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Plan the Work, then Work the Process

August 19, 2014
by Fran Turisco, Director, Aspen Advisors
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‘Operationalizing processes’ are an essential part of an IT strategic planning project
Fran Turisco

Today, an IT plan without the rigor of the associated processes to implement the recommendations leaves organizations holding the thick book of projects and a high-level roadmap, asking, “Now what do we do?”

While an approach without established processes worked fine years ago when we were eagerly moving from paper to electronic transactions, the approval of the IT plan is no longer the endpoint for the planning effort, due to the complexities of technologies, dependencies and external data sharing and communications.

There has never been a more pressing time when an organization needs to have clear, consistently followed processes, effective checkpoints, and leadership support to manage the IT plan and monitor its progress and value. The volume of IT requests has skyrocketed in recent years, yet resources are scarce and options and dependencies are many, which requires numerous shifts and project trade-offs.  New requests come into Information Services (IS) almost instantaneously with the approval of the IT plan. Without clearly defined processes and standards for requests and changes, it is natural to fall back on a “business as usual” mindset which in many cases means a LIFO (Last In First Out) method for new requests. 

The processes can no longer be conveyed in PowerPoint diagrams. Rather, workflows, procedures, new tools, and education are requirements to make sure the most critical, highest priority needs are addressed first, and approved projects are continually tracked and successfully implemented.  The following are some of the exemplary practices that innovative organizations have used to manage the transition from planning to doing while keeping the momentum going.

1. Involve the PMO Early in the Planning Process 

The Project Management Office (PMO) is an integral part of executing the IT plan, so get them involved early on to make sure the tools, data, and processes are in place once the plan is approved.  Some important work done by the PMO during the planning engagement includes:

  • Building/refining the IT request form, standard status report format, issue log, and project monitoring dashboards;
  • Building workflows and associated procedures from the high-level IT request process diagram in the plan; and
  • Setting standards for what defines a project, the level of detail for costs, and value realization analysis for an IT request.

2. Marry the IT Request Process with the Capital Budgeting Process

While not part of the IT planning initiative, processing new requests is an important aspect of managing and adjusting the plan to fit the needs of the organization. When the planning project is underway, it is also the time to build the process for streamlining the IT and capital budgeting process, and here is why. It is not uncommon for organizations to have the capital request process separate from the IT request process. In this instance, the requestor needs to enter much of the same information, such as scope, benefits, costs, resources, and total cost of ownership (TCO) into two different systems. This approach is very confusing to the requestor if, for example, the capital budget request is approved, but the IT request is denied.

Organizations need to combine the two processes with the understanding that any capital request that uses technology and needs IS resources must go through the IT request process first. Once approved, then it should be sent onto the capital budgeting committee. Luckily, the IT request approval committee and the finance committee have many of the same members, so if a project gets through the IT process, the capital will most likely be made available.

Marrying the two also improves the adoption to the new IT request and process as users are familiar with capital budgeting process and won’t need to do double duty for requesting the technology too.

3. Make Business Sponsors Accountable

IT projects identify a business or executive sponsor to show approval for the project and its value to the organization. However, beyond the signature, the business sponsor is often not held responsible for the outcome or involved in the project to address issues and barriers.  Important characteristics for a sponsor include:

  • Holding the position of senior vice president or executive;
    • Ensuring the project generates the intended business benefit and return on investment (ROI) and working with the steering committee and its respective advisory group to establish clear metrics for determining the initiative’s success; and
    • Acting as a change agent and driving the redesign or deployment of new processes for both organizational change and process and performance improvement.
  • Being responsible for securing funding and presenting the project to the appropriate steering committee and IT oversight committee;
  • Asserting an overall accountability for system/process implementation;
    • Assigning and directing a project director who partners with the IT business associate to execute the project;
    • Having the authority to assign resources and time to “own” the project;
    • Resolving issues that “bubble up”; and
    • Being accountable for outcomes and reporting regularly to the IT steering committee.

4. Enlist Finance as a Resource and a Gatekeeper

Similar to combining the IT request and capital budgeting process, the finance department is a valuable resource and gatekeeper for IT planning and new requests. Two important areas where they can expedite and improve the quality of the information are:

  • Assisting in the development of costs, benefits, and TCOs for large projects; and
  • Making sure that all capital requests that include IT and IS have been through the IT request process and have been approved.  

This partnership aligns the allocation of money to the availability of resources and eliminates surprises for IS when projects are approved without their input. 

5. Communicate and Educate Changes (and then Hold the Line)

The planning project involves interviews and intensive work by the team and finally, approval by the executive committee.  However, most of the end users are not aware of the plan details, nor the changes in governance and processes. It is the responsibility of the executive IT governance committee to start the communications flowing and then the members of the committee to educate their staff with the details.  

The hard part is not the communication of the changes; it is adhering to them.  It is so easy to “squeeze” in one more request without going through the process, but in the long run it is easier if you don’t. Once the process is baked in (and combining it with the capital budgeting process helps), it becomes second nature, and the right projects for the organization are the ones that are approved and implemented. 

6. Lock and Load

After the IT plan is approved by the executive IT governance committee, then it is time to get started. Load the projects into the IS PMO application. Start with the mandatory and high priority projects for the upcoming year—setting agreed upon start dates, confirming IS and end user staffing commitments, creating work plans, making sure the capital is secured, and  acquiring external resources. The sooner you treat the IT plan as part of business as usual, the sooner it will be.
 
Bottom Line
 
What was the end of an IT planning effort is no longer. IT plans have matured from laundry lists of new applications with simple, internal interfaces and infrastructure implementations to complex project roadmaps with dependencies, special skill requirements, and significant end user resource commitments, in addition to external connectivity and data sharing. To be successful, organizations need to plan the work and then work the IT plan processes.
 
 
Fran Turisco is a consulting director at Aspen Advisors and is the lead for their Advisory Services and Project Management Center of Excellence. She can be reached at fturisco@aspenadvisors.net.

 

 


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