by Board Member - Treasurer, Kris Hiebert

Many of us spend our days (and weeks and years) working on projects or initiatives, particularly those with a technology focus, for various business groups. For reference, let's say a project or initiative is some formal undertaking by an organization to enact change.

Those who have been around a while have seen a common IT cycle repeated:

  • Need for some change is identified.
  • Estimates are done to scope and cost the change.
  • Decision to proceed is made.
  • Project Bus is pulled out of the garage and fuelled up (money).
  • Lucky folks get their tickets and hop on the bus.
  • The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round.
  • Project Bus arrives and delivers (something, hopefully).
  • Project Bus goes back in the garage.

Now, since the reason we’ve embarked on the project is to effect some sort of change within the organization, I’d like to rename the Project Bus the Change Bus. So, why do businesses need a Change Bus? Here are a few examples:

  • Take on new products or markets
  • Increase revenue
  • Increase efficiency
  • Avoid or manage risk
  • Comply with regulatory change

In today’s environment, all of the above seem to always result in some sort of IT change. Since most Project Management Offices are an arm of the IT function of an organization, a change doesn’t really seem formalized (as a project) until IT gets involved. Now, IT projects have improved somewhat over time but when they underperform, they do so on the usual suspects: functionality (scope), time, and money.

As a result, we’ve seen more and more direct business involvement in recent initiatives, including C-level involvement in project steering committees, seconded or dedicated business staff to the project team, and an adoption of formal Organizational Change Management methodologies – the hope being that real business change is going to result from the business involving itself directly in the change effort, side-by-side with IT.

Where does that leave us? We have IT and business both occupying seats on the bus in more and more equal numbers and questions arise as to who gets the driver’s seat. Additionally, there is an increased pressure on everyone for the project to not only meet its scope, budget and time numbers, but to also deliver something of measurable value to the organization.

So, who should be driving the Change Bus?

Should IT, with their years of experience in project management and IT change, direct the bus to where they know it needs to go?

Or, should the business, representing those who most desire the change, steer the bus to where they will see the biggest gains?

Well, it depends. Every organization and situation is different and what might work for one organization may not work for another. This can be due to factors such as how the organization is structured, who holds institutional knowledge, past successes or failures, and culture.

Regardless of who will be driving the bus, the following questions should be considered by anyone who holds a ticket:

  • How are Business and IT represented on the bus? When and where does each have a say? Is each group getting all of the information they feel they need on a timely basis?
  • How are decisions made – both at a daily level and for those big-ticket items that arise? Are all decisions treated with the same rigour and level of detail?
  • How much successful experience does either group have in enacting changes similar to this initiative? Have both demonstrated they are organized for success?
  • Are the business risks the same as the IT risks? Do the same things keep both up at night? How aware is each group of the other’s risks and do the mitigation strategies sync or clash?
  • Are the groups communicating effectively with one another? Are there barriers to compromise?
  • If there is a formal organizational change management component? How does it integrate with the rest of the team?
  • Is it clear how information regarding this change is supposed to flow? Is it formally defined who will communicate the different messages to the target audiences?
  • How is the team going to ensure that affected staff know what they are supposed to be doing once the bus arrives? Is everything in place to make that happen?
  • Are the right people on the bus, particularly on the business side? Is there a gulf between those involved and the real decision makers? Or between the decision makes and those most directly impacted by the changes?
  • Does the team keep the business goals and objectives front and center? Are they spray-painted on the side of the bus and is there a sign on the front with a clear destination?
  • What plans have been made to ensure that further changes can be adopted as needed after the bus has come and gone? Will the business be able to take full advantage of the change delivered?
  • How is success going to be measured outside of scope, time and cost? How do they know the change has achieved what it set out to do?

As a change management resource who is typically tightly integrated into the overall project team, I have used these questions to ensure alignment, understanding and to proactively identify risks. On large and complex changes it is easy to focus on just one’s area of responsibility. I believe that as professionals we owe it to the larger team to alert the right people (in the right way) when we notice something amiss. We don’t necessarily own the solution to the problems identified but most of us have been around long enough to provide some expertise or painful lessons learned.

Remember, the end goal is that valuable business change is successfully delivered by that bus. After it’s all over, the only reason anyone is going to care who was actually driving the bus is if it goes off the road and ends in a fiery wreck.