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The Following is Part One of a Two Part Article by Randy Weldon – Contributing Author to Project Management for Today. 

 Don’t just talk about Aligning IT with the Business – make it happen!

From management’s perspective, if IT isn’t truly aligned with the business strategies to drive transformation and value, the CIO should be concerned about his or her future in the company.  Similarly, if IT staff doesn’t truly understand and enable the business goals, value streams and capabilities, in an end-to-end integrated manner, IT is at risk of being outsourced.

Notice the title I chose for this article.  I made it sound like IT and “the Business” are two separate entities.  The first step in aligning IT with the Business is to stop viewing IT as separate from the business.  IT is an integral part of “the Business”, and must act as a true partner.  Indeed, IT is the business in some industries where business operations and/or products are highly digital.  After all, few traditional businesses can grow or even function these days without technology as an enabler.  But technology may be outsourced if it serves solely as the “utility” underlying the business.  Like phone, electricity and water services, IT as a Utility (IaaU – I just made that up…) is expected to always be on and available, and no one really cares how the utility keeps the network, servers, and applications running.  The IT utility alone is not seen as a value-add business partner.

So, how does IT avoid being just the utility, and instead become a trusted partner with the Business to enable transformation in this modern digital age?  This article, and a follow-on series of articles, will explain how my teams and I have accomplished business alignment with strong Business partner support.  However, I know many readers have other experiences and techniques, and I would love to hear about some other successful approaches.

Ultimately, one of the best practical indicators of alignment is an agreed-upon, value-driving, and executable program and project Roadmap.  As a consultant during about half of my career, I would go into companies in many industries and ask to see the Strategic IT Plan, the Business Strategic Plan, and the Project Roadmap which implements those strategies.  Many times, I would be shown a lengthy list of excellent projects which represented everything the business stakeholders had asked for, sometimes referred to as a “laundry list”.  Rarely was this list fully executable as is, because it wasn’t always weighed against business strategies, priorities, or schedules, or against available personnel and dollar resources (both business and IT).  One issue with this type of list was that it established expectations on the part of the business that IT would deliver everything on the list quickly, regardless of resource constraints or business readiness.  This set IT up for potential failure.

To instead set both IT and the business up for alignment and success, a realistic, achievable Project Roadmap must be developed in a balanced top-down and bottom-up, business-driven manner.

First, from a “top-down” perspective, any existing Business Strategic Plans need to be reviewed, analyzed and understood.  Based on that understanding, management should be interviewed with a common set of questions to understand their perceptions of where things are at currently, as well as their view on where the business (including IT) needs to go in the future to remain or become highly competitive and profitable.  Armed with that feedback, an Expectations Matrix can be prepared, which compares inputs from each of the executives to highlight expectations they have in common versus in conflict.  Then a joint meeting can be held to synthesize a common set of high-level requirements and expectations.

For example, in the 1990’s, we were implementing a new ERP solution at a large high-tech company.  Our team of consultants, internal people and I made the mistake of not clearly ascertaining and communicating senior management’s expectations up front, and then not reporting against those expectations as the project progressed.  Later, we implemented the new complex ERP solution ($20M Phase 1) on time and budget, one of the first in the world to successfully do so with that vendor’s solution.  After go-live, at a global management meeting of a few hundred senior managers, we thought we would receive an award of some kind, or at least kudos and thanks.  But the CEO not only did not acknowledge us positively, he publicly announced we would never do another project like this ever again, because of all the negative impacts on the business users and processes.  The consultants and my team (IT and business) were shocked.  Where had he gotten his completely off-base information?  Later, we learned that field order entry personnel had complained to him how much longer the new system took to enter orders correctly.  But we had planned that all along, to move the accurate order entry up front to the source, rather than maintaining a central team of 40 highly paid, redundant, Order Management personnel to fix all the prior data entry errors from the field!  Needless to say, for Phase 2 the team determined expectations up front, and reported against those expectations every month as we went along.  I have since created top-down Expectations Matrices at nearly every client or company where I have worked.

Stay tuned for Part Two, where I will discuss how to obtain great complementary “bottom-up” input to the Roadmap development process.

Read Part Two Here

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Randy Weldon

Randy Weldon

Contributing Author

I am a business-oriented IT Executive, Consultant, Program Manager and Business Architect, having served as CIO twice, Director three times, and Consultant (Big 4 and my own company). I love to work with business and IT professionals to understand and help enable their strategies, value streams, capabilities, processes, and needs. Then I help create and implement Strategic IT Plans, Global Program/Project/Product Roadmaps and Governance Processes, Business/Data/Application Architectures, Performance Metrics, Programs and Projects, and other transformational initiatives.
My wife, two grown "kids", and new granddaughter are my joys in life. I love the mountains: fishing, horseback riding, hiking, skiing, and camping.

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