Business Readiness for “IT” projects – the final frontier?

For many years, the most satisfying experiences I’ve had professionally have come not from the investigation of some wonderful information technology (and I’ve done some amazing technology!), but from the successful application by business users of that technology to make a real difference to their effectiveness and efficiency.

IT projects have far and away the worst track record for project failure, and there are some good reasons that success is challenging:

  • The rate of change of technology is phenomenal
  • The complexity of IT solutions is often orders of magnitude higher than other projects

However, there are some less-good reasons that seem to come up time and again:

  • The demographic profile of both IT and business leaders is drifting towards the younger end of the spectrum, reducing experience of managing the art of the possible
  • Abdication of responsibility for project success to the IT project manager
  • Limited engagement between end-users and IT staff
  • Failure to ensure that the IT team understand what the business is all about, so design something truly good and fir for purpose
  • Delivering a “solution” to business users that haven’t been trained how to use it, don’t know what it can and can’t do, and worst of all, don’t understand it imposes changes to the BAU way of working

To a certain extent, Agile approaches address the first 4 points, but it’s the last point that makes me weep, because it happens so often and is completely unnecessary – it really isn’t rocket science, just planning.

Where does the problem arise?  Business readiness falls in the gap between the senior business management and the IT team.

  • The business managers are focused on their targets and BAU of their team, expecting the IT PM to sort out business readiness
  • The IT team don’t understand the needs of the business is getting ready for change, thinking their management is dealing with it
  • There’s no point just automating the existing process – computers can make the whole thing slicker, and this requires change in BAU processes

Business readiness requires special skills:

  • the ability to speak “business” to the business managers
  • the ability to speak “IT” to the techies, and explain what the business is all about
  • the ability to create a plan that fuses user needs with IT needs for implementation

With one client, I was able to completely transform the performance of 2 critical  IT staff simply by helping them understand the business paradigm their “customers” were working under. These were “lightbulb” moments for them – no gradual transition but sudden understanding.

So long as business and IT functions are treated separately, business readiness may well be the final frontier!

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