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Sam Lowe's blog on Enterprise IT

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Project View versus The Enterprise View

Project view and Enterprise view - Must we always fight? There is a long-standing struggle between those who throw their lot in with a project or a programme as a pragmatic vehicle ‘which gets things done’, and those who align themselves with some larger enterprise objectives claiming that they have the bigger picture in mind.

It’s come up many times over the relatively short history of Enterprise IT. For example, in the early days of data management years ago there was great resistance against the practical and non-ideal compromises of Data Warehouses. In the 90s the rush for new enterprise application implementations, and of course the time-limited rush for y2k definitely made good project people ‘king’ in many companies. Since the slowdown after the turn of the millennium when thoughts turned to contemplation of the mistakes, failures and excesses of the previous decade, the quantity of (non-delivery) enterprise roles (including high-ranking ones), and their kudos, has increased. It has been almost as if there had been a recognition that there is a need to do things smarter and in a more mature way next time around. And then more recently again there are signs the up-swing in spending may shift the balance back the other way again.

In many industries (possibly exemplified by some consumer product companies in the late 90s, and many retailers slightly more recently) companies seemed to try to 'factor out' the differential between the granularity and motivation differences of project and enterprise by simply making the project into phases within a programme, and then making the programmes bigger, potentially right up to the point of it being almost all IT activities in the enterprise. It's almost as if the thought is to attempt to make the programme actually the enterprise IT itself, and therefore making the differential disappear and represent both viewpoints.

But of course it can't. It might force economies of scale which appear to work, after all the 'mega-programme' is one hell of a political force and can ensure reuse and convergence, but it's still driven by the interests of the stakeholders of the programme, who very rarely are the entire set of stakeholders of the Enterprise, so you get imbalances, and optimisation of their viewpoints to the detriment of others'.

Additionally, if you've outsourced the delivery of the programme to a third party, particularly if through contractual mechanisms where the third party is now carrying the risk, they will undoubtedly be looking to fulfil the terms of the contract whilst optimising their delivery and the solution to minimise the risk and cost to them. Potentially to the detriment of risk and cost positions (that their decision will have) elsewhere in other parts of the enterprise, outside of their contract. This is not necessarily the type of optimisation that is desirable for the client organisation to have to say the least, let alone a pleasant business experience for either side if specific examples comes to everyone’s attention during the project.

But on the other hand, executive power can’t of course lie in the hands of the Enterprise roles. Apart from inevitable conflicts with the programme leaders, the Enterprise team are not delivery focused (and the types of individuals aren’t necessarily always 'completer-finishers'!) and the service to the business relies on keeping the wheels of delivery turning. In fact, generally enterprise teams who are not delivery-focused if left to their own devices without a pragmatic mindset and the right kind of broad-focus and incentivisation, can tend be drawn towards idealist or intellectually-driven goals.

There is no perfect answer to this dynamic, but it is gratifying to see that there is now a more mature and widespread appreciation of a fuller set of roles required in both viewpoints. The best solutions that I have seen or been part of, have the system itself designed around the very conflict of this dynamic. They are designed to encourage healthy confrontation between the viewpoints (which one IT director I worked with liked to call ‘creative conflict’), with balanced and circumspect incentivisation vehicles, and parallel and even-handed escalation mechanisms. The goal being, by design, to foster new balanced and creative solutions to the scenarios encountered.

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