Executive Field Guide: IT Governance

There are dozens of definitions for “IT governance” out there. They use words like efficiency, effectiveness, alignment, control, and strategy—which are all valid terms. But the fact is, IT has only so much capacity and can get only so much done. Organizations need a mechanism for agreeing to what is (and what is not) on IT’s plate. That mechanism is IT governance.

The purpose of IT governance is to optimize IT’s workload.

Like most things, the more effort you put into governance, the more you will get out of it. However, IT stakeholders usually have their own areas of responsibility and limited capacity.

Here is our framework for an effective IT governance function that doesn’t require participants to work two jobs:

IT Governance Model

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Two chambers of IT governance: steering and operational

Some IT governance teams consist solely of top executives. They get together every so often and make macro-level decisions. These decisions are often short-lived as the execs rarely allocate time to manage the execution of the decisions they made. On the other hand, when IT governance is solely in the hand of middle management, decisions tend to focus on tactical elements and lack vision or executive support.

Effective IT governance functions integrate both steering and operational chambers:

  • The steering chamber consists of top executives, meets once a quarter, and makes directional corrections.
  • The operational chamber consists of middle management, meets at least monthly and manages day-to-day operations.

For transparency, there should be overlap between the two chambers: meetings should be facilitated by the same individual and at least one non-IT senior executive attends all meetings.

Inputs for optimizing IT’s workload

To optimize IT’s workload, both a full backlog of opportunities and the selection criteria need to be crystal clear.

The steering chamber establishes prioritization and selection criteria, which are heavily influenced by strategic objectives and KPIs. Naturally, there are other criteria, such as keeping the lights on, risk management, support for business initiatives, etc.

The operational chamber creates and manages a master list of potential activities for IT. This backlog should include ideas collected from every level and department. Some of the best ideas come from unexpected sources. There is also a great value in tracking ideas that don’t make it to the top of the list. This sends a clear message to the organization that ideas are being heard, tracked, and queued up. Employees feel appreciated when they know their ideas are being considered, and they also realize there are valid reasons for why some ideas don’t make the cut in the short-term.

Impact on the outcome of IT activities

Most of the work selected for execution will turn into projects within various IT programs.

Initiatives are bound to fail without executive-level advocacy, so the most critical function of the steering chamber is to provide executive support for IT projects and programs.

Meanwhile, the operational chamber is ideally made up of the same individuals whom oversee these projects on a daily basis. While IT project and program managers keep a close eye on scope, schedule, and budget, governance team insiders are in the perfect position to ensure the intended benefits of each initiative are realized, and to escalate issues (sometimes to steering chamber members) to reach a speedy resolution.

A thoughtful approach and deliberate participation

Based on our experience, not all IT governance models work well. In your own organization, you may have also seen one or two versions fail despite the best of intentions.

The structure we find to be most effective is where:

  • The objective is to optimize IT’s workload.
  • Participants are organized into two chambers: steering and operational.
  • IT opportunities are collected, assessed, and prioritized into short- and long-term plans through a transparent process.
  • IT initiatives are executed with the support and involvement of all governance team members.

Feel free to use the above framework for building your IT governance function, and let us know how it worked out for your organization.

If you’d like support structuring, implementing, or facilitating an IT governance model, let’s start a conversation.

Download this Executive Field Guide as a .pdf

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