Monday, 19 January 2009

10 Steps to Successful IT

We all want Successful IT but how do we get there? Well here are my 10 steps to successful IT which should help provoke some thoughts to create your own steps. Of course 10 is an arbitrary number and there could be more or less steps in order to reach your goal. It will depend on where you are starting from and how you define success. I have put them in order but this is not set in stone, as some will be parallel steps and some dependent on where you are in the maturity model and the size and type of business.

1. Ensure costs are understood and under control
You can’t achieve anything unless you understand your cost base so this has to be my number one. Once you have analysed the costs and dealt with any discrepancies it is important to keep them under control. A control system for authorising purchases and controlling invoices may be needed. Maintain reliable information on projected versus actual costs and the benefits of any IT investments.
Any linking of technology investments to business performance measurements would be a bonus.

2. The customer focus
Some people may say this should be number one. Don’t just consider your own company requirements but those that reflect the needs of your customer, otherwise it can focus you internally and restricts the vision beyond the walls of the company. The main customer is the company’s customer. It can be challenging to see how improving IT might make your customers more successful and this may require a fundamental shift to become more an integral part of the company’s operations in order to create real value for the ultimate customer.

3. Create and follow a strategy/ plan
Number three follows on from the customer focus and is the creation of a plan so you have a direction. Strategic business and IT systems plans must be grounded in explicit high priority customer needs and must be aligned. Planning, budgeting and execution should be conducted in a seamless fashion with outputs of one process a direct input into another. Most importantly the strategic goals objectives and direction are used to actually manage and evaluate the performance of the organisation.

4. Business engagement
You need to obtain, engage and maintain business buy in and ongoing support. The business should have been working with you on the previous steps so there are no surprises. Make sure you get board approval, communicate directional changes/ issues and keep the board informed. Find your supporters and nurture them. Position yourself as a senior manager to act as a bridge between top executives, line management and your IT professionals. Advise top managers on the worth of major technology decisions and investments. Promote productive relationships between users of technology and IT.

5. Tech Partners/ suppliers
A good supplier strategy can deliver a win-win for both parties. Suppliers can be an asset and a major weapon in your armoury. Treat them with respect. Choose partners that can deliver best in class products and services. Share the vision with them. Make sure they understand the challenges in your industry. Individuals within the suppliers are the real key to your success, so look to build relationships with those people.

6. Manage IT
Number six is about managing IT. Focus on metrics that really drive the performance of the business. Apply best practice where possible. Manage resources and direct scarce resources to high value/ high visibility projects. Support major cost reduction and service improvement efforts. Measure performance of key mission delivery processes and communicate them. It is also often worth carrying out some Benchmarks within your industry to see how you are comparing against your competitors.

7. Be project driven
Create a project portfolio and manage all IT projects as a programme. Manage individual projects as investments; ensuring a sound business case, that benefits are identified and agreed and stakeholders are fully involved. Don’t be afraid to cut your losses and if necessary have an exit strategy if a project is not going to work out. Sometimes difficult to sustain but don’t forget to manage risk and when looking at implementation use change control techniques so there are no surprises for the recipients. Be benefits driven and make sure they are realised. Consider managing large projects using EVM (Earned Value Method). Ambitious and complex projects should be broken down into smaller deliverables.

8. Ensure team working
A motivated, knowledgeable team is a great step to success. Think team! Operate as one team and include any key suppliers in that. Look at ways to motivate and reward the team but most of all engender trust and don’t be afraid to delegate. You can always put some soft controls in to ensure things keep within boundaries.
Communicate so everybody knows what is happening and what is expected of them. You will be surprised how people react to being treated as responsible individuals.

9. Train the team
Ensure that you have the right level of skills available to make things happen. Develop a Skills matrix based on your functional needs and then match your team’s individual skill levels to the matrix. Use this to highlight deficiencies and determine your training program. Consider sending people on relevant conferences and industry group meetings so they are aware of the wider world. Developing your people will pay off.

10. Shout about it
Shout about your success. Let people know what you are doing.
Create a communication plan. Make sure communication is regular and use every opportunity to talk about your achievements in terms of business benefit. In addition consider executive reports/ dashboards, progress reports and web 2.0 tools. Be prepared to give presentations to new starters and at departmental meetings. Consider external reporting and look at case studies for any successful implementations, writing magazine articles and talking at conferences.


Simon Stapleton said...

Excellent list Peter. I particularly like 'Shout About It'. This year will be intense, so we really need to celebrate our successes. We must maintain perspective between 'To Do' and 'Been Done'.


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Pradeep Bhanot said...

Peter, it is interesting that you only mention project portfolio management in Step 7 on being project driven. Commercial PPM solutions help you manage projects and include the provision of EVM. Additionally it can help with business engagement (step 4) by supporting the Business Relationship Management role and alignment to the business strategy (point 3). Being a CA employee, I am naturally biased towards CA Clarity PPM, but any complete PPM solution should help IT to better align project selection to the business strategy.

My thoughts on PPM can be found at:

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