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Rob Preston
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Down To Business: IT's Lords Of Discipline

Many business technology organizations still have a long way to go when it comes to project and portfolio management and functioning like a well-oiled machine.

Karen Garcia's experience speaks to what's going well and not so well with IT project and portfolio management. A former programmer and program manager, Garcia recently was promoted to the new role of "chief of staff" for BMC Software's IT organization, where she's responsible for applying more operational discipline. All good. But because Garcia's job requires her to bring more rigor to budgeting, purchasing, vendor oversight, timekeeping, asset management, compliance, and other areas, she faced a lot of early resistance from her IT peers, relates Chris Murphy in our annual salary survey magazine cover story. "If you think you're going to get something knocked out in a very short time, you're going to get frustrated," Garcia says. "I got frustrated."

Despite the dot-com bust and the Great Recession of 2008-2009, many IT organizations--not just BMC's--still have a long way to go when it comes to functioning like a well-oiled machine. On a positive note, 70 percent of the 684 business technology pros who responded to our recent survey on IT project management said their organizations have adopted formal PM methodologies. Among those who have, their top reasons are to prioritize projects across the enterprise (64 percent), standardize their approach to projects (55 percent), and provide project visibility to the leadership team (34 percent). Among the less common reasons are ones related to project success: track and report on project finances (22 percent), manage risk (22 percent), and track and report on customer satisfaction (2 percent). Those need to be higher priorities.

In his in-depth Enterprise Project Management report, InformationWeek Analytics contributor Jonathan Feldman, a leathery veteran who's now director of IT services for a city in North Carolina, noted that IT organizations tend to have a firm grip on large, expensive projects (runaway projects like the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid notwithstanding). Where they often stumble is in managing their myriad smaller projects, which can end up grabbing much of the IT budget and resources.

Hewlett-Packard, which cut about a billion dollars a year from its annual IT spending thanks to an overhaul of infrastructure and operations, requires its business unit leaders to rank their IT projects--just as 64 percent of the respondents to our survey do. In addition, at the behest of executive VP and CIO Randy Mott, HP's business unit leaders and their controllers must sign off on a cost-benefit analysis of every single IT project, so they're not only assigning hard cost numbers to every project, but they're also estimating the "revenue of IT" to be generated from them. As a result, fewer IT projects make the cut, but HP is assigning more people to each project and requiring faster delivery amid intensifying time-to-market pressures.

Project management and IT discipline isn't just a budgetary and compliance exercise. It extends to contract negotiation and legal due diligence. Lawyer and consultant Kenneth Richard, in a recent guest column for InformationWeek, related his experiences representing mostly enterprise software vendors in scores of lawsuits brought by customers who simply didn't pay enough attention to the terms of the contracts they were signing. "Customers that don't have the foresight to protect themselves invariably want to talk about everything but the contract," he wrote. (And their lawsuits generally go nowhere.)

Whether your organization needs a Leo McGarry-like chief of staff to hold everything together or just better management processes that start at the CIO and are reinforced on down, consistency is key. But organizational and process change takes time, so hang in there.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek

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