Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion – Jack Welch
When people ask me what I do for work, I gladly tell them that I lead ‘IT business transformation projects’ that have the intent to deliver solutions to increase customer service levels, or to improve operational excellence, achieve cost efficiencies, or to provide a platform for future growth. Sometimes it is a combination. These kinds of projects typically have a significant impact on people, process and technology at the same time.
In most of these projects, the organization is capable of defining a vision of the end state, high level business requirements and some major business benefits, but is struggling with clarifying and communicating the underlying details to the level it is needed. In other words, organizations are often wrestling with clearly articulating what it wants, what the required change is, how it can be achieved, and in what the time line. This may have many different consequences, ranging from realizing fewer benefits than expected, to struggling with stabilizing the deployed solution, or to costly overruns and attempts to survive and stay in business after a troubled project implementation.
McKinsey and the University of Oxford found that “on average, large IT software projects with budgets larger than $15 M, run 66 percent over budget and 33 percent over time, while delivering 17 percent less value than predicted. Most companies survive the pain of cost and schedule overruns. However, 17 percent of IT projects go so bad that they can threaten the very existence of the company.” These findings are consistent across industries and were published in 2012. The researchers indicate that project performance can be improved when organizations focus more on managing strategy and stakeholders, securing talent, building excellent teams, and excelling at core project management practices.
Think about these findings for a minute. If you internalize them, it appears to me that leading IT business transformation projects is very much like playing a game on a pinball machine, where there are a lot of variables to keep an eye on. The player (project leader) purchases (budget) a number of balls (scope), and triggers them by using a plunger (kick off) into the playfield. Once the iron ball starts rolling, there are many targets to hit (deliverables) and points to score to demonstrate performance (benefits). Flippers (resources) are being used to continuously maneuver the ball across the playfield (context). At times these flippers cause the iron ball to hit an object that lights up or makes a sound (team motivation). If you do well, the machine (stakeholders) gives you free iron balls (scope change) to deliver an even higher score. If you don’t do well, the iron ball quickly finds its way down to the drain (issues and risks) and at a certain point the machine (stakeholders) tells you it is game-over. The player needs to be multi-skilled to play (deliver) a successful game. He needs to be able to keep the ball moving (plan) at a certain speed (schedule) and in a certain direction (critical path). Sometimes the iron ball rolls into a hole or saucer (delay) and the player needs to be creative (re plan) to get it back on track. Bumps by the player (escalation) against the machine are needed at times to influence the behavior of the iron ball (decisiveness). Real-time, practical answers are needed to keep the iron ball moving from target to target (commitment and alignment), and to by-pass bumpers that resist (organizational change) it from rolling in the intended direction (vision).
The reason why I make this analogy is to create the awareness and mindset at the executive level, that adequate project leadership is crucial to deliver a successful business initiative.
The next post is about what that project leadership is about. Stay tuned!
Bas de Baat
Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©