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IT governance: a help or a hindrance for your projects?

How to balance freedom and control

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Facebook has become a source of pithy quotes. One is doing the round in friends’ status windows right now is: “Follow your heart, but take your brain along with you.”

In relation to IT, another way to put it might be: “No action without control.”

Embarking on projects and service delivery without proper governance leads to disaster. On the other hand, you don’t want to overdo it and find yourself tied up in analysis paralysis.

Where is the happy medium?

A lot depends on whether you are talking about managing a project, a service or a portfolio. A project takes place in a time-constrained window, with a clear beginning and end. Service and portfolio management are ongoing challenges. Of course, one may morph into the other.

Tailor made

“Methodologies don’t deliver projects, project managers do,” says Kevin Beard, head of telecoms, media and technology at consultancy PIPC.

“No two projects are the same, and there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all project management methodology.

“Our approach is to employ the range of project management processes that best fit the specific project, client, team, budget and timescales.”

That said, there are two prevalent methodologies, one popular in the UK and the other more common on the far side of the pond.

Prince 2 was developed by the UK government and is used widely for public sector projects.

“In Prince 2, defining project stakeholders is key to success. Requirements cannot be inferred,” says Andrew Gill, IT consultant in the managed services team at consulting firm Waterstons.

“And, of course, business involvement is paramount to delivering the correct solution.”

Project Management Professional (PMP), a certification from the Project Management Institute, has a lot of overlap with Prince 2, says Gill.

Service management, another subset of overall IT governance, is a different beast, covered by ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library). Again an invention of the UK's Office of Government Commerce, this is now at version 3.

Standard answer

There are also competing service management methodologies, such as Microsoft’s Operations Framework, and Isaca’s Cobit, which is about to hit version 5.

Cobit is a more overarching governance and control framework encompassing areas such as risk management, value delivery and strategic alignment.

ISO 20000-1 is becoming increasingly popular. This standard draws on ITIL and also incorporates element of other frameworks, including Cobit, but it is less mature.

“I don’t know any IT enterprise today in which governance is performing properly.”

Then, there are other frameworks for governance and service management, such as CMMI (capability maturity model integration), which focuses on process improvement.

Which to choose?

“ITIL is all on the operations side of things. Cobit is a lot broader, and it does have a lot more quality of service dimensions to it, but I’m not a big fan of either,” says Eric Marks, chief executive of professional services firm AgilePath.

“They don’t answer the question: what governance performance do you need in place to achieve your business objectives?

“I don’t know any IT enterprise today in which all its governance is performing properly”

Can all of this become too cumbersome?

“Yes, ITIL can be a real beast to implement," says Mark Acton, director of consultancy Uptime Institute.

"It can also be considered cumbersome, but considering what it is trying to achieve in a large enterprise that is not surprising.

“The basic tenets of ITIL are reasonably simple, but unfortunately it has spawned an entire industry that is very far from the original intent.”

Leaders of the pack

How should companies achieve the best results in IT governance? Gill advises promoting individual interests to create leaders in specific areas. These leaders become evangelists for the issue at hand, whether it be security, service delivery or return on IT investment.

Beard warns that organising roles and responsibilities around project delivery can be more complex because of their temporary nature, and recommends setting up a central project management office (PMO) to help.

“The PMO sets out common project management methods across the company and consolidates status reports into an executive pack so steering committees and sponsors can make informed decisions,” he says.

Of course, all of this – proper organisation, alignment of business objectives and mapping of service delivery – will be of limited value unless the organisation’s board is interested.

If board members are naive or even downright suspicious of IT, the governance process will be severed at the neck. This may prove to be your biggest challenge yet. ®

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