April 15, 2011

Speaking up When There Are Resourcing Challenges on Projects

Yesterday as I was sipping my coffee and catching up on the morning’s business headlines I had a reflective moment.  Recalling all of those projects I have been on when there were resourcing challenges on a strategic project.  Typically there is a disconnect between the scope and the funding for the program.  One area that is typically underfunded is resourcing.  This is in stark contrast to the other challenge that we face as leaders; not having the right mix of talent.

Leaders have a responsibility

Successful senior leaders need to ensure that they, or a designee, conduct adequate due diligence for large projects and programs.  They should do this as one of the necessary steps to ensure the successful delivery of the project or program.  And they should listen to the program manager that have put in place to run the large program.

Even with that said far too many times I have seen a large program continue fledgling along with a huge disconnect between what the doers on the ground are doing and what senior leadership believes they are doing.  Sure status reports get produced every week, and there are those large program steering committee meetings that take place every week or two.

How does this happen?

All the program leadership gets together and tells the CIO that everything is going great and there are no issues really to report that they do not have under control.  The status report shows green, even though there may be several milestones that are weeks behind schedule.  Trust me; this happens; I have seen it, many times.

Eventually, significant milestones get missed, or an internal audit is kicked off on the program and the truth surfaces on just how wide the disconnect is between what the CIO thinks is going on and what is going on with the project.  In some cases, there are massive disconnects that need addressing.

This lack of executive oversight is a common mistake that I have seen CIOs make.  They know in their heart of hearts, early on, if a large program is executing well or not.  Although they have this intuition, they still let project resources fumble through projects that elicit no passion.  Furthermore, these projects may be trying to deploy technology in the wrong place at the wrong time, and watching as project leadership tries desperately to overcome internal corporate cultural momentum.

Advice to CIOs

In these situations, CIOs need to be courageous and cut their losses sooner than later when intuition tells them they do not have the right team or approach in place.  That is correct, take the drastic measure of temporally halting the project and making some changes or in some cases, shutting down the project altogether and look at taking another approach with different tactics and strategies than before.

My Take

Granted I have never been a CIO of a large firm, or any firm for that matter, although my wife has given me the title of CIO of the house, that will not get me too far.  Seriously, if I were involved, it gets to the point where you need to stop, and potentially restart.  I have had a few conversations over my career with CIOs and CTOs where, as a consultant, I have brought some of these issues to light.  I did it in such a way in that I identified the issue and had several suggestions on how to tackle the issue and bring resolution to the issue.

I recognize that this sort of advice is what consultants are paid to provide.  However, if you are an individual contributor or even a project leader on a large project, try taking the same tactic.  Be forthright and upfront about the issues and present an intelligent plan on how to deal with them.  You might be surprised how well it works, and your CIO will thank you for it.

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