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Posted by Susan on 6:10 PM Thursday October 15, 2009 under

My last post asked you to be the judge of whether a business sponsor of a major initiative should take the advice of their consultants to "go big" or the advice of their IT counterparts to "go small."

Your advice was virtually unanimous:

  1. Break large projects into a series of small projects ("Remember: the larger the project, the larger the risk of failure. I would much rather see a dozen small successes than one huge failure").
  2. Place your faith in your internal IT group — provided they have earned your trust ("IT are stakeholders too and they are raising valid concerns").
  3. Select consultants with the right expertise — and motives — so they work for you and not the other way around ("Any consultant with any experience knows that a waterfall approach in the above problem guarantees three years of income. And that's ALL it guarantees").

Unfortunately, for our business sponsor, your counsel didn't arrive in time.

As this blog unfolds, so does this story. As it stands now, the business sponsor pitched the three-year "big bang" approach to the executive committee only to receive a lukewarm response and a polite "thank you." Not a "no" but definitely not a "yes." Any lingering hope that approval and funding would be close at hand was squelched by a phone call requesting a follow-up meeting with two of the executive committee members.

At the meeting, they asked, "Isn't there a lower-risk approach?" The business sponsor threw the question to the IT VP who revealed that he felt strongly that a series of smaller initiatives would be lower risk and ultimately more successful. This being new news, at least to the executive committee members, the remainder of the meeting was spent grilling the IT VP to explain the who, what, where and why of the iterative approach. In the end, he held his own, and the committee members asked the business sponsor and the IT VP to put together a joint recommendation.

Unfortunately, at this point, everybody is dug in. The IT guy wants iterative, the business sponsor wants big bang. The probability that either party is going to adopt the other position is slim to nil. The opportunity for win-win disappeared the minute the executive committee meeting convened.

Let's rewind the tape and help our business sponsor avoid this IT dance-of-doom. With the benefit of your counsel, he would have realized that the issue revolves around trust — both in the approach and in IT. He would have worked with the IT VP to verify that the iterative approach is the "appropriate practice" in this case and that IT has the chops to pull it off. He would have insisted in talking with others who had walked a similar path, obtained second and, if necessary, third opinions from outside advisers, and grilled the IT VP on his past experiences and accomplishments. Based on the mutual due diligence, the business sponsor and IT VP would prepare a joint recommendation to the executive committee. Any "give" by either party would occur within the privacy of the one-one-one relationship and outside of public view.

In general, assuming that trust is warranted, business sponsors should delegate the definition of the approach (the "how") to IT and hold IT accountable for delivering on commitments. For their part, business sponsors should focus on defining the required business capabilities (the "what") and delivering business value. If trust isn't warranted, business sponsors have every right to demand the right complement of IT resources to help ensure that the IT-enabled business change is successfully delivered.

There's a whole world of external IT service providers waiting to help you — just be sure you do whatever it takes to work with IT to form an integrated team. As one of our "judges" emphasized in response to the last post, "After the consultants are gone, you are going to have to live with the IT group, and probably lean on them for support."

Come back to the current business-IT standoff. How would you advise the business sponsor to proceed in working with the IT VP to develop a joint recommendation?


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