Blindingly Obvious Demand Management Part 2: Educating the Business.

In the previous post I discussed how it’s difficult to manage project demand in a controlled way… or put another way, how do we explain project selection governance to business stakeholders?

There are all sorts of formal and informal methods to help business stakeholders understand why their pet project is actually a waste of time and money.

It’s blindingly obvious that all stakeholders need a set of strategic priorities for the business against which to judge whether a project is core or a distraction. It’s important that everyone understands and supports these strategic priorities (or at least agrees to support them).

Examples of default strategies…

I often hear, “we don’t have a strategic plan”… Well you do – whether it’s stated clearly or not. If there’s nothing explicitly written down, (or it’s out of date), then talk to your ELT. If they’re no help, go back to first principles and have a look at your organisation’s annual report.

What we’re looking for is a section on strategy. Here’s some examples: on page 12 of the ANZ Bank’s 2017 annual report [I only refer to this because it’s a public document, not to endorse or make any comment or judgement of the Bank], you’ll find:

“Our strategy is focused on becoming simpler, better balanced and more service-oriented to help people and businesses respond to a changing world.

  • Create a simpler, better capitalised, better balanced and more agile bank
  • Focus our efforts on areas where we can carve out a winning position
  • Drive a purpose and values-led transformation of the bank
  • Build a superior everyday experience for customers and our people to compete in the digital age”

… so if your project’s not improving productivity through simplicity or agility, or focused on a product to enable a winning position, or improving the customer experience… forget it.

In the example of a Telco it might be:

  • Improve Network stabilisation,
  • Reduce Costs, and
  • Improve Customer Experience.

So unless the project you’re proposing or the need that you’re addressing aligns with one of those, your proposal will be deprioritised – not necessarily ignored, but shoved down the list.

Check out the 2017 Annual Review document from National Australia Bank Annual Reports page: right up front on page 3 [of the Word doc] it describes the 2017 prioritised themes:

  • Values-aligned culture
  • Positive customer outcomes
  • Information security and management
  • Environmental and social risks and impacts
  • Governance
  • Transparency and Disclosure
  • Customer Experience

There’s plenty of scope there, but plenty that’s not on the list too…

And finally another real example from a major bank. As part of an ERP strategy that covered multiple regions, change was managed through a process of conversations with the business owners where the urgency, budget, time required, and COTS (Commercial-off-the-Shelf) options available was established. The COTS options were presented by IT, after IT had been made aware of the business problem being solved. As a consequence of these conversations, the business agreed to change priorities, and delay the project to fit into a pre-existing scheduled IT upgrade at a foundation level which actually gave a better outcome for the whole organisation rather than just a quick fix.

Just a note of recognition that additional foundational or maintenance projects will always be necessary, but I’m thinking about new functionality projects in the discussion above.

So step 1: Go back to the business to get the business priorities. If the departments can’t give them to you, go back to the Executive Team. If they can’t, go back to the annual report. But don’t get forced into a go/no-go decision without being able to justify it – no-one will thank you. Remember: ​“People should only make decisions regarding that which they actually understand. “ … I know… blindingly obvious!

The next part of this topic addresses how to help the business understand the various methodologies IT will try to impose on them, and a simple way of keeping business people engaged and knowledgeable about the implications of such decisions.


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