4 June 2015
Q. Your recent report lays out critical elements of leadership for successful implementation of business/technology initiatives. Before we get into the various elements, can you tell us what happens when IT initiatives are implemented without sufficient attention to leadership?
Doige: My report focuses on ERP implementations, which are especially complex as they affect nearly all business processes – but these points can be applied to any strategic business initiative. Large projects are typically plagued by cost overruns and scope creep; lateness; and realizing less than 50% of anticipated benefits. There is plenty of documentation in the literature on this.
Q. How can you reduce this level of failure?
Doige: There are several things you can do – and they’re all related to leadership. The critical execution factors are: strong program management; executive support and buy-in; organizational change management and training; realistic expectations; and focus on business processes. Interestingly, you have to do all 5 to be successful. The research shows that the positive impact of implementing only one or two is negligible, but when you implement them all, you can improve outcomes by up to 50%.
Q. So what are these leadership factors?
Doige: First comes vision and strategy. This needs to be communicated from the top in order to achieve the cross-organization buy-in levels necessary for success. Vision and strategy imply long focus and far-reaching effects. They are not merely about short-term gains, which tend to get assigned to lower-level stewards who are more comfortable within functional silos. Clear vision and solid strategy enable an organization to attain the value expected from a major business initiative, which, after all, has been designed to support strategic business objectives and goals. Strategic leaders concern themselves with the future of the organization
Second is accountability across the organization. This tends to be resisted – no one wants to risk “wearing” a failure, and people are loath to take on more work. But the research shows that clear cross-functional accountability from a high level correlates to improved outcomes. How can we improve accountability? Through “mapping” – and embedding the project goals into appropriate management and leadership targets.
Third is political savvy – this has not always been a forte of IT Leaders. To be successful, you must understand the political agendas of the stakeholders, and be able to map their influence, power, scope and interests. With projects of such magnitude as an ERP implementation, there is going to be disruption – and people need to be prepared for it. Otherwise the project can become a victim of the silent resisters and underminers. Clear, regular communication from the business leaders involved in the ERP needs to be the order of the day. You, as the IT leader, need to know how to network, and how to build coalitions. You need to know how to bargain and negotiate. This sounds a long way from what we used to think of as the world of IT, but times and realities have changed, and so must we.