It’s that time of the year again – 2012 project planning! We’re all most likely spending time brainstorming and deciding what work needs to get done next year. Of course we focus on projects that will add value to the company and aim to make a difference that really matters by achieving incredible results – but how do we do that?
When thinking about how IT will be measured at the end of 2012, think about it this way. If you can only do five projects, what would they be? Seriously – not six projects, only five. Are the five projects your priorities, or that of the business? Obviously they should be the same. If asked, would your business partners agree those are the most important project you should be working on for them? Once you have the list of five, are they appropriately resourced and funded? Is there executive visibility and support for the projects? Making sure you have the right answers to the above is critical to your success. While just doing five projects probably isn’t feasible for most, it’s a great exercise to help prioritize the work that must get done.
Equally as important, do the same exercise in reverse. Identify the least important projects and get rid of them. What is the best way to tell which ones are the least important? Be honest with yourself and ask your team. You will then know which projects are the ones that no one cares about and whether they get done or not. Please, please don’t say you’re still doing stuff no one cares about. If you are, stop reading this blog now, go back and stop doing that work. Work the top and the bottom of the list until you get to something reasonable, that everyone would agree with, and can be properly funded and resourced.
Some additional tips in case you’re struggling to get to a final list. First, let’s all stop using pretend business language to define projects such as “business alignment”, “value creation”, “IT innovation”, etc. If you’ve been in IT more than a couple of years, you’ve most likely used these very words to classify the work you’re doing. There is no value in using this wording other than in marketing. In order to be successful and achieve greatness (I like to think big), make sure the work you are doing is really the work the company needs to get done, and not just a marketing message.
Here at Covanta Energy, we heavily focus on prioritizing and delivering capabilities that our Energy-from-Waste (EfW) facilities need to run, continuously improve, and even help to transform the industry. If the IT projects aren’t in alignment with those goals, I don’t do it.
I challenge everyone to make 2012 the year of simplifying project planning. Make three categories of projects – stuff the business needs to improve and grow, stuff IT wants to do that will reduce costs or improve productivity, and the always popular work IT needs to do in order to keep the lights on. Keep the message simple. If a project doesn’t fit into one of those categories, question really hard why it should it be done.
Project planning is a fine balance of the three above categories. We in IT of course need to keep the lights on, to maintain our systems, to lower costs of operation, and to make sure no company executive is talking about IT operational issues. We want everyone to discuss new capabilities that drive the company forward, not why email had an outage. Never lose sight of achieving operational excellence, as it is the foundation of everything that follows. Next there are things that IT should do to drive the business forward: new collaboration tools, social networking, ERP/CRM enhancements, cloud computing, mobile computing, etc. Those projects will ensure the company doesn’t think IT is stagnant, and not staying in tune with industry trends.
Finally, and most important, are the projects the business needs and wants IT to do. Ensure you know this list and the priority for all major business areas. Put together a group of leaders to collaboratively prioritize the list. No department should feel that their needs aren’t as important as another department’s (this requires good communications). However a big warning – don’t be order takers. Think really hard about business needs, spend time with your team brainstorming on turning those needs into real and significant solutions that work.
Always bring value! IT has a lot of knowledge about the business, so don’t waste it. Improve the business list with your knowledge; don’t just implement something claiming it’s a “requirement”.