The 50/50 principle ensures that most projects are successful and when they are not, ensures the fallout is minimal. The principle is simple. If the project succeeds, IT is 50% responsible for the success and the business is responsible for the other 50% of the success. If it fails, IT is 50% responsible for the failure and the business is responsible for the other 50% of the failure.
The principle is a simple concept that ensures alignment, that ever elusive business/IT alignment that is discussed at every IT conference since 1999 but does require committment from both parties. However, business/IT alignment is never discussed at the business leadership conferences. (I rarely use the term never, but I believe it is appropriate in this case).
How can businesses have alignment if only IT people are aware of the significance?
Like all good relationships, someone has to take the first step. With the 50/50 principle, it works best when IT steps up and fundamentally changes the approach to projects.
I consistently reinforce the 50/50 principle throughout the year with my team as well as the business leaders. When a larger project starts up, I personally remind the project manager and the business owner that we succeed together or fail together. Sometimes this means the business takes a stronger lead and other times it means IT takes a stronger lead, but this 50/50 principle reminds us that no one will get 100% of the credit.
If you are working with jerks the 50/50 principle doesn't work well but can still be useful. Jerks will blame you 100% for failure and take significant credit for success. No easy option here, yet even when working with jerks, your team can recognize that the 50/50 principle applies and do everything possible to apply the 50/50 thinking to the project. It's important for the IT leader to find a way to resolve this problem over time when possible (successes give you credibility to deal appropriately with jerks). One of the best ways to succeed in this situation is to find staff who works for the jerk who is willing to buy into the 50/50 thinking and work with those people as much as possible.
Being successful with the 50/50 principle also involves ongoing effort on your part and may take several projects before the thinking begins to take hold.
The 50/50 principle has to be reiterated throughout projects on a regular basis at all points in the project. The initial discussions, the project kickoff, the update meetings, the tense moments, and upon completion. Reiterating at completion is the most critical point because it shows you meant what you said. When the project is over and succeeds, praise all those involved whether in business or in IT and do it publicly. Ensure business leaders know how critical specific business people were to the success. Praise your team publicly too and ensure executives know specific people on the team who made a difference.
The 50/50 principle doesn't ensure you get credit and it doesn't ensure you won't get unfairly blamed. However, when it becomes a true core value of your IT team, it fundamentally changes the way you approach projects. Your business colleagues will also fundamentally change the way they react to you when they realize you are committed to a 50/50 win with them.
But the 50/50 principle is a boring name, we need a title like "the Peter principle" if we want this topic covered at business events. And therein lies another challenge for IT leaders. Marketing. Look forward to that in a future post.
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