Business Sponsors: The Weak Link in IT Projects

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-10-19 Print this article Print

Perhaps the headline for this one should have read: "Does Your Project Have a Business Sponsor?"

When surveyed about how to improve technology projects, most executives from IT and the business side often rank alignment of business and technology as a top priority. In fact, it ranked as the No. 1 priority on a survey from the Society for Information Management (SIM) in 2008.

Then the economy tanked, so cost-cutting took over for this year, and more than likely, next year.

Yet failure in technology projects is considered much too high by most business performance metrics. Earlier this year, The Standish Group-- which tracks project failure annually--saw a marked increase in failure (32 percent successful, 44 percent challenged by timing, cost overruns and depleted features, 24 percent outright failure).

"These numbers represent a downtick in the success rates from the previous study, as well as a significant increase in the number of failures", said Standish Group CIO Jim Crear. "They are low point in the last five study periods. This year's results represent the highest failure rate in over a decade"

The high failure rate, however, doesn't stop most companies from spending on technology projects. So, what are the best strategies for getting better aligned? There are many books on the subject, and many analysts and IT organizations who your management can pay to show them "the way."

Sometimes the best source is from someone in the trenches and who has seen success. In this instance, let's look at what the CIO of the United States Tennis Association Larry Bonfante wrote on CIO Insight in his article "Task Mastering in IT." Bonfante said that the USTA has never had a failed project.

It's hard to believe, especially after seeing those numbers on the number of projects in the "challenged" state, but hear him out. Here's his description on how the USTA manages projects:

Every project needs to have a business sponsor that is willing to be accountable for requesting the funding and helping to manage the effort. It is amazing how much easier it is to get approval and funding and to keep a project on track when, for example, your chief marketing officer is the one seen as the project owner.

Every project put forward for consideration also has to have either a qualitative or quantitative ROI. If a project doesn't drive revenue, reduce costs, drive efficiencies, improve customer satisfaction or help us accomplish our mission, it is not put forward for board approval. Even infrastructure projects have a business sponsor: me! We simply won't upgrade to the next version of an operating system unless there is a real business reason to do so.

Another reality is that every one of our projects has a clear customer--a clear recipient of the project's value. This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many IT groups run projects without having sponsorship or buy-in from anyone for what they are attempting to accomplish.

Some might question his argument that they've never had failure, but the ideas should resonate with your management and team leaders. Business accountability has to come from business management and be shared across the organization.

I liken it to a cliched baseball idea that when you have defined roles for a bullpen, games can be shortened in the favor of the team with a lead. You have to accept, of course, that those in those roles perform outs when they are supposed to... The biggest piece of any project's success is still, ultimately, on its players.

Defining accountability and performance metrics across a group can go a long way toward eliminating challenges and failure rates in projects. |

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