There are no IT projects, only business projects

NB: I wrote and published this post originally on my old blog between 2013 and 2014 whilst still in my full-time corporate career.

“There are no IT projects, only business projects.” –Kim Stevenson, CIO, Intel

“Why is business stakeholder engagement such an issue for IT projects?” When I saw this question popping up on my twitter feed the other day, Kim Stevenson’s quote above came to my mind and I asked further “Are we to engage business stakeholders in IT projects, or IT stakeholders in business projects?”

As someone, who ended up project managing technology projects via the route of Communications (which became more and more digitalised starting in the late nineties) rather than the more common IT educated career path, and moreover, having been contracting for the good part of my career, I have not just operated out of both, communications and IT departments, but generally I have experienced a number of different organisation cultures and approaches to technology projects.

In hindsight it wasn’t until I started working in IT environments that I started reflecting and getting some for myself then new and hence often powerful insights.

Observations about IT led technology projects

  • Firstly, I have found that where technology projects are led by IT, the Communications organisation, which is the link to the business, tends to (just) follow.
  • Not too surprisingly therefore, project objectives mostly tend to be much more technology driven rather than business focused.
  • Interestingly, I have also found IT organisations to have a much more rigid approach to project management.
  • This brings with it a quite ‘technical’ and task focused approach and key success factors mostly being defined as achieving time and cost objectives and technology capabilities – as opposed to building and leveraging effective relationships and meeting users’ needs in order to ‘win’.
  • I often felt that particularly IT stakeholders forget that there is more to implementing a technology project than just the technical build.
  • A consequent ‘overpromising and underdelivering’ mentality – together with the mostly technology driven objectives – naturally impact on the relationship with the Communications organisation and hence business.
  • Another observation that I only had once I started operating out of IT departments was that many Communications departments seem to be really lacking often basic digital expertise; this ‘illiteracy’ might actually explain the ‘just relying and following’ I mentioned in my first point above.
  • Naturally, this ‘imbalance’ in the leading then has an impact on other aspects such as user engagement and adoption efforts, which often get compromised – despite being crucial for project success.

I’m sure there’d be more observations to be made, however the bigger picture is probably a disconnect between the IT organisation and Communications teams and hence business.

People are key to success

Reflecting on possible solutions, I don’t actually think that either ‘engaging IT stakeholders in business projects’ or ‘engaging business stakeholders in IT projects’ provides sufficient answers.

Instead both stakeholder groups need to learn about and embrace each other’s areas of expertise more and increase and improve collaboration. Something like a ‘technology projects leadership team’ made up of equal parts of relevant expertise could be a good starting point.

“The relationship between the CIO and CMO is key to digital business transformation.” – Andrew Wilson, CIO, Accenture

Ultimately, success will depend on the vision that this leadership team defines and then lives and breathes, and that all the underlying guiding principles put people first – be it in the defining of the outcomes based on users’ needs rather than technology capabilities, or be it in the delivering of outcomes by fostering collaboration, engaging the end users throughout and recognising the value of project leadership as opposed to management.

These are all the things that take the most time to develop of course. However, I believe these hold the key to success for technology projects.

“Digital Business Transformation is hard because humans are involved.” – Ray Wang, Founder, Constellation Research, Inc.

“The development part is easy. The success of an intranet is about 60 percent communication, 40 percent technology.” Bob Cohen

Don’t speak at people, engage with them.” – Steve Gillmor, Head of Technology Media Strategy, Salesforce


 

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