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Information Strategy

  • August 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

In my last few columns and articles, I've focused on building the business-time intelligent enterprise (BTIE) to harness the power of critical organizational information to grow the business. While the technical aspects of building the BTIE are certainly challenging, as they are with any enterprise-wide project, the most daunting obstacles you're likely to face are not technical at all; they're political. In fact, regardless of how technically sound your system is, if it fails politically, it fails - period.

How do you avoid getting a mission-critical system bogged down in an intractable political quagmire? There are really three steps:

  1. Determine who holds real power in the organization - and build consensus among the power brokers that the project is a priority for the organization and must be done.
  2. Assess the benefits and ROI the project will provide and ensure that they are clearly defined, agreed upon and communicated with constant reminders.
  3. Think big, start small and deliver quickly. Sustain funding and sponsorship by producing deliverables in short, time-boxed increments guided by a "gatekeeping" process that sets realistic goals and expectations and builds organizational support for the project from the start.

The first step in avoiding a political quagmire is to secure backing for the project from the people who hold real power in the organization. There are two types of political "power" within every organization. The first is nominal, or designated, power. Designated power is given to associates through designations such as titles, promotions and assignments. In other words, he or she who holds the title doesn't necessarily hold true power in the organization.
The second type of power is real - or earned - power. People acquire earned power by gaining respect and recognition for leadership ability, regardless of any designation held. These people often serve as thought leaders within the organization. Their teams and superiors trust and listen to them. It is essential to bring these thought leaders into your camp as soon as you can, thereby aligning project support with the true power base in the organization, building backing as you go.

The second step in the process of avoiding a political quagmire is to agree upon, and clearly define, the benefits and ROI the project will provide and ensure that they are constantly communicated throughout the organization. It is absolutely critical to build a solid business case for the project to show its value to the organization. The strategic and/or tactical advantage that the project will give the organization must be clearly communicated, and the ROI must be real and obtainable in the relative short run.

It is also important to ensure that the organization is constantly reminded of the project's benefits. If the benefits are poorly or infrequently communicated, you will not be able to sustain the support - and funding - that you need to build the system, and it will quickly fall by the wayside in favor of projects that the organization deems more important.

The third step is to provide incremental deliverables for each phase of the project. Incremental deliverables will provide ROI and help sustain the backing and funding for the project's progress. It's also critical to provide governance for the project to ensure that each political constituency within the organization is given a voice so that as many needs as possible can be satisfied.

Producing incremental deliverables requires the use of a gatekeeping process with a project plan to establish significant milestones that must be met and non-negotiable "gates" that must be passed in order to move to the next phase. You can use an existing management methodology or you can create your own.

Whatever methodology you choose, there are a few keys to a successful project implementation: set realistic goals, build consensus and deliver what you say you will. Ensure that the organizational thought leaders and project sponsors are involved in setting project milestones and criteria to be met before the project can pass through each gate to the next phase. Include project sponsors from all functional areas - and from all organizational levels - to create champions who will build consensus and excitement for the project throughout the organization.

Make sure that the milestones you develop, the deliverables you define and the gates you establish are realistic and achievable. It's always good to aim high, but be certain that the goals and time frames you set are achievable with the number of resources you have and the level of outside help you can afford. The big-bang theory of development just won't work for such a far-reaching project as the BTIE. The upshot is to develop a set of reasonable goals, stick with them as much as possible and meet them before you proceed. Under-commit and over-deliver.

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