09 Oct 2017

How to improve Strategic Alignment in IT Projects

Welcome to the third article in our technology Adoption Series! In our previous articles we touched on the high rates of disappointment encountered during IT and systems projects. Reviewing project failure statitistics provides insight into the potential causes of failure, here are some of the most common causes:

  • 75% of executives expect failure (Genca)
  • Lack of strategic alignment is in the top 10 failure factors
  • 80% of project management executives don’t know how their projects align with their company’s business strategy (Changepoint)
  • No clear requirements captured is another failure factor in the top 10
  • 80% admit they spend at least half their time on rework. (Genca)
  • ⅓ of projects fail through lack of sponsor engagement 

Disclaimer: These stats come from various (authoritative) sources but may not mirror your circumstances exactly. 

These insights point to the fact that projects are losing their way from the very outset. With no clear objectives or project foundations (see our last article), people aren't really sure what should be delivered, executives know it's not going to work and begin distancing themselves, teams keep beavering away, but are often progressing in the wrong direction. The catch is that it is not immediately obvious that the project is failing, because progress is being made and reported - but it is often activity for activities sake.

Currently, the fashionable approach is to run an agile process so as to eliminate big budget failures. This keeps the project in touch with the business and its stakeholders as it progresses, but to a large extent this does not ensure strategic alignment. Sure the users will be in-the-loop, and so the project will deliver value, but that does not address strategic organisational goals.

To keep projects in touch with strategic goals there needs to be an equivalent of the agile user representation, but for sponsors. This is tricky, given that sponsors are unlikely to participate in project activities like weekly scrums, so we need to create a proxy that captures the high-level intent of the project, and informs direction, keeping the project on track.

As we have noted, even the simpler IT systems projects will run for months, if not years. In that time people move, objectives may be re-examined, priorities changed. To cater for this successful projects need to capture intent (objectives) and establish how those objectives will be achieved by the deliverables.

Objectives that capture intent

Objectives are one of those things that many people take for granted. We often get quizzical “Surely it is obvious” looks when pinning sponsors down to create specific objectives. So to help this process to move along we suggest putting in place a framework for objectives, a way of slicing and dicing them that helps everyone move on from “we want to save money” and other broad statements.

We encourage you to specify and capture objectives of a few different types, and then link these identified objectives to your project deliverables (commonly a new systems functionality). Here are a few examples:

  • Company mission: Will the new system contribute in any way to the organisations mission, if so include the high-level mission statements
  • Strategic objectives: Usually medium-term objectives (often board or leadership mandated) initiatives or drives - will the project contribute to these?
  • Benefits (non-financial): What operational benefits are expected to come from the new system, excluding financial objectives which can be estimated only when the actual scope is defined (more on this below)
  • Challenges and roadblocks: Are there any operational issues that will be addressed through the new system?

 

In our previous article, we discussed how many projects fail due to a lack of clear objectives, and here we have provided one framework for collating objectives. Next we will describe how they can be used to keep projects on track.

Setting scope and deliverables

Henry Ford knew a thing or two about how to tackle the most daunting tasks, his approach is summerised in a couple of quotes:

  • There are no big problems, there are just a lot of little problems
  • Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs

 Much like today's trend toward agile projects, Ford was an advocate of breaking initiatives into manageable and understandable tasks, this approach needs to be followed when scoping and specifying all but the smallest IT project.

Scoping is simply the description of requirements structured in a useful way. To do this you can begin at a high level e.g. department or process, and break it out into it's constituent components. Consultants accelerate, and add value to this process by providing a long list of the more common requirements (e.g. for Recruitment Management System or Payroll application) and then running through that list with their clients. Similarly Skop.es contains these lists. We provide a free to use lists on our website...

Breaking down deliverables is not only valuable when setting a scope, it also provides the foundation for estimating the value of your new system.

Estimating a new system's value and impact

There are several ways to estimate the impact of a new system in your organisation. Traditionally consultants will look to external benchmarks and apply them in a ‘top down’ way to other businesses. For example the successful adoption of a new RMS system or HRIS system will create typical savings of 10% per user.

Estimating in this way is better than no estimate at all, but it obviously does not take into account your specific situation. If it were personal financial advice it would come with a warning and a suggestion to consult with an expert!

A better way, and one that does address your particular circumstance is to use your scope information. Once you have broken down your desired functionality to a reasonably granular level, you can estimate savings / new revenues and softer savings like time savings against each deliverable or system feature.

In addition, you can now link your objectives statements, discussed earlier, with your deliverables (which deliverables will contribute to each objective) which will further establish the value of each deliverable or feature.

Using your quantified scope

You maybe concerned that this sounds like more overhead than is necessary, however it serves multiple purposes beyond avoiding poor project outcomes. These include:

  1. Ensuring strategic alignment through ‘live’ reference back to objectives at any point in the project
  2. Driving prioritisation and decision making when the implementation is underway
  3. A data driven means of comparing multiple initiatives and prioritising them
  4. A more accurate input to estimating Return On Investment (and time to returns)
  5. Driving adoption activities and estimating realisable returns
  6. Informing benefits maximisation - through maximising the impact of outcomes

Stepping through this preparatory quantification process is not only essential in avoiding poor outcomes, it's also relatively quick to do through the Rec Tech Skop.es application, or with a helpful consultant because they come pre-armed with a comprehensive picklist of the system features relevant for your business as well as systems knowledge for your industry.

 

Do try this at home kids!

Want to evaulate or quanitfy your new systems project, here's a few steps to help you get started:

  1. Set down target objectives
  2. Create a reasonably granular scope / requirements list
  3. Quantify deliverables and link your deliverables to your objectives

You do not need tools or consultants to follow this approach, but you are welcome to try ours for free!

On our website we have two free tools available to our recruitment industry colleagues

 Try our Front Office Scoping tool FREE

OR 

I want something more comprehensive

More on Rec Tech Solutions' - Scoping tools

  • Our Diagnostics tools- this tool provides you with the opportunity to consider all aspects of your business when it comes to technology and services. @Rectech we even provide a brief consultation to you to help guide you through this process.
  • Our Skop.es lite version which is perfectly suited to start up agencies and those that are of a size from start up to about 7 staff. Like our Diagnostics tool, Skop.es lite will produce a report and we will also guide you to a more structured process and potentially a much better outcome.
Col Levander
About the Author

Col Levander FRCSA – Founder & CEO With over 25 years’ experience in the recruitment and on-hire industry and in technology, Col is the industry professional recruitment organisations trust to find, the right solutions for their needs. Col has proven track record of reviewing, managing and implementing end-to-end resourcing for large industry projects and he has real world experience you can trust. Designing multiple enterprise software solutions for medium and large corporate recruitment businesses over the past 5 years, he’s focused on finding the right solutions for your business. Committed to reviewing new and emerging technology and an innovator himself, Col and his team are absolutely committed to their clients’ success.

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