One thing that many companies have perfected over the past 20 years is the game for deciding how IT projects will be implemented. Haven’t heard of the “IT Project Game?” Well perhaps you’re already a player and don’t even know it.
Those who know what I’m talking about right now either have a big smile on their faces and/or are chuckling to themselves. For those who are still in the dark let me elaborate.
Virtually every organization large or small plays the IT Project Game and while the rules may vary between organizations, the outcome is always the same. Here’s how it goes. First, a new/updated technology is identified as a corporate requirement. Let the game begin.
Next, the organization determines where it’s going to get the required technology. There are generally three options: buy an off-the-shelf version, build it/customize it yourself, or outsource the entire function to a third party. To help the organization make the right decision, the company then moves on to the next stage and assigns the analysis to a business analyst or outside consultant to work out the ROI, business strategy and pros and cons of each option.
While this seems like common sense, it is really just the beginning of the game. The analyst is now responsible for developing the winning strategy and for bringing the various players together. As the analyst tries to identify the true requirements and goals of the company (generally the option with the greatest ROI), the analyst must interview the stakeholders to define what the winning solution is from the corporate perspective. It is here that the game gets interesting.
It’s the same in professional sports, where there are team owners who simply want to win the cup (defeat the competition at all costs – even a negative ROI), and team owners that state this as their objective but who don’t really follow through. Scratch the surface, and you’ll find there are team owners who only want a profitable franchise and to make as much money as possible – even if it means losing. This is also the place where the analyst frequently gets blindsided.
While the analyst is asking all the appropriate questions and identifying the best players to reach the corporate objective, the answers they are frequently given are often biased and not in line with the true goal of the organization because they are clouded with internal politics. Armed with information and misinformation, the analyst must conduct the analysis on which option is the winning formula for the corporation.
Now we’re deep into the middle of the game and the analyst needs to evaluate each of the potential options. Once again, armed with a series of questions (how much will this cost, how long will this take, etc.), the analyst must rely solely on the word of the individual players. It is here that the analyst must use some scouting techniques (reference checks) to evaluate each player’s past performances. The analyst needs to determine: did they do it on time and on budget; did they deliver what they promised; does the software operate as per the marketing literature; etc. But who would ever give the analyst a reference that wasn’t good? Yet the analyst is responsible for working with what is provided and generally is able to come up with and propose a winning solution.
Now come the final minutes. With the analyst’s plan all laid out and the players ready to sign-on for the final winning push, the management team gets involved to sign-off on the plan and all associated costs. Very quickly and all too frequently, the analyst’s recommendations and plans are tossed out the window not because they weren’t correct, but simply because the hidden agenda was never revealed and the management team goes ahead with their own agenda. Oh yes, analysts often gets fired in the process if they don’t quickly modify their original plan to fit into this new agenda and especially if they can no longer deliver on the promises made in the original plan.
So how can analysts protect themselves? While there are no guarantees, first the analyst must find out the personal preferences and likes and dislikes of the management team and include them in the analysis. This can include personal vendor or technology preferences, whether they trust the in-house team to deliver what they promised and the size of the corporate pocketbook.
Finally, when writing your proposals, be sure to rank the options and include non-tangible line items such as; ease of implementation, time to market, ease of use, quality of reporting etc. In other words, don’t forget to account for the opportunity cost associated with each option. With this in place even if the management team chooses not to go with the analyst’s recommendation, at least the consequences of going with the alternatives are identified and the analyst’s back can be protected.
K’necht is a Toronto-based consultant specializing in the project management of Internet and other technology projects. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org