A critical requirement for IT project success is effective collaboration between IT and the business unit(s) who rely on IT products and services to produce value for the enterprise. This collaboration is not only needed in the planning and execution of projects, but must be a continuous and regular planning practice. Collaboration, in turn, is impossible without three other factors: leadership, management coordination and trust-based team mobilization. Lack of excellent performance in any of these three areas is a significant barrier to creating value in IT. Let’s take a look at each of these:
Leadership. Effective leaders do two things: establish a compelling vision for the future, and motivate and direct others to take effective action in realizing the vision. Far too often, people with leadership responsibility speak of “vision” when they are really talking about “alteration.” The difference is that the articulation of vision requires a leader to declare a future that, in the present, could not possibly exist. Probably the best known and most quoted example of this is the challenge issued by John F. Kennedy in 1960 to enable an American to land on the moon and return safety within 10 years. This kind of declaration requires more than imagining the world as “altered” in some way, for example, moving from the number 4 spot in our market to the number 3 spot. Almost always, when a compelling vision becomes reality, the identities of those whose efforts realized that vision are shifted in ways no one could have anticipated. Certainly the identity not only of the U.S. Space program, but that of the United States itself shifted profoundly as a result of the Apollo Mission successes.
What does this have to do with IT services and projects?
In order for an IT organization to realize its potential, it must embody a shift in its identity. In other words it must be seen very differently than it has in the past, both from within and by its customers and its other partners in the enterprise. Moreover, it must be seen as a different kind of possibility by those who rely on its products and services to fulfill their own missions, and to live their lives. This requires a shift of identity in IT leaders themselves. The IT leader presents a compelling technical solution to an important business problem or opportunity, and effectively recruits and coordinates the activities of other business and technical experts to develop and implement that solution. But this is not enough. The leader must also elicit a vision of a world in which something that the organization cares about, and which is now missing, will come into existence, changing the organization’s very identity.
Management Coordination. With the myriad of complex tasks and activities, and the multiple players involved in nearly all IT projects, coordination is essential and at the same time difficult for project managers to get their arms around. Successful coordination requires the following:
• the ability to manage intersecting networks of commitments
• the ability to resolve conflicts among different strategies for achieving the desired results
• the ability to elicit timely, open and honest updates about deadlines, costs, resources and unexpected changes
• the ability to renegotiate commitments if and when necessary
Trust-based Team Mobilization. Before committing money and resources to the project, business executives must trust that IT can actually deliver the goods promised. Before agreeing to dedicate a year or more to the project, possibly putting their careers on the line, IT managers and staff look for the same kind of assurance. How is trust built? By consistently making, managing and fulfilling promises. So the effective IT leader must have a history of promising and delivering technical solutions that work and are effective. On a smaller scale, but just as importantly, trust is built in the many daily exchanges among project team members. One of the most important things an effective IT Project Manager can do is respect others’ time and contributions to the project, and be accountable for requests, offers and promises which he or she has made. Showing up on time for meetings he calls, revising the project schedule to reflect the work estimates developed by technical staff, communicating both good and bad news about project progress to the Executive Sponsor—these are some of the small but important contributors to a trust-based project. However, leadership-by-example is not enough. Each member of the team must be made aware that he or she is contributing to the identity of the team by either managing commitments well. Much has been made of ”managing customer expectations.” The ability to do this is simply the ability to make, manage and fulfill promises made to the customer, and having done this, earned the right to hold the customer accountable for his or her commitments.
Let me know your thoughts on all of this. For those of you with experience on IT projects, what practices did you find most effective for producing business value? What are examples you have for creating great collaboration between IT and business managers, or among various IT organizations?