How Many Critical Projects Does Your IT Organization Have?

July 7, 2009 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Project Portfolio Management

How Many Critical Projects Does Your IT Organization Have?
By Vaughan Merlyn

A recent client experience reminded me how IT leaders in lower maturity shops love to show off their extensive project lists – it’s almost like a badge of courage! The bigger the list, the better! It’s as if, “The busier we are, the more we are doing for the business.” I’ve found over the years that the busier the IT shop seems to be based on the size of the project queue, the less satisfied tend to be IT’s business partners. While IT leaders tout their extensive project lists, the business partners complain that “IT costs too much and delivers too little!” How can this be?

There’s several things wrong with the picture characterized by long project lists:

  • First, long project lists typically reflect an IT organizational tendency to think in terms of “projects” rather than “programs.” Projects reflect an IT-centric view, focused on work effort, budgets and schedules. Programs, on the other hand, at their best represent packages of interdependent projects that collectively deliver business outcomes of importance – programs represent a business view, one that is more oriented to value delivered rather than the typical project orientation work effort, budget and schedule.
  • Long project lists typically do not lend themselves the to clear alignment with business strategy and strategic intents. Programs stand a far greater chance of achieving that.
  • I’m always suspicious of huge lists (often hundreds) of projects as a representation of the work of the IT organization. They often reflect a “everything is top priority” mindset, and from my experience over years of consulting, are symptomatic of a confused management agenda.

Hopefully, one of the by-products of the current recession is that IT organizations will have every reason to get focused on “the few really big things.” How does your project list look? Would your business partners recognize how it aligns with top business priorities? Does it make your organization simply feel busy? Or, does it make it feel valuable?

Vaughan Merlyn is a management consultant, researcher, and occasional author. His primary focus for the last 35 years or so has been and continues to be the use of information and information technology (IT) for business value creation. Vaughan is an Executive Vice President with nGenera. In that role, he participates in multi-company research projects, consult with Fortune 500 type companies, and provide Executive Education. His blog can be found at

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