Project Management: How IT and Business Relationships Shape Success

Inter-personal relationships between IT and business partners play a critical--yet often overlooked--role in the execution of projects. Agile development methodologies such as Scrum can bring IT and business partners together and help improve project success rates.

Wed, September 16, 2009

CIO — Earlier this year, managed care provider Centene finished deploying a new financial system. CIO Don Imholz says the project, which involved multiple PeopleSoft modules as well as financial planning and reporting software from Hyperion, was completed "very quickly"—in 12 months—and on budget.

Imholz believes the project was successful for a number of reasons, including that the company implemented proven technology and hired a systems integrator experienced with PeopleSoft to help. Most importantly, Imholz says the project was successful because of "good teaming between the IT organization, the finance organization and the systems integration resources."

In other words, much of the project's success came down to people skills.

The constructive relationship between IT and finance—and in particular, between Imholz and Centene's CFO, William Scheffel—ultimately kept the project on track when the going got tough. And it did get tough.

For example, at one point, the project team was having trouble setting up the technical environment needed to deploy a Hyperion module that a third-party was going to host. The difficulties that IT encountered put the project's schedule at risk, says Imholz. Had the relationship between IT and finance been acrimonious, the organizations would have pointed fingers at each other—a counterproductive move that would have further delayed the project. Instead, says Imholz, they worked together to recover the lost time and keep the implementation on schedule.

"We could have blamed each other and told each other we can't help," says the CIO. "But there's no value in doing that. It delays getting to the solution. If IT or finance tried to recover the schedule alone it wouldn't have happened. We had to do it together."

[ For more stories on project management see When Failure Is Not an Option and The 14 Most Common Project Management Mistakes IT Departments Make. ]

The Trust Factor

Good relationships—between IT and business partners, project managers and IT staff, and project managers and stakeholders—keep IT projects on track, say IT leaders and project management experts. Bad relationships, however, are a leading cause of project failure.

"I've seen projects that should have been successful fail purely because of relationship issues," says Greg Livingston, director of IS planning and system development at Shaw Industries, a flooring manufacturer.

The impact good and bad relationships have on projects is clear: "Negative relationships make people want to avoid each other or work against each other," says Bill Hagerup, a senior consultant with Ouellette & Associates, a IT leadership and project management consultancy.

On the other hand, when mutual trust exists between IT project managers and stakeholders, IT project managers are more likely to discuss problems that could threaten the project as they arise, says Imholz. If bad blood exists between the two groups, project managers may not be inclined to point out those issues, or they may try to cover them up.

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