IT needs to use metrics to move out of the shadows

The IT department should behave like every other department in the company and forthrightly explain what it is up to

Here is a problem for IT: Many users feel that it is a black hole that things go into but never come out of. It doesn't help that many IT departments like it that way and believe that the less scrutiny, the better.

That is a dangerous attitude. If IT wants to be a great enigma, then it must accept the consequences: lack of respect, mistrust of intent and difficulty in entering into the mainstream of the company. If none of that sounds good, then IT must open itself up, show itself off and be accountable for its actions. It must be as willing to accept blame when it is at fault as it is to welcome praise when it is successful. In short, it must start acting like other departments in the company.

The best way to eliminate the veil of secrecy that has fallen over most IT activities is to develop a reporting methodology that communicates the status of projects to everyone in the corporation. When I was a CIO, we published a report every month listing the projects that were approved, those that were completed, those in process and those yet to be started. We included the original cost estimate for each project, an estimated completion date (if in process) and any changes that caused the initial estimates to be adjusted. We explained whether the variations were due to errors by IT in the initial estimate, accommodations of new requests by the users (sometimes called scope creep) or new findings during development.

We published this report on the corporate intranet for everyone to see, highlighting all the major changes in yellow so no one could miss them. In turn, those major changes were discussed in detail at the next officers' meeting. This way there were no surprises on major projects, and the officer group could prepare for any ramifications resulting from the delay of a major implementation.

All of this meant that discussions of IT progress were a routine part of everyday business. Users across the company became very familiar with all of our major projects and their status. No one could ever say that they were blindsided by delays in project completion.

We did something else that helped us meet deadlines and budgets. We began to pay IT practitioners an incentive if they were successful in completing projects on time and within budget. It was amazing how effective this small step was. It eliminated a lot of scope creep, resulted in fewer changes in each monthly report and contributed to giving IT a reputation for getting the job done.

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