Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Will business leaders stand up and take responsibility for Digital success or failure ?

Recently came across an interesting article on “Why IT projects still fail ?” and the subject caught attention as it is still being discussed. It had references to some spectacular failures where the blame was squarely placed on the implementation partner; another one where business users at the bottom of the pyramid showed spirited resistance to the new way of working. Finally it quoted the most popular reference on IT projects with limited change in results over score of years with IT Business Alignment retaining high marks.

Reasons attributed to the dismal success record included inadequate resources, overly aggressive timelines, underestimated costs, overlooked requirements, unanticipated complications, poor governance and human mistakes such as bad code can all lead to project failure. Surprisingly a quote “the definition of success is evolving with traditional measures of scope, time, and cost no longer sufficient in today’s competitive environment. The ability of projects to deliver what they set out to do — the expected benefits — is just as important.”

Everything pointed the finger at IT; they are understaffed, overpromise, don’t know how to estimate costs or gather requirements and stick to them and finally are bad project managers. Also I am not sure about the world the respondents of this 2017 global report live in if they do not articulate the benefits in business terms. Okay, I take my words back, I do know of a few who still are unable to, but those are exceptions. Interestingly the article goes on to define formula for success without addressing the core.

So I dug a bit on the background of the author and found no evidence of having either run an IT shop or been at the receiving end. The article was an observation based on statistical evidence from various reports and the hypothesis that has lived for long: IT does not communicate, IT does not know the business, IT needs to sell the project to business, IT should prepare a business case and illustrate the benefits, IT should get the budgets sanctioned and then monitor time, cost, resources, success, failure, … really ?

Let’s for a moment shift focus from IT to the business folks; business models have undergone major upheavals and digital has been thrust upon the willing and unwilling alike. Majority of the incumbent leaders and giants have been slow to react – unwilling to accept reality brushing it off as irrelevant – and then finding someone (read IT) to blame for not delivering in (the constrained) time while the new players have eaten market share. They have treated the change like a technology project rather than technology enabled business transformation.

Success stories are all about the handful of enterprises who decided to create cross-functional teams to evaluate and respond to the upcoming opportunity. They did not hire consultants to give them a roadmap, or define waves of implementation, or hire from outside to lead the internal team; they were willing to change, explore, experiment, willing to take risks, and understood the limitations of pure technology over the collaborative success that they had co-created multiple times in the past along with IT.

The leaders do not hand off accountability, they find ways to induct others into their vision; they are always on the lookout for creating differentiation against competition. There are no IT projects, only business projects that use technology. Even mundane decisions like cloud evaluation or change in support vendors seek business impact and changed outcomes. IT responsibilities and KRAs are spelled out in business terms; this is the real world of pervasive IT today which has shed the technology skin of the past.

In such a world then why does “Why IT projects still fail ?” still find a headline and mention ? Such reports and publications continue to berate technology teams. They find it convenient to continue using the old scapegoat without looking elsewhere if the paradigm has shifted. So are these about the laggards and disconnected teams who have failed to stay current and relevant in the new normal with shrinking business and loss of customers ? This does not appear to be the universal truth but sensation sells better than reality.

Can business grow up and take responsibility for success or lack of it rather than live in a world of transferred responsibility especially when things don’t work out the way they were planned ? Can the technology teams stop being subservient and stand up to their professional achievement and pride ? Wherever the chasm still exists, can both start by acknowledging it and work towards building a sustainable bridge that will offer achievement of business objectives ? A necessary step to stay relevant internally and externally.

Finally let’s bury IT projects !

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