Everyone Thinks Their Top Priority Should Be Your Top Priority
One of the biggest challenges for IT leaders in a company of any size is balancing all the competing priorities from a matrix of stakeholders. The larger and more global the company, the more complex and multi-dimensional the matrix of stakeholders become. Add to this the pressure most companies are feeling to move to a fully digital engagement model as most of the world has been in some level of lockdown due to the global pandemic and the demands on a companies IT organization will likely be well above their capacity to deliver.
Trying to manage this onslaught of request from various business units, divisions and geographies can be completely overwhelming and there are no easy solutions. However, I have seen best practices that work, albeit with a lot of focus and most of all good communication.
Don’t Try to Manage It Alone
It’s very easy for people to try and sell you on their idea for new IT capabilities when they are speaking to you one on one. They can be deeply passionate and seem to have lots of facts about the benefits. Anyone who has been in an IT leadership position for very long has experienced these, often in the hallway or at the proverbial water cooler, conversations where your new BFF praises your leadership and extolls the wonderful things your organization has done and how valuable your team is.
However, those very same people will take a vastly different approach when asked to present their idea in front of a jury of their peers. As such, it’s critical that you set up a fully transparent process where all requests come through a stakeholder council where they will be assessed by others who also want capabilities from the same IT organization. To be successful there must be an agreed upon method and template for describing any new business capability and the expected benefits. Putting this organizational discipline in place will magically make many requests simply go away as the requesters naturally start to think from a full company perspective instead of a parochial perspective.
Learn How to Say “No” or “Not Now”
One of the must subtle ways to lose the trust of your stakeholders is to accept items onto your backlog that you know will never get delivered because they simply do not have a strong enough value proposition to rise to the top of the queue. When you accept something onto your backlog there is a tacit agreement that it will be developed and delivered at some point in the future.
Using the stakeholder review process, it will become much easier as everyone is looking at the same list of items and the associated business value. It will be very clear what the roadmap looks like based on the cost/benefit analysis that will be transparently visible to everyone. While no one likes to hear “No” as an answer to their request; most people are mature enough to accept the answer and get on with business especially when they can see all the other requests that are in queue.
Measure, Measure, Measure!
Another good way to ensure that your stakeholders take the process very seriously is to ensure that you measure and report on the success, or the lack there of, for newly deployed capabilities. This should be a regular part of your stakeholder meetings. You can use a scorecard method to report on the outcome of previous approved requests. Doing that will inspire a healthy sense of competition amongst the teams as they try to deliver the most business benefits.
It’s also important that this scorecard is visible to the executives in the management chain above your stakeholder team. Your stakeholder team should be senior enough to be able to speak on behalf of their organization but also close enough to the front lines that they truly understand how the IT system is actually used. Maintaining constant communication with the executives will ensure your stakeholders active participation in the process.
To Sum Up
In today’s high-pressure IT leadership positions, having a fully transparent prioritization process is critical in earning and maintaining the trust of your stakeholders. Bringing the stakeholders into the process will also help ensure that the priorities that are agreed upon will be the ones that are in the best interest of the entire company vs an individual business unit or geography.