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IT: Don't let the CEO wonder what you do all day

Minda Zetlin | Nov. 19, 2013
If there's no catastrophic system failure or major software deployment to work on, CEOs might wonder what IT does all day. Here's how to make sure your contributions aren't undervalued when things go smoothly.

And Vitale wonders, "How many jobs have been outsourced just because the IT team did a poor job of explaining what they do on a daily basis?"

Keep it short and sweet
While many CIOs agree that it's essential to let upper management know about IT's activities and accomplishments, they warn that the task must be handled carefully because of the many competing demands on top executives' attention, and the danger that they won't fully listen to a presentation about technology operations, much less read a report about it.

For McLaughlin, the solution is to give the CEO a written report — but a brief one. "It's very simple and executive-level, and it's one page," he says. "Basically, the question is: Are we winning or losing? If we're winning, maybe the executive can move on to something else. System availability was 99.89%. Do we care about the 0.11%? Maybe not."

User-friendly IT
The brief life of a PMO
What's the average life span of a project management office or leadership role? In many companies, it's two years, according to Robert Handler, an analyst at Gartner, which does regular surveys of PMOs.

"We noticed a pattern," he says. "A project blows up, and someone in the company says, 'It can't happen again — how about a PMO?' So the PMO is up and running, and for the first year everything is great." Eventually, Handler says, the PMO manager gets bored and starts adding other functions such as IT governance, asking project owners to report on a regular basis, which merely has the effect of annoying them. No more projects blow up, but many are slightly late and/or over budget as is common throughout the IT world. "So the PMO gets blamed and then disbanded," Handler says.

That might be the wrong move, though, because the PMO was serving a real function. Statistically, he says, about 1 project in 6 will go horribly wrong —hugely over deadline or over budget or both, or is not completed or adopted. If that didn't happen while the project management office or oversight person was in place, it's because the PMO was doing an effective job.

"Somebody has to do that work," says Joel Dolisy, CTO at SolarWinds. "Someone has to work with stakeholders and define their requirements." Unfortunately, he says, "People treat the PMO like it's a black box and they want magic from it. Because they don't want any of their own business processes to be affected."

So how do you keep a PMO alive past that dreaded two-year mark? Begin by limiting its activities to what's needed to keep projects on track. "We have a director of project management rather than a whole office," says Joe McLaughlin, vice president of IT at AAA Western and Central New York. "A PMO is generally full of bureaucracy and needless Microsoft Project reports."


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