Monday, October 24, 2011

The Secret Sauce in IT Governance

IT organizations are in particular need of good governance. They face a unique degree of resource sharing across the enterprise. IT leaders are brokers of limited project and infrastructure money in the organization. There are many competing demands for a limited pool of resources. An IT leader can either charge for all the services or create a governance model for allocating the shared resources. Non-IT leaders who need information systems resources want a voice in the decision process.

Many organizations tend to have a mixture of chargeback and shared free resources. To prevent the tragedy of the commons around free services, organizations adopt some form of a governance model. Governance sets the criteria for the organization's IT priorities. Then they use these criteria to prioritize resources and projects. Prioritization helps determine what decisions need to be made and who makes them.

I've read some wonderful books, white papers, and internal manifestos on how to launch governance models for IT organizations. They explain the committees, the scope of responsibilities, the nature of the decisions, the criteria for creating priorities, and the individuals involved. With all this wonderful documentation, how could they possibly fail?

Usually governance fails because the meetings are boring. After the initial excitement of the governance launch fades, members of the governance process start to lose interest. Attendance wanes. Within months, people wonder what happened. Discussions are theoretical and abstract. Real influence in the future of IT is not happening at the governance table.

So what do you do? How do you keep the flame of interest alive on a regular basis? There are three secrets to great governance. The first secret is make sure everyone realizes the governance process is the only way resources from IT are going to be allocated. No back doors, no secret deals. Everything is on the table at the governance meeting. That means there is money on the table at every meeting.

If all projects go through the governance model for approval, this process allocates all IT investment money. We all know there is never enough money to implement every idea and project. So the money and resources approved for one project means some other project will not be done. This means the sponsors and stakeholder representatives of initiatives with competing demands must justify their requests at the governance table. IT becomes the facilitator of the debate, not the decision maker.

Governance meetings become interesting because they shape future investment. The winners of the IT allocation discussions are the winners of investment in the future of the organization. That makes the governance meetings particularly fascinating.

The second secret is to make sure the meetings are entertaining. It may sound silly, but no one wants to attend yet another boring and dull meeting. Give your committee members something to look forward to by teaching them, in an entertaining way, about the issues before asking for a decision. Educate attendees on the issues facing IT and engage the IT staff in the teaching process. The organization will learn about the key IT issues and the IT staff will learn about the broader organization's issues.

To keep the education process entertaining, use the IT staff who are closest to the issue to explain it. Make sure their talks are brief, focused, non-technical, and avoid jargon. Using IT staff to explain the issue exposes more people to the governance process. The exposure to new ideas and people from the IT organization helps everyone grow.

The third secret is to open the kimono to what really goes on in the IT organization. Report on progress honestly. Expose your performance metrics and open them up for discussion. If something is working well, tell your governance committees. If something is failing, tell them why and what you are doing to fix it. Listen to their suggestions. Members of governance committees want to have an impact. Make sure you listen and implement the good suggestions.

When IT acts on the good suggestions, your governance stakeholders feel they are being listened to. They feel like they are having an impact and making a difference. There is nothing more engaging than realizing your voice is being heard and valued.

In summary, there are three ingredients to keep your governance process alive and engaging. First, give your governance committees real influence on IT investments. Next, educate them on the issues before asking for decisions. Finally, open the doors to the IT organization and make sure there are no secrets. These three ingredients make the secret sauce of good governance.


1 comment:

  1. Excellent points, Mark. I fully subscribe to the notion that a more entertaining meeting is a more engaging meeting. And grabbing and keeping the divided attention of the leadership is key to success when embarking upon the arduous but rewarding IT governance journey.