SmartAdvice: Know The Players When Setting IT Priorities

Involve the CEO, executive committee, and IT staff when deciding on priorities for IT projects, <B>The Advisory Council</B> says. Also, factors to consider when choosing portfolio-management dashboard software, and tips for addressing IT staff morale when projects are cancelled.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

May 20, 2004

5 Min Read

Question C: How do we minimize the negative impact of project cancellations on IT staff morale?

Our advice: In this era of outsourcing, corporate streamlining, and downsizing, the first thing your IT staff will be thinking about is how much time they have before they're fired. Face it, the past few years have been bumpy for everyone, but IT people are feeling particularly under-appreciated and overworked as they're asked to take on more responsibility and work than ever before. Many of them started their careers in an era of rapid job changing and no corporate loyalty. Well, the easy job pickings are long gone, but the lack of loyalty remains.

Downsizing might be the last thing on your mind, because of a large backlog of new projects, but unless you address your staff's insecurities quickly, you'll be left with no resources for the next project. Whenever a project is cancelled, for whatever reason, addressing your staff's concerns, fears, and insecurity about the future should be the first step before assigning them to the next set of projects. To minimize the negative impact of project abandonment, it's important to be honest about the cancellation reasons, the staff's future prospects with the company, and upcoming project plans. Unless the project was cancelled because of staff incompetence (which they will probably be well aware of), then a discussion of the reasons for the cancellation (e.g., business environment change, technology issues, financial concerns, shifting priorities) will set their minds at ease and make them feel that they're respected team members. Publicly thank those who had contributed to the project. We recommend that "lessons learned" session(s) be conducted immediately to capture and analyze useful information such as: How can factors that resulted in the cancellation be avoided in the future? Are there any processes, skills, and artifacts from the project that can be reused on other projects in the future?

If you have plans to re-deploy staff to new projects, then a discussion of the corporate IT road map would help them understand how they can continue to play an important role in the company's future growth plans. If your company has career tracks or career-development programs, frame your discussion in those terms. If you're planning to cut staff as a result of the project termination, do it quickly--don't wait for the inevitable rumors to spook your staff. It will only cause your best people to be cherry-picked by your competition, leaving you with the mediocre performers, which is just what you want to avoid. To a certain degree, project teams can immunize themselves to the project-cancellation blues by anticipating negative impacts that could result in potential project failures. Then, a mitigation plan can be created to minimize or eliminate the risk. Do this either at the beginning of project, or on an ongoing basis once it is under way.

In summary, there are things you can do early in project cycles to lessen, if not eliminate altogether, the morale-sinking consequences of unanticipated project implosions. If you're proactive and honest in your communications with your IT staff about the reasons behind the cancellations, and their prospects for future project assignments and employment, you'll be able to retain the talent that you need to make the next project a success.

-- David Foote and Beth Cohen

Wes Melling, TAC Expert, has more than 40 years of IT experience with a focus on enterprise IT strategies. He is founder and principal of Value Chain Advisors, a consulting boutique specializing in manufacturing supply-chain optimization. He has been a corporate CIO, a Gartner analyst, and a product strategist at increasingly senior levels.

Vanessa DiMauro, TAC Expert, is VP at CXO Systems, and is an expert in building research exchanges and developing decision systems for CXOs. Prior to joining CXO Systems, DiMauro served as executive director of the Computerworld Executive Suite, an online community of 5,700+ IT leaders of midsize to large companies for Computerworld, an IDG company. She also served as director of research for the Management Lab at Cambridge Technology Partners, where she led and taught executive education programs for CIOs at UCLA's Anderson School, Babson College, and the University of Miami.

David Foote, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience in technology including 13 years as an analyst and consultant at Gartner, Meta Group, and Foote Partners, where he is co-founder, president, and chief research officer. His specialties include a range of private and public-sector IT management practices and workforce trends; offshore sourcing and strategic resource management; enterprise project delivery; organizational transition and transformation; and IT compensation. His editorial opinion columns, articles, and contributions appear in a variety of business, IT, and HR publications, and he appears on radio, television, and global Web casts.

Beth Cohen, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT-delivery organizations from both user and vendor perspectives. Having worked as a technologist for BBN, the company that literally invented the Internet, she not only knows where technology is today but where it's heading in the future.

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