The Politics of Major IT Projects

Why do big IT Projects fail? There are many reasons. Mismanagement, new technology and immature IT Organization are amongst them. However, the most frequent reason for large project failure is organizational dynamics or politics.

How to overcome the politics of server consolidation?

First, let us take a closer look at the premise behind this question. It assumes that there will be cost savings from server consolidation. Many organizations have experienced results to the contrary.

More importantly, there is a trade off between cost savings and increased risk. The latter can result in many dollars of losses for every dollar of savings. For example, server consolidation progressively moves an organization to a single point of failure. What is a single hour of business downtime worth in dollar terms?

One must approach this initiative with extreme caution and practicality and do a thorough analysis before implementation.

Second, some organizations are so dysfunctional that almost anything that one tries will not work. I have come across one organization where employees showed up to work not to make progress but to block it. No kidding. I am a firm believer in “past results ARE a clear indication of future performance”. If the organization has built a legacy of failed projects, there is need for analysis of the root causes – usually, deep rooted in the culture – and addressing them prior to undertaking any major new initiative.

Then there are Hatfield and McCoy in almost every organization, No matter how logical, they will block things coming from each other. This is a milder and localized dysfunction that is more easily addressed.

Barring these extremes, most organizational politics can be addressed through logic and negotiations. The rest of the discussion focuses on these organizations.

The key to politics is in understanding the landscape – the terrain and the players. Get a clear understanding of the history and dynamics of the organization. Also understand key roles as they help understand personal agendas, motivations and hot buttons. Here are some roles:

- Sponsor: The person, usually a CXO, who has a vested interest in getting the task accomplished

- Expert: Functional or technical subject matter expert. Usually these are logic driven people leaning towards the “best” solution. Often these people do not let cost or risk enter the equation

- Coach: Usually, a benign player who is convinced of the merit and will help “sell” the initiative

- Economic buyer: The “person” with the key to the vault. They are focused on the cost

- User: They will eventually use the product or service and have a vested interest in benefit, quick availability and usability of the solution

- Gatekeeper: Players, although well meaning, who control access to the key players. The most common example is the executive assistant but there are others who can play this role.

- Blockers and tacklers: Usually, people with a competing agenda who will be the disruptive force in this adventure.

Start by getting executive sponsorship, preferably on the business side. Without this the project is dead in the water.

Using their help approach key executives to identify the team. This ensures that key players are engaged and supportive as the team has their representatives.

The first task of this team is to create a project charter that clearly lays out the vision, objective, scope, assumptions, approach, plan (deliverables, timeline and responsibility) and the team (role and responsibility).

Get everyone– sponsor, executives and the team - to sign off on this charter. Now, they are personally committed to its success.

The team then prepares a business case that clearly articulates ROI. Prepare this as a cross functional team with active participation of each of the groups – keep the executives involved. This business case is the basis of addressing the logical concerns of the key stakeholders.

· Set realistic expectations

· Conduct thorough business impact analysis

· Identify key risks, their impact and mitigation strategy

· Be prepared for a discussion on the following:

- While setting savings objectives keep in mind these key trends

a. Hardware prices are falling

b. Business cycles are shortening

c. Service level expectations are increasing

- If cost savings estimates are based on hardware savings alone then this is a losing battle.

- Forward or backward consolidation? Why?

- Logical or physical consolidation? Why?

- Rationalization across servers? When and how? Why?

- What are the key facts such as capacity utilization? Peak loads? Connecting pipes?

Now we are ready for negotiations.

Remember, negotiations are a give and take process. Before you expect “them” to understand you, ask yourself, do I understand “them”?

Executives will oppose this initiative for two primary reasons:

- Logical reasons – such as security and service level concerns.

- Budgets – how will this impact their ongoing budgets?

The former is addressed through the business case. The stronger the case the easier this battle.

The latter requires more work. Executives, like good generals, do not concede territory. It cannot be taken by force either. Hence, one has to try a combination of tactics.

o Stick:

§ Deftly use executive sponsor pressure

§ Link compliance with compensation drivers

o Carrot:

§ Make it worth their while to lose some money and control. They can gain more in some other area.

§ Make sure that there is equity across the business units i.e. one must not give up more than the other

This political battle has not ended with the “go ahead” decision. It has just begun! The “go ahead” may be a strategic retreat in the face of overwhelming odds. They might wait to subvert the implementation and still achieve their objectives. For you, failure here will end the project and leave you damaged for future adventures. Hence, careful planning can and usually does save the day:

- Set realistic expectations – under promise and over deliver

- Keep sponsor and executive in the loop. Keep their “people” empowered and engaged

- Communications is the key – over communicate if you must chose an extreme

- Do not rush. Take one step at a time. Remember, one makes it to their destination one milestone at a time.

About the Author:

Sourabh Hajela is a management consultant and trainer with over 20 years of experience creating shareholder value for his Fortune 50 clients. His consulting practice is focused on IT Strategy – alignment and ROI. For more information, please visit 

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Posted on 03/16/2009 by

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