IT Leadership and Project Failure
Leaders define the vision. A business turns vision into value. It still takes a team of executives, managers, project managers, and individual contributors to drive the projects that build the capabilities to transform businesses. Ergo, projects are the enablers for turning vision into value.
The Vision to Value keynote is geared toward helping executives, finance leaders, technology leaders, and project managers understand what is required to enable the organization to share and stay focused on the company's goals, hence, reducing waste, increasing productivity, and decreasing waste.
Project failure is rampant. In the US alone, the cost estimates for failure run as high as a trillion dollars annually. Regardless of the industry, executives seem powerless to alter this direction. The challenge for them is understanding where to focus their time and energy. All too often, they take the seemingly obvious move of zeroing in on the project manager, their teams, and technology. Other executives, reflect on their contributions to the failure. That self-reflection is time well spent as executives are essential in setting direction, aligning projects to corporate goals, implementing effective governance, and providing the needed resources. In other words, being effective leaders. This keynote explores the actions executives need to take to have the greatest impact on project success.
The lament echoes time and again, "The CIO should have a seat at the table." The claim continues that business cannot survive without the simplest of technologies. Then they provide evidence as if it would be the final nail in the coffin, "Just the other day, when email was down..." Raising my eyebrows in question, I ask, "So your email was down? For how long?" The question is like a scene from a horror film where the sudden realization is that the casket being completed is... your own. Gaining strategic respect is a long way away for those having trouble maintaining their tactical obligations. If your organization is having difficulty providing basic services, you will never have the privilege of being a partner with the business.
Again, I was chided for saying there are no Information Technology projects. This time, the excuse was that the company built software. I countered my antagonist by asking if the same group that built their software also maintained the account system, workstations, email, and network. "No, that is a separate group." He was missing that his company's production group was not IT. Information Technology is the support group... and yes, they should not be doing anything that fails to directly affect getting product out the door or reducing costs. Every project's goal must be to deliver to the operational needs of the company—selling product—not to the whims and desires of the IT group. If a project fails to address the needs of the customer (directly or indirectly), then it should never see a penny of funding. This seems such an elementary concept, but it is routinely violated by techno-bigots trying to implement the latest toy or tool.
A couple months ago I asked the question, "Who should the CIO report to?" on the LinkedIn's CIO Magazine Forum. Surprisingly, over 100 people responded, so many that the group's moderator moved the discussion to the jobs section. Maybe they were tired of the attention this old, beat-up subject was getting. I surely did not think responses would be quite as passionate as they were. However, my interest lay in another area, not in the answers to the direct question, rather the reasoning behind them.
CIOs have two major responsibilities—keeping IT's lights on (backups, networks, email, etc.) and providing support for business initiatives. Being mediocre at either will make for a short career. Although the respective budgets are normally a 70:30 split, a CIO will be fired in a minute for failing to properly support the 30%. That portion of their budget actually generates the company money. Keeping the lights on is a thankless job. People simply expect networks run, data served, and viruses inoculated. It is expected much as we expect water when turning on the tap. Supporting business initiatives is just as thankless since 60% of projects seem to always be in trouble.
I have never posted email marketing results, because... well, let's face it... it is kind of tacky. Now and then, however, there is a story to be told. In my opinion, this set of statistics is a little over-the-top in what it shows. I can only see one way to interpret it other than Information Technology "leaders" simply do not care about leadership.
To understand how I can make such a brash statement, you need a little background...