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Focus your IT Ops projects: How to become an 'outcome service provider'

IT operations projects may begin with clear business outcomes in mind—typically related to compliance, cost reduction, or improving user experience. But too often, somewhere along the design phase, those objectives get lost. They wind up buried in technical requirements, many of which aren't relevant to any of the outcomes that spurred the effort.

During the implementation phase, project management and leadership discussions often move from a focus on the outcome and how it's achieved to standard project status KPIs and reporting. And it gets worse: Attention and resources fade once the system goes live, which is exactly when focus on user adoption and value generation should accelerate.

Jesse White, president of IT Operations management consultancy firm Intact Technology, says IT leaders must change how they define and track projects to make business outcomes the main focus of their efforts. It is critical to the evolution of IT. White keeps his team—and his company's clients—focused on outcomes with a model that defines his company as the first "outcome service provider" for IT Ops.

Here are four key tips White provides that IT Ops leaders can apply to their projects to drive better end-value.

Best Practices Guide: Migrating Applications to the Cloud

Identify outcomes up front to control scope

While it's common practice for CIOs to have a business outcome in mind, they must communicate that outcome to the parties who will execute the effort, White says. They have to make this a common practice. The message to filter down to every stakeholder is this: Design for the stated business outcome only. Team members may want a software solution that can fulfill a multitude of requirements, but those additional things are off the table, for now, if they aren't related to the identified outcomes.

If the project requires an external service provider, take the time to ensure they understand the desired outcome, along with known risks and challenges, and have them contractually commit and share the risk. If they won't make a firm commitment, ask yourself whether or not they have enough information or if they lack the leadership and skills to commit.

"Rarely do weekly project status or design sessions start with reminding people about the desired outcome(s) that drove the investment in the project. But they should."
Jesse White

Track project progress against outcomes

Project managers usually prepare to update CIOs about their projects' deliverables and financials, which is understandable; it's a standard and necessary measure of progress. But a different approach is needed. White says that CIOs should change their questions, going beyond the actual tech and focusing on the real challenges to achieving business outcomes.

"A technology challenge isn't usually in the way of an outcome," White says. "More likely, cultural or organizational challenges hamper adoption and disrupt progress toward outcomes," he says. "Project managers are not likely to report on these more subjective impediments and risks unless asked specifically and consistently over time."

Build momentum among targeted users

How much of an IT project budget goes toward driving user adoption and enablement? Answer: Not much. Yet creating the perception of project value to users in advance of roll-out is key to building buy-in, White says.

Marketing individual benefits to different pockets of users—clearly, consistently, and repetitively—takes little time and has a huge impact. Investing in a strong communication strategy and encouraging stakeholders to use marketing-style communications is highly effective in driving adoption. In building momentum around a solution, CIOs will need to explore broader and deeper communication methods.

It's also important to address any resistance users have about the effect the new software may have on their job proficiency and perceived value to the organization. White recommends communicating in terms of individual benefits and setting clear expectations. You should openly acknowledge to your end users that bumps in the road are to be expected, but that training and support will be available to help them move forward.

Stay connected to the project after roll-out

Traditionally, CIOs have moved most resources dedicated to a project onto other efforts after the software's go-live date. But in the age of agile, where project timelines are condensed and about 80-90% more functionality can be wrung out of an initial software implementation, CIOs need to ensure that attention doesn't wander off.

Once the system is operational, IT needs to focus on efficiently managing, enhancing, and optimizing it to obtain the full value. During this phase, IT can gain relevant feedback about whether actual use matches the desired business outcome. With more capabilities in the software to be leveraged, and a properly enabled user base to take advantage of those capabilities, White says there's an opportunity to refine the solution on a rapid-iteration cycle, further enhancing its suitability for the stated outcome.

It's not the software, it's the approach

"Software is the only inanimate object in a solution, so it's the easiest thing to blame when business outcomes aren't realized," White notes. But software does not produce outcomes—people do. If IT focuses merely on successful software roll-outs, the optimal outcomes can't be achieved.

This means the approach needs to change: An unwavering focus on clearly defined outcomes and a strong post-implementation strategy are critical for projects' success. CIOs need to invest in the strategy, planning, processes, and resources required to manage, enhance, and optimize the software before and after go-live, White says.

"When IT leaders take steps to better promote the business outcomes of every project, and continually track progress to those goals, the chasm between missed outcomes and successful software implementation disappears." —Jesse White

Best Practices Guide: Migrating Applications to the Cloud
Topics: IT Ops