Early computer projects were run in the realm of the IT department, likely better known then as the Data Processing department. Business departments had been happy to get their worst drudge work automated, but the techie geek image of IT started at this time as well; so, the business would deal with IT as little as possible to get what they wanted, but otherwise considered IT as being on another planet. In this environment, one idea about using computers could snowball into a big project if enough people liked it.
So, projects proceeded into more complicated areas of the business, and they started to break down, some failed, and now Management wanted to know why, and also started asking if all these computer projects were worth what they cost (because costs were not assumed, they were measurable); and how did they all get started anyway?
(… because the business looks around and sees ) a lot of current projects being carried out, that no one can remember when they started and, even if some target date has been set, no reasonable expectation exists that they will end soon.
(This has to change to get these projects under control, including a new awareness…)
That awareness should include:
1) A recognition that IT projects do not belong to IT, they belong to the Enterprise as a whole, even if various non-IT parts of the Enterprise are assigned responsibility for some sub-set of projects.
2) An understanding that projects still originate the same way: a problem, challenge or opportunity is identified, or a new idea to improve the business is suggested. Sources for suggestions range from front-line staff to objectives stated in the Enterprise’s Strategic Plan.
3) The realization that dozens or more project ideas may be in play at any one time, but the average Enterprise does not have the resources to do them all; it must pick from the candidates which projects will get to proceed, and it must continue to do this as current projects are completed and resources are freed up.
It all boils down to best use of limited resources. The term that has emerged to describe all this is Project Governance. The most common analogy used to describe this governance is “gating”; a number of things, like project ideas, enter into a process at its ‘wide’ point, but only a small number emerge through the narrower gate at the end of the process. The projects that make it through the gate are initiated, the rest wait for another chance when more resources are available, or are eventually dropped from consideration.
It is the nature of IT projects that their size and cost start out small, but increase in size as they proceed through standard Analysis and Design tasks into actual development (commonly called Construction). As a result, a mature governance process will be comprised of several gates that continue after a project has been initiated. More will be known about the project as it approaches the next gate, where it is evaluated again to determine if it should continue. Sometimes a project will have made it through one gate but, after proceeding for a period of time, more information has been gathered and it is clear at the next gate that the original decision to proceed is no longer viable and the project should be stopped. This is NOT a project failure as described above. It is a success of the governance process to prevent wasting precious resources on continuing a project that will not be of value to the Enterprise.