Keeping on the front foot, where it matters

By Jim Patience

Date 19 November 2009 Tags

You’re on the board of a serious company and you’re aware that among the many IT initiatives that run every year, maybe three or four would have a critical business impact on the firm, for better or worse.

You’ve got your best people running them, so why the niggling worry?

You may be thinking about getting your internal audit folk to give these programmes a once over. You’re aware though that they have no more experience of big complex programmes than the people you have running them. You’re also aware that by the time a problem becomes self-evident it may be too late.

If getting it right is the only option, timely objective insight could keep you on the front foot.

No substitute for experience

Programmes of change are tough for those in the thick of it. It’s a major challenge to cover every aspect as multiple threads move from idea to delivery.

At the top level, your team is constantly managing the expectations of the business, keeping track of changing priorities and ensuring that the programme is still delivering what the business is expecting. At the foundation layer, the team are making technical decisions that may or may not be in line with the future needs of the business. The problem with such technical decisions is that they are so fundamental and once made, so hard to change. And it’s hard to keep on top of the business demands and maintain a technical perspective.

Has your Programme team got ability to step away from the action, the experience to focus on the right areas and the objectivity to honestly answer the questions that you are asking?

A paradox, take a step back to keep on the front foot

The team driving the programme are understandably focused on getting the job done. They rarely see the need to step back, to take in the big picture or to delve into the high-risk areas.

Your Board may be thinking of having Internal Audit or some other group carry out an in-house assessment. Internal audit may deliver a tick in the box for “following the process”, and they are also likely to identify some of the obvious issues; but they won’t always take away that niggling worry that they haven’t really got to the bottom of the matter. You need a couple of “been there and done it” individuals who know what to look for, where to find it, and what to do to fix it.

The cost of an independent review is a drop in the ocean in a business critical programme, so if you’ve never done one, choose the programme that really matters, the one that keeps you awake at night, and do it now. Because the later you leave them, the harder and more expensive they are to fix.

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