Monday, March 2, 2015

Is Business the IT Sponsor or the Champion?

IT is part of the business, and business is becoming IT.

Although IT becomes more crucial and touches almost every key process and core capability of business today, in many organizations with the lower level of business maturity, business and IT work as the silo, fighting for the limited resources or competing for the never-enough budget. What should you do if the business (non-IT functions) is not actively engaged or providing the appropriate role as the project sponsor or champion? What are the best ways to get your business (non-IT) partners to listen to your ideas and support them?

Business case justification is important in IT portfolio management: If you have a project or program without a sponsor, you need to take a fast, hard look at the business case that justifies the program you are engaged in, spending assets on. Lack of commitment and support should be seen as a significant uncertainty and should be reflected as such in your risk assessment for the program. Follow formal risk assessment processes and determine your mitigation strategy for the situation. Sometimes it is simply a misunderstanding of the expectations for the role and responsibilities of the sponsor/ champion. Other times with formal review you find out there is no one "owning" the goals, perhaps there’s no reason to even start the project, and you could save the company a lot of time and money! So, assess the risk, document it and mitigate it. This is all about communication and collaboration.

Business sponsorship is crucial to IT project success: In the case of IT initiatives, especially in today’s dynamic technical and business environment where IT is moving from back-office initiatives to revenue-generating initiatives, the likelihood of succeeding by staying within their own area of influence is not going to be effective. If the non-IT leaders do not play active roles as project sponsor and champions, these important initiatives will not likely succeed. You have got to move away from silos that focus on narrow perspectives, to partnerships that effectively collaborate on these often transformational ideas. However, a sponsor and champions should not be tagged/selected. If they are, the likelihood of the project succeeding is diminished. These are roles that have been earned and desired to be performed because they believe in the initiative and can motivate the other stakeholders; which are the fundamental roles that they perform.

In a high mature organization, IT and business have to share the glory when the project succeeds; and take the blame when the effort fails: What to do if business functions do not sponsor IT “heart-by-heart”? If that is the case, who takes the blame if the initiative fails? Is it typically IT? Who gets the credit for the benefits if it succeeds; would that typically not be IT? What if the business does not share the risk. Perhaps the root of the problem is reconciling what the business needs to understand regarding IT and the role that non-business leaders must play to increase the likelihood of success. Many times an IT stakeholder will be the biggest reason projects derail. They change something after a project is headlong down a path of no return and their lack of understanding /or turning off a blind eye to how IT can not just "turn on a dime" is the biggest issue - and has a domino effect. In addition, it is not just the changing requirements that are at issue. There are other essential governance roles for the sponsor and champions, and other non-IT leaders, like ensuring the non-IT organizations change their process/organizations to leverage the new initiative, deriving and approving strategic IT initiatives, and that IT has the appropriate resources (people/skills, budget). Whose responsibility is it to help the business understand what their role needs to be, and what are some vehicles for doing it? That is the co-responsibility of senior executive teamwork as a whole to craft a good business strategy with IT as the key component and map the business goals with project portfolio via the handy tools, robust processes, and cross-functional teams

Well defining IT value proposition for the business is strategic for continuous business communication: The value that IT provides to the enterprise is not the infrastructure. It is not even the apps that run on the infrastructure. It is how the business changes that they do take advantage of the apps that run on the infrastructure. That demands to have non-IT leaders perform the appropriate roles as a sponsor and champions. Transparency and Accountability alongside strong support on the business side are the only things that will make this problem stop. It demands mutual respect and two-way communication; further, stop using sides, but think of business as a whole, to work as a team for the business’s long-term success. No easy answer, no silver bullets, follow the ultimate business principles with good old fashion discipline. The key rests in getting both IT and non-IT stakeholders to understand what is taking place, what it means to their organization, what the roles must be, and how best to proceed. This will be more difficult for some organizations and cultures but needs to be considered as fundamental to the future. Here are a list of IT value propositions:
1) Availability (Uptime)
2) Customer satisfaction (internal IT customers)
3) Value of IT to the business
4) Projects delivered on value (beyond just on time & budget)
5) Innovative /new ideas
6) Bottom line “keep the lights on” performance
7) Business cost optimization
8) Workforce management
9) Digital transformation

As the transformation of IT continues (IT evolves to become the business), this longstanding conundrum becomes fundamental to reconcile. While there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all solution, there are clearly some things that all organizations need to focus on. If the business does not consider IT as equal partners & part of the business, especially in today’s digital dynamic and technical environments where IT is being used more and more around the globe for revenue generating initiatives and the business is becoming IT, the likelihood of success is diminished. It is a radical digital transformation that should be perceived as exciting, rewarding, and appropriate.


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