Shucks, if you can get away with it you’ll add a lot of extra time to the project so that you just might be able to deliver it early and get the admiration of your bosses for being such a good project manager.

Take this situation and then consider what happens when what the project manger is working on is just one part of a bigger project. Additional time will be added to each of piece of the project and eventually the “time padding” will grow so large that you may have doubled or even tripled the real time that the project is expected to take.

The Power Of Top-Down Planning

The way to solve this is for the CIO to step in and supply some top-down planning. This is where the CIO sets the dates for the project and hands these dates to the project team. Jay Bahel reports that a recent study of 75 large IT projects revealed that the ones that were the most successful were the ones that had their milestone dates set in a top-down fashion by the senior IT leadership.

Why does this type of heavy-handed approach to setting IT project dates work so well? It’s actually pretty simple. By establishing the dates by which work needs to be completed, the CIO is sending a very clear message to the IT team – this is your goal, make it happen. This sets up a sense of urgency within the team and it can go a long way in preventing those internal conflicts that always seem to arise as a team tries to set dates for a project.

The Role Of The Core Team

Yes, yes – I know that things will be different when you become CIO. However, let’s assume for just a moment that even you won’t be able to spend all of your waking hours lording over any single IT project. What can be done to keep things on track and moving towards the milestones that you have laid down?

Creating a so-called “core team” that keeps a watchful eye on an IT project can be a great help in ensuring that the project stays on track. It’s important that this team not be too large – 4-6 senior management leaders should do the trick. The role of this team will be to bring the interests of both IT and the rest of the business to the table in order to manage the project.

The core team is ultimately responsible for making sure that the CIO’s project milestones are met. In order to do this they will have to resolve the conflicts that arise during the project as well as ensuring that the project team is able to interface with the rest of the business in order to complete project tasks.

What All Of This Means For You

Moving to a top-down project planning process will require changes to be made in your IT department. Expect some bruised feelings especially from the project managers – they’ll feel like you are taking some of their power away from them.

Picking the members of the core team that will be watching over the IT project is not something to be done lightly. Not only do they need to bring solid set of skills to the table, but they also need to be able to get along with each other.

Once again, it becomes clear that a CIOs job is not necessarily to actually do things, but rather to make things happen. When it comes to IT projects, the CIO needs to show the rest of the IT department the way by setting timelines and milestones in a top-down fashion…

Do you think that top-down IT planning would help your IT department’s projects to be more successful?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I believe that one of the reasons that it is so hard for a CIO to get the IT department to align with the rest of the business is that finding the correct opportunities where alignment is possible can be a big challenge. Well I’ve got some good news for you: it looks like such an opportunity is getting ready to show up and it’s called XBRL…