Facilitated governance: Why it should be on the CIO agenda

What to do when IT is seen as the 'department of no'.

By Owen McCall
July 12, 2016

There we were halfway through the workshop with the IT leadership team and our attention shifted to the team's project delivery performance.

The insight from the executive was very clear. They saw the IT team as the department of 'no'! It didn't matter how good an idea it was IT would find a way to make sure it didn't get done. If through some cosmic miracle anything did get done then it was seen as being too little too late. Slow in the extreme and often what was done had significant issues when delivered.

"Let's have a look at some of the metrics" I suggested. It took about 250 days to deliver the average project. While these projects were often delivered on budget (70 per cent), they were late two-thirds of the time.

"These metrics do support that you are slow to deliver, nearly nine months on average. Do we know why?" The conversation stopped and no answers were offered.

The next statistic, the number of active projects, told the story. The team had over 100 active projects. "You have over 100 active projects yet your total team is how many? 80 maybe?" The team quickly corrected me, the actual answer was 75.

"So that's more than one project per team member and let's remember most of our team also have operational responsibilities to fulfil. Let's face it, you probably only have 20 or 30 people at most dedicated to projects. No wonder it takes so long to deliver a project, each person is doing three or four projects in parallel. In trying to do everything you end up being perceived as doing nothing."

The retort was heartfelt and immediate "it's not our fault" they exclaimed in unison.

The CIO continued on behalf of the group. "The problem is that the executive committee approves projects based upon the requests from the business. If the project looks like it's a good idea they say 'yes'. So what are we meant to do? We can't just ignore the decisions of the committee and it's not our job to say 'no' to the business."

The conversation continued. "OK, so what do you do to make it easy for the executive team to prioritise?" Blank looks. "Well, you need the executive to prioritise right?" I receive nods of acknowledgement.

"Well, how realistic is it to expect the executive to effectively prioritise 100 projects? To do this effectively the executive would need to understand each project in detail and then be able to compare them to each other. How long would that take? Ages, and even if they had the time, which they don't, do we really believe that the executive will have the detailed knowledge available to make great calls?"

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