Show me the money!

Introduction

The 2009 Standish research shows that only 32% of IT projects are successful. Which means that the new capability is successfully “installed”. But the sad reality is that in a large number of cases this new capability is not used the way it was intended. Thus only a fraction of the desired benefits (or value) are realised. So when the CEO says, “show me the money” or the value the CIO is often caught short.

There are many reasons for this failure.  There may be a lack of understanding about the true intent for the change. Competing agendas and conflicting priorities may dilute the focus. Then there is resistance from the people affected to adapt new behaviours and processes. A key reason is that organisations tend to put all the rigour and energy in the project “installation” and almost none for the benefits realisation post-installation.

Instead of the “installation” focus, the modern CIO needs to adopt a “realisation” or value mindset. With a realisation focus, CIOs ensure that project success is judged by the value created. This article suggests steps CIOs can take to instil a benefits management focus and show the “money”.

Executive Summary

Organisations are good at figuring out what must be done to address their business challenges and capture the opportunities. IT organisations are getting better at delivering technology capabilities to address these challenges. A lot of energy and capital is invested in developing these technology solutions. The plans appear sound. Why is it then that the outcomes fall significantly short of the original ambitions? In today’s markets, CIOs and other leaders cannot afford to spend large amounts of money and risk their reputation just deploying projects, when the success now depends on their ability to manage the change and actually getting the returns on investment (ROI).

Benefit realization mindset

Figure 1 – Realisation mindset

Getting a sustainable ROI requires carefully managing benefits realisation as well as managing the human aspects of the change. The benefits management process provides the framework for blended investment programs that integrate technological change, organisational change and business process design within a common context.

The purpose of the benefits management plan is to identify and organise all activities such that the promised benefits are achieved. It consists of benefits identification, benefits planning, monitoring, realisation and review. A realisation mindset guides the entire project/ program execution. Surveys show that organisations without well-defined benefits planning processes are significantly worse at getting project ROI.

All major changes require shifts in the way people (staff, suppliers, competitors and customers) think, manage and act. These changes will not just happen by themselves. They must be planned and carefully managed. The bigger the change, the larger is the impact and the disruption and resistance to the change.  If people don’t “buy-in”, the change is likely to fail.  In technology enabled changes there is a tendency to focus on the technology side of the project and under-estimate the human change dimension.

Keeping track of the “money”– Benefits Management Process

A benefits management plan is a critical tool for focussing the mind on the value.. It has five stages.

  • Benefit Identification is about clarity around the intent of the change. Benefits identification determines project scope.  The sponsors must be clear about what beneficial outcomes (or value) they want to obtain. Where the benefits will occur? When? Who will receive these? Who is responsible for the delivery of benefits? How the project outcomes link to the value?

Figure 2  – Benefits Management Process

  • Benefits planning stage covers all steps needed to leverage the project outcomes to realise the desired value. (E.g. The project may deliver new technology capability, people need to be trained, new processes and structures may need to be implemented, product/ service features need to be changed, new marketing programs may need to be devised.) In planning evaluate the organisation’s capability to execute and capacity to absorb the change. Also consider the various risks and capability to govern and support the change.
  • Benefits Monitoring covers many stages of the technology development / implementation process. It ensures that the benefits are not diminished during the project life cycle.
  • Benefits realisation should be performed from the time changes begin to be implemented right through to routine operations stage. It would indicate if more actions are necessary to realise the benefit or whether further benefits are achievable.
  • Benefits review captures on lessons learned.

Ten success factors for realising the value

  1. Active Sponsor – Effective management requires a single leader who is visibly committed to success and accountable for realising the benefits. Major changes need senior level executive leadership. Active leadership means selling ideas repeatedly and being there to overcome obstacles.  The sponsor should be accountable.
  2. Clear Intent – There must be clarity about the reasons for the change. What “pain” this initiative will address? How well do key people share the intent?  Is it aligned to the strategy? What would success look like? Is the “price to be paid (dollars, political, organisational)” justified? A lack of clear and shared intent at the beginning would invariably result in a weak or failed initiative.
  3. Business Case – There are many examples of weak business cases that have just sufficient funding for the technology solution. All the post implementation activities and resources are assumed to come from the “business as usual” budget. Without adequate funding and resources for change management in the business case, benefits realisation would be suboptimal.
  4. Full life-cycle governance  – In business changes are to be expected.  The business case will change when the circumstances change. At agreed project stages or upon discovering major variations, both the costs and benefits should be reassessed. If project costs are higher, ask if is it still viable? Should more benefits be found? Should the scope be reduced? Remember that the business benefits are the reason for the project and not technology installation.
  5. People – People are the greatest variable in a change. Systems are at times easier to change than people. Benefits realisation will depend on transforming the way people think and operate. Don’t underestimate the difficulties employees will have in learning to work with new systems that require new skills and new ways of thinking. Take the views of affected people into account early. Try and understand reasons for their resistance and develop action plans to address these. Align consequences and rewards with benefit realisation.
  6. Capacity for change – Do you really know your organisation’s capacity for change? Do you have executives who have a track record of leading the change? Are there are too many changes going on in the organisation? Be truthful with yourselves about what the capacity for change is and what is realistic and then plan accordingly.
  7. Relevant measurement – Measurements must clearly demonstrate how investments contribute to the beneficial outcomes. They must support decisions regarding progressive allocation of funding and resources via agreed “stage-gates”. Secondly, measurements help adjust the benefits path to changing environments. Techniques such as “results-chain” would help choose the right measurements.
  8. Clear accountability – Assign clear ownership to each of the measurable outcomes including project milestones and outcome measures.
  9. Independent governance – Importance of independent governance cannot be overstated. Investment governance board should ideally also monitor benefits realisation. This creates transparency around investment and the returns on investment, provides due diligence on the change initiative and holds sponsors accountable for the benefits. It also helps create peer pressure and reinforces good governance. Experience suggests leaving the entire governance to the sponsor alone is a mistake. Sponsors are known to downplay mistakes and to overstate success.
  10. Value Management Office (VMO) – A VMO serves two purposes; first it provides expert advice and tools to the sponsors for assessing value (validating business cases). Secondly, it helps monitor program progress, and provides rigorous value assessments to the investment governance board. A VMO, like a Project management office, would promote consistency in the approach as well as promoting transparency via reporting.

Benefits management is process is applicable to all initiatives and not just for technology. But changing the organisations mindset from installation to realisation is neither a quick nor an easy process. It requires an ongoing commitment from the top. This mindset enables a big picture view of capital investments and enhances ROI.

For more information on how to create a realisation mindset in your organisation please contact the author.

Do not let your communication hold you back!

These days it is not difficult to find CIOs who are excellent communicators. Unfortunately, it is also very common to see many IT leaders who struggle to communicate well. Some IT leaders are very good at communicating technical information with their teams whilst others communicate well with business users. However, many IT leaders find it hard to communicate effectively with all the stakeholders in the business. I have thought about why this is the case and what IT leaders at all levels can do to improve their message delivery, be effective at leading and motivating their team and engaging with the business.

Many people working in IT start in technical or engineering areas where technical knowledge and skills are valued much more than communication skills. In these areas, peer group discussions are about technical issues and are usually full of jargon. Even when these people become team leaders, they have a technical team and a technical boss so the style of communication does not need to change. Those that have to deal with business users often struggle to get their message across or to elicit ‘real’ requirements.

The inability to communicate effectively reduces one’s own performance and damages the reputation of IT in the organisation. It can affect their relationship between IT staff and their peers. When lT leaders talk in jargon their message is lost, misunderstandings occur and they fail to win others over to their cause. Communication blunders can adversely impact an IT leader’s career by reinforcing a ‘geeky’ image. Executives think if an IT leader cannot express their ideas clearly that they should hire someone else who can.

Here are some tips on improving communications:

Avoid jargon

What is true for board communication (Winning the Board Game) also applies to communication with other people. Speak in simple jargon free language. Even among technical people, talking in simple terms is always more effective than talking in jargon. When talking with jargon you are assuming everyone has the same knowledge level as you. When listeners don’t understand the technical terms they lose the message you are trying to deliver. It is even worse when talking to the business because they will just stop listening altogether.

Don’t dazzle them, get buy-in

Some IT people want to impress others with their brilliant solutions or ideas. They are very confident that they know the very best way of doing something or solving a problem. What happens then is that they become so enthusiastic about their own thinking that they fail to get a commitment from the others. They don’t get the perspective of others or try to build a consensus. In fact, the enthusiasm and confidence of these people discourages others from raising questions or making suggestions. Although others seem dazzled by good ideas, this doesn’t mean they believe them or will become part of the solution development process. Failing to get agreement at the start of discussions can create delays later as people struggle to comprehend why this solution is being implemented and why other approaches will not work.

Ask questions

Asking questions ensures an understanding. It also encourages others to ask for clarifications, make suggestions and present other points of view. Asking meaningful questions and listening to the answers engages the audience, making them active participants. It can help show important information, insight or feedback. If you are presenting an idea or business case, asking questions facilitates understanding, which can lead to a agreement.

Don’t act like a sales person

New IT leaders try to motivate their teams or get them energised by behaving like sales people or sport captains by saying phrases like, “go get them” and “play to win”. IT staff are generally low-key and like facts and arguments, not rah-rah. Learn to speak with the audience in their language.
Similarly, using scare tactics to sell ideas does not work. IT Leaders talk about catastrophic consequences when discussing technical upgrades or investments. Most experienced business executives have heard these type of doomsday scenarios from IT before and find them unconvincing. Using rational, measured arguments and discussing options improves understanding along with the presenter’s credibility.

Too many facts spoil the pitch

Just as too little facts don’t make a good argument, too many facts can confuse instead of enlighten. Some leaders think they would be more credible if they have a fact heavy business case or presentation, especially for IT investments. Telling a story can be more powerful than a litany of facts, charts and analyses. In addition to the facts, others are looking for passion and commitment to get them to join you and support your cause.

Don’t get bogged down in technical problems

Although technical problems may be the most pressing issue on your mind or in your day, most other people don’t want to know about your technical problems. The jargon in talking about technical problems can be boring and/or may cause others to misunderstand and panic. As a leader, you are expected to handle these technical problems yourself or ask others how they could help. When leaders regularly talk about their technical problems others may think you can’t handle the job. If the problems are important be brief with the details, tell others the possible impacts on their business and what steps you have taken to resolve the problems without resorting to detailed step by step explanations.

Don’t forget your team

Many IT leaders focus their energy and communication on the upper tiers of management and business managers. While it is important to communicate effectively with management, remember your team needs to hear from you as well. Your team will have questions and concerns and  will need direction from you. You need their agreement and support to meet your goals and do your role. Don’t forget this!

Don’t bypass other leaders

Many senior leaders believe they are better communicators than their managers and team leaders. While it is right for major company news or changes in direction to be communicated from up above, research indicates that communication to the team from their direct leader or supervisor is the most effective and most credible. Immediate supervisors know the on-ground realities and can address what is important to their staff. They can give specific direction. Employing the organisational hierarchy to cascade communications prevents mixed messages and conflicts from occurring. It also avoids the inadvertent undermining of subordinate managers.

Discussion or direction

In meetings, make sure it is clear when issues or items are being discussed and brainstormed. Many leaders don’t clarify when the discussion is over and a decision has been made, creating confusion within the team. If the team continues to discuss decisions after they are made, the leaders’ authority is undermined. In strict hierarchies, once the leader has an idea, the team feels it is disrespectful to challenge it. In this case, encouraging exploration and discussion needs to be very explicit. On the other hand, when a decision is reached, clarity in assigning responsibility and actions improves communication.

Written directions

Making a written record of the decision in meeting minutes or in a follow-up memo further facilitates clear communication. A written record of the decisions made and the instructions given provides useful information for those who were not part of the meeting or the discussion. Written instructions create clarity and avoid confusion as different participants may have a different idea of what decision was reached.

Final word

Remember, improving communication is not a one step process. Communication continues to be a problem in all organisations. To become better at communicating requires practice and more practice.

Good luck!