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Five things your CEO should know about your IT transformation programme

Sebastian Jammer | May 28, 2012
Companies that are able to leverage IT effectively can realise cost savings and revenue upsides, while gaining market share over competitors.

Here's one illustration: A major national Airline Carrier was implementing a strategic partnering initiative. One prerequisite for the partnership was the implementation of a set of IT requirements. The IT division was not represented on the board of directors and the executive team was not paying much attention to the IT division. As a result, the IT and business divisions could not make decisions effectively. Finger-pointing instead of assuming accountability was common practice. Most IT projects got delayed significantly or failed completely and eventually the strategic partnership was put at risk.

On the other side CEOs often find themselves drawn into IT transformation programmes, dealing with detailed issues that the next level of leaders cannot resolve effectively. The CEO starts to push the programme forward despite not having detailed knowledge nor the IT experience. This often results in poor decision-making while valuable executive time is siphoned off from other more strategic issues.

To resolve this, the CEO should delegate authority effectively while ensuring that key issues remain transparent and can be decided by the CEO. This can be achieved through the appointment and empowerment of a strong programme leader who is supported by an extended programme management office (PMO) that I'd like to call strategy implementation office (SIO).

To be effective, the programme leader and the SIO should report to the highest reasonable level, which is at least an executive steering committee headed by the CEO, or the CEO directly. In some programmes the programme leader has the status of an extended board member, to underpin the significance of the role and give him a peer status with other board members. The programme leader must be empowered to make major decisions through a clear governance structure. This will enable him to offload large parts of the decision-making effort from the CEO and the steering committee.

The role of the SIO is goes beyond the administration of project progress and milestones. The SIO team has to be capable to grasp the project content to maintain clarity and over key programme matters and to prepare important decisions. Also the SIO must be able to counsel between IT and business to resolve issues and clear scope disputes. Hence an understanding of the technology and the business domain is required. It is also recommended to involve the SIO already in the strategic planning and design phases of a programme. This would enable the SIO to plan and account for the major project risks that stem from these project phases. Given this job description, the SIO and the programme leader are central to the success of the IT transformation programme.

The selection of the programme leader and the members of the SIO are critical. A project management certification alone (i.e. PMI) is not enough. Strong IT background, paired with a good business understanding is essential. Beyond that structuring and analytical skills as well as strong communication are vital. For the programme leader, experience with similar projects should be mandatory to provide him with the gut-feel to focus on the right issues at the right time.


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