Preventing IT Program Failure, Part 1: The Right Question

This is the First in a Six-Part Series on How to Prevent Failure and Accelerate Outcomes

I’ve been there, done that, and gotten a lot of t-shirts. This series will be learnings and specific actions to materially increase predictability and effectiveness of achieving the right outcomes associated with technology investment.

“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” Tony Robbins

Everyone journey starts with a first step, and preferably in the right direction. Every program needs to start with the right questions. And the right question when it comes to technology programs is all about leadership.

In the 2009 movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You,” based on the book of the same name, a key message is if a man wants to date someone, he will make it unequivocally clear. OK, it’s a generalization, but generalizations come about because they are generally true.  Similarly, if leaders in an organization want a certain outcome to happen, they will make it clear and they will make it happen.

Once upon a time, I was leading an organization where there was a project that was almost ten years old. Not a single working peice of software had been delivered. Even going back to the early days of my career in the 1990s, 10 years is multiple glacial ages in technology time, so I was curious what was going on.

There was nothing particularly wrong with the technology, the talent assigned had some gaps but not massive, and there was enough budget. The most glaring item was a pretty lousy, mainly non-existent plan of any kind. The question I asked was “why has leadership let this go on for this long?” The answer was that *nobody cared enough* to make it unequivocally clear and provide the specific leadership direction and support to get the program done. Once I figured out who cared, and really how much, the program moved and got done about a year later.

A lot of questions come up when a program is being considered: What technology should we choose, how much will it cost, how long will it take …. those are all valid qustions. However the leading questions when a program comes on the radar, whether during a planning cycle or unexpectedly, should be:

  1.  Are leaders who hold the resource controls (read: can write checks) willing to fully fund and staff this program?
  2. Are leaders willing to fully support the program (read: have their own career skin in the game) through their words and actions?

In order to proceed, the answers to these two questions needs to be a resounding “yes” followed by swift designation of all necessary resources to the program. If the “yes” and the resources don’t come about, the program is not only at high risk of some form of failure but should not be started. Or as a colleague of mine often says, “if the funding isn’t there, just stop.”  If true leaders believe a program is important to the company, they will make it happen.

Next up: Techniques for true prioritization of valuable IT investment dollars.

Worth Considering:

Agile continues its march into ubiquity in corporate settings. In this Information Week article, experts predict that 2020 will increase Agile-at-scale in large corporate settings, requiring that organizations deal with the challenges of keeping business and IT units in sync.

Also in Information Week are four recommendations for strategic IT hiring, including ability and willingness to work with both old and new technologies. The reality of any sizable organization that’s been around for any length of time is a wide mix of solutions and ages.




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