Project Management: IT, Business Relationships Shape Success

Project Management: IT, Business Relationships Shape Success

If you look at projects that fail, invariably someone on those projects knew things were going bad

Earlier this year, managed care provider Centene finished deploying a new financial system. CIO Don Imholz says the project, which involved multiple PeopleSoft modules as well as financial planning and reporting software from Hyperion, was completed "very quickly"-in 12 months-and on budget.

When business partners see IT making tangible progress every thirty days, their confidence in IT grows

Imholz believes the project was successful for a number of reasons, including that the company implemented proven technology and hired a systems integrator experienced with PeopleSoft to help. Most importantly, Imholz says the project was successful because of "good teaming between the IT organization, the finance organization and the systems integration resources."

In other words, much of the project's success came down to people skills.

The constructive relationship between IT and finance-and in particular, between Imholz and Centene's CFO, William Scheffel-ultimately kept the project on track when the going got tough. And it did get tough.

For example, at one point, the project team was having trouble setting up the technical environment needed to deploy a Hyperion module that a third-party was going to host. The difficulties that IT encountered put the project's schedule at risk, says Imholz.

Had the relationship between IT and finance been acrimonious, the organizations would have pointed fingers at each other-a counterproductive move that would have further delayed the project. Instead, says Imholz, they worked together to recover the lost time and keep the implementation on schedule.

"We could have blamed each other and told each other we can't help," says the CIO. "But there's no value in doing that. It delays getting to the solution. If IT or finance tried to recover the schedule alone it wouldn't have happened. We had to do it together."

The Trust Factor

Good relationships-between IT and business partners, project managers and IT staff, and project managers and stakeholders-keep IT projects on track, say IT leaders and project management experts. Bad relationships, however, are a leading cause of project failure.

"I've seen projects that should have been successful fail purely because of relationship issues," says Greg Livingston, director of IS planning and system development at Shaw Industries, a flooring manufacturer.

The impact good and bad relationships have on projects is clear: "Negative relationships make people want to avoid each other or work against each other," says Bill Hagerup, a senior consultant with Ouellette & Associates, a IT leadership and project management consultancy.

On the other hand, when mutual trust exists between IT project managers and stakeholders, IT project managers are more likely to discuss problems that could threaten the project as they arise, says Imholz. If bad blood exists between the two groups, project managers may not be inclined to point out those issues, or they may try to cover them up.

"If you look at projects that fail, invariably someone on those projects knew things were going bad," says Imholz. "If you don't have relationships and trust, those things don't surface. And when you don't do something about problems in a timely manner, those problems invariably get bigger. In many cases, minor problems become more serious because they're not addressed in a timely manner. A culture of openness is absolutely essential to good project performance."

Furthermore, when something does go wrong with a project, business partners are less likely to place the sole blame for them on IT if they respect IT, says Shaw Industries' Livingston. In fact, they're more likely to give IT some leeway with the project schedule, he says.

"It doesn't matter what technology you're using, how talented your technology staff is, and how knowledgeable the business partners are on process and business improvement: Every system initiative will have issues," says Livingston. "If you don't have a relationship, you resort to pointing fingers as opposed to being transparent and admitting 'we messed up' or 'we didn't test that as well'. If you have a good relationship, you'll sit down and find a way to make it work."

Decisions affecting the project also get made more promptly when everyone involved gets along. "Fast and good decisions are crucial to keeping projects on track," says Imholz. "The failure of senior people to make decisions means decisions are made at lower levels of the organization. If you have a software developer who's waiting [for a decision] on a business requirement, there's three things that can happen: He can guess what to do and guess right. He can wait for a decision and while he's waiting he's not as productive. Third, he can guess and guess wrong. If those are equal possibilities, two-thirds of the time it will be detrimental to the project. And if you stack enough of those decisions on top of each other, it will negatively impact the project."

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