The five questions that IT leaders should ask when looking at new projects

Most large IT projects miss their targets. Often because the business changes while the project progresses

In reality almost all IT projects are organisational transformational projects too and the old adage “automate a mess and your get an automated mess” still applies.

In fact, some organisations opt for new technology and systems before scrutinising how they will integrate with existing systems or whether they can deliver further returns from existing IT capabilities.

Below are five key questions that CIOs should answer before they even contemplate knocking on the CFO’s door to secure funding. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it does outline some of the fundamental decisions that a CIO should, but often doesn’t address and so risks the chance of disappointment:

Is this business or application architecture led?

  • What is the business problem and is the solution being driven by technology or business need? Projects should be aligned to business objectives rather than technology. I have seen many examples where more business benefits have been realised during process mapping than from the systems implementation.

Can we solve this through incremental methodology?

  • Are there ways of improving and enhancing existing capabilities so that the solution is delivered? Agile approaches implementing incremental functionality (within a well defined scope) can often bring bigger benefits sooner and smaller benefits later (or maybe abandoned).
  • There is also a need to think long term and design extensible architecture to which new components can be added to over time and in a way that reduces the risk during transition or extension. SOA helps with this if we are practical.

Can we ensure that we use what already exists?

  • It isn’t always the case that you need something new. Can you get more from your current technology by pushing it harder? Component based architectures like SOA should embrace legacy as well as new stuff.

Does the organisation have a clear company-wide view of its requirements?

  • Is there clear accountability and a single view of what is required? Often the real problem is obscured and complicated by skewed objectives and different opinions. Getting to a successful outcome sometimes requires a greater transparency with the wider business on objectives and desired outcomes. Be sure to engage widely, defining and articulating the objectives and anticipated returns upfront. Continuously return to them as you execute the programme to ensure that you don’t lose sight of the goals and that the objectives haven’t changed.
  • There are often individual pockets of innovation within businesses where departments have developed powerful ‘home grown’ IP that can be exploited across a company – engaging widely and being transparent reveals these ‘pockets’ and might save money. Empowerment is more powerful than control.

How can we ensure it is an efficient, fast to market, error free project delivery?

  • It’s critical that all parts of the organisation work together to help deliver the project. Think of the best jazz band playing together – improvising to produce an amazing performance. This efficient delivery only works because behind the scenes all band members are experts and have an intimate understanding of each other’s role and don’t need rehearsals.
  • It doesn’t mean a lack of individual creativity. Far from it. By creating a culture that can nurture this talent, individuals can come together quickly when needed secure in the knowledge that everyone knows what they are seeking to achieve.
  • For companies this means assembling the necessary resources, team, structure and processes to ensure that the project follows best practice guidelines.
  • It is also essential to outline early on what metrics the project must deliver and what the process for evaluating success is. This should involve investigating a businesses’ capability for monitoring performance and measuring results.

IT should dramatically improve and enhance business operations and be integral to the core business and strategic targets. Yet it is little surprise that without taking the above into consideration that many businesses are often underwhelmed with the results.

With smaller budgets and increasingly skeptical opinions about the benefits of IT projects on the Board, CIOs need to make sure they base their IT decisions firmly in the wider business strategy.

Jeff Chittenden is Chief Operating Officer at Vertex, a leading global Customer Management Outsourcing business with clients in the private and public sectors

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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