Theme and track projects to win backing

In this second extract, Terry White explains how to track multiple projects

The IT department can add real value to a business if allowed to implement a few key strategies. For example, cost and time savings can be made by simply identifying all the initiatives currently under way or planned within an organisation.

In a process known as "theming", projects are analysed in order to identify mutual goals. Any overlaps can then be identified and eliminated, so reducing time and costs spent duplicating work. The remaining initiatives can then be organised into themes.

Psychologists have shown that human short-term memory can only deal with between five and nine things at one time, but this number can be extended by grouping. Why not follow the same principle when it comes to rationalising the tasks of the IT department?

A medium to large organisation will, for example, have between 75 and 250 initiatives on the go at one time. Each will have its own individual budget and is likely to take longer than three months to complete.

Of these initiatives, 80% could probably be fitted into the requisite five to nine themes. If the IT department can group projects together in such a way, less time will be wasted on replication of basic requirements. In addition, theming projects may help to keep development in line with the organisation’s strategy.

The IT department can also be used to monitor the benefits of multiple projects as they spread across an organisation. It can break down cost and efficiency benefits, for example, according to whether they come from improved use of resources or increased return on investment.

Tracking a portfolio requires layers of detail from projects and sub-projects up to departments or business functions, then to themes and finally the grand picture of costs versus benefits for the entire organisation. If you do this just for the IT systems, you will have a final picture of the value that IT adds to the business.

All the above activities are within the competence of the IT department, and do not involve a coup d’etat in the business.

By analysing and tracking business performance, the IT department can significantly increase its importance to the business. Its unique perspective, an IT perspective, can unearth value within every aspect of the business’ activities. Many chief executives feel that this does not go far enough: that IT should impose solutions on the business and that IT should drive change in spite of business protests. However, this is self-defeating. For example, I know of one large organisation whose IT department approached everything through a process approach. It mapped out and tracked all the business processes.

Rather than IT staging a coup d’etat, the board abdicated its leadership role. It considered IT soley responsible for all the business problems. This is also far from a healthy solution. So the issue is one of balance. And true alignment can surely only occur if IT takes a co-operative role, rather than a confrontational one.

What Business Really Wants From IT, by Terry White, is part of the Computer Weekly Professional Series, to order a copy, click here >>

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