Three CIOs discuss how they balance traditional and unconventional approaches to keep projects on track and deliver on their promises.
Establish Value and Ownership
Marc A. Hamer, Global CIO, The Babcock and Wilcox Co.: Many projects become derailed due to poor planning and unclear value and ownership. Proper planning requires assessing resources up front. I set up review committees to address priority, value and ownership. We measure ROI before and after the project is completed to see if we achieved our target. All projects are prioritized and funded based on value and return, and each has an owner from the business and one from IT.
Keeping projects on track—and even fixing those that start to get off track—comes down to running IT like a business and having a system to identify early warning signs. During the prioritization meetings, we go over project priorities, budget and schedule, as well as what’s next on the to-do list. IT does not get marching orders; each project is a partnership. We work on projects that affect the bottom line of the company, and to do this effectively, you need a leader who understands the cost of your IT services. Do you know all the services you provide, the cost you provide them at, and the service-level agreements you have to meet? Do your IT leaders know how to compute ROI and then measure that ROI once implementation occurs? Answer those questions first to have more successful projects.
Solve Real Problems
Ravinder Pal Singh, Global CIO, Air Works India: I’ve established a leadership position that eliminates the chance of projects going bad. Early on, I aligned the technology road map with our three key strategic elements: growth, quality and the customer. Since I now report to the CEO, I am empowered to take unconventional approaches to executing projects. For instance, I converted the road map into a cluster of interdependent projects, each with a deadline of 90 days. We also do not restrict ourselves to a step-by-step methodology; instead, we’ve created sustainable, potent communities that generate ideas, solve problems and own their successes and failures. This way, projects are defined with the goal of solving “real” problems.
After combining these elements, we choose a simple and agile technology that satisfies our requirements for governance, performance and security. We make heavy use of the cloud and the Internet of Things.
This approach has enabled us to achieve seemingly impossible goals, like implementing ERP in over 45 locations in less than 270 days, achieving over 95 percent inventory accuracy in 50 days, establishing 100 percent operational transparency for customers in less than 90 days, and connecting all our hangars and offices in less than 90 days.
Cultivate Casual Conversations
Bonnie Smith, SVP of IT & Industrial Sector CIO, Eaton: As IT leaders who are most often schooled in engineering disciplines, we sometimes forget that the best governance practices are, in the end, executed by a wildcard—namely, people. Often, the people who report to us will, through a surplus of good intentions, suppress any rumblings on the ground in the updates they give us, concealing the fact that milestones are quietly being missed. What is needed is an honest dialogue, which is often stymied by a fear of disappointing the boss.
As CIO, it is absolutely critical to ensure that you, personally, build relationships with the speakers of truth. You must identify the people who will tell you that what you’re being told isn’t what is really happening. The most common way to gain these insights is through an offhand comment someone makes in casual conversation, since lower-level staffers may worry about stepping on someone’s toes during formal meetings.
Once that communication channel is established, cultivate it carefully, listen very intently and word your responses judiciously. The signals you get from these conversations are what let you home in on trouble spots or pressure-test more than just a few deliverables. This is absolutely critical to knowing what to adjust, whether it’s rearranging resources, changing processes or adding more checks and balances.