What stands in the way of business value? Business executives often feel that their organizations’ IT departments simply don’t deliver what’s needed from expensive projects and programs. Sometimes they will say “Well, it took a long time, but we finally have a system that is making a difference for us,” or, “It cost us double what was originally promised, but it’s a night-and-day improvement over what we had before.” These are actually positive comments because they speak to the overall success of a project.
Unfortunately, more often than not, we hear that a solution fell below expectations – the business did not get what they paid for.
There are many reasons why this can happen. We have distilled the most common ones into categories:
- Project charter missing focus on outcomes
- Solution design lacks correlation to benefits
- Project management committed to scope, timeline and budget, but not value
- Change management without a vision
Project charters help align everyone’s expectations on scope, approach, timeline, team structure, cost, risks, and other parameters. Some charters will even outline a workflow for problem resolution or risk mitigation – but most charters do not even bother defining the outcomes. Even the ones that do fail to outline an approach that tracks created value.
When a project is described as scope/timeline/budget, the outcome is, at best, an installed technology solution on time and on budget. Then we start hearing that the project doesn’t feel like a success because the internal client is unhappy. How can they be happy if they can’t see what all that money and time bought?
A value focused charter includes outcome expectations, activities that will ensure that the outcomes would be achieved, as well as a mechanism to periodically measure the value to be delivered.
The design process of most technology solutions start with the current state and then incorporates elements of a future vision. Another popular approach is to base solution design on the capabilities of an off-the-shelf solution being implemented. It is rare that an implementation team would actually come up with a future state design that is specifically geared to achieve the best outcomes.
The simplest way to know if a design is outcome-based is to test it on a conceptual level. Just keep asking the following questions and making adjustments if the answers are not satisfactory:
- Which design components or features actually enable positive outcomes?
- How is each benefit listed in the business case supported by the design?
There is so much useful information about project management out there. However, it is all very much geared toward delivering on scope, time and budget. Very little is written about outcome-based project management practices. We feel that “doing what it takes” to implement technology of enormous proportions or complexity within an unrealistically short timeline on a shoestring budget is heroic, thus exemplary of great project management. The only caveat is that more often than not, these heroic efforts result in solutions that negatively affect productivity and require additional time and effort to become useful.
Outcome-centric project managers define success through value being created. The two main areas of focus should be:
- Alignment of workflow processes, such as scope management, signoffs, issue resolution, risk mitigation, and others with outcomes. For example, if resolving an open issue puts a project a month behind, but enables the most critical outcome, perhaps the value should outweigh the timeline commitment.
- Periodic testing/measurement of the solution against the business case whether on a conceptual, prototype, or performance basis.
Sometimes there is a straightforward WIFM (What’s in It For Me) for the people who have to use the new technology. It is easy to sell a solution that allows users to make half the keystrokes for the same operations. What if the number of keystrokes is the same as before or even more? The majority of business cases are not based on what’s in it for a technology user, but rather for the organization. However, people will just as easily cooperate with an effort that brings about greater good, even if there is nothing there for them personally.
If a project team makes an effort to communicate benefits, they’ll find significantly less resistance from the business – even if the benefits aren’t immediate or apparent.
Next time you create a business case, think about the value that your project brings to the organization.
If you start with a charter that is principally based on outcomes, design the solution aligned with the business case, manage project activities with a focus on value, and roll out a benefits-based change management campaign, you will be setting the bar for successful technology implementations.