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Get executive support … for the duration

Craig Rintoul
CIO Zone
5 January 2010

If you are seeking to secure funding to make a large-scale investment in a major technology project or program, then it is essential to gain the support of executive stakeholders. This should not be news.

However, many programs fail to get past the first hurdle; not necessarily because they are bad ideas but rather because they are not being communicated in a manner that clearly articulates the business value while providing confidence to senior executes in the project team's ability to actually deliver.

Even more worrying is that stakeholder support may be strong enough to get initial funding but is not genuinely strong enough to last the course. In other words, you need to ensure your sponsor is invested enough to help you overcome obstacles and maintain momentum when the inevitable challenges arise.

Long-term stakeholder buy-in is essential not only in getting major programs budgeted but also in ensuring that programs stay the course and deliver on their promise. If support is only passive, then molehills literally become mountains and critical momentum is lost and often never recovered.

So how do you ensure long term stakeholder buy-in? How do you get stakeholders to take ownership? How do you win hearts as well as minds? You need to think about what is important not just to the organisation but also to each of the individual stakeholders, and you need to develop a plan that takes into account and mitigates for all the real-world challenges faced, thereby giving confidence that not only will the program deliver something to each stakeholder, it will actually deliver tangible value to the business.

Set out below is a list of comprehensive steps, incorporating the areas that should be considered each time you embark on developing a strategic plan or business case for large-scale technology programs, effectively helping stakeholders climb the staircase with you:

  • Organise and treat as a formal activity. Identify who the key stakeholders are that will benefit from this endeavour and who will be impacted. Invite key stakeholders to participate, involve them in the process by giving them meaningful roles and tasks and state your appreciation of their time and commitment. Don't ignore potential sceptics, embrace them and deal with their scepticism head-on.

  • Understand the needs of the organisation and each individual stakeholder as they relate to the proposed project. How does the overarching organisation strategy roll down to the specific stakeholder, what objectives must they meet and what challenges do they face in achieving these?

  • Don't sell the technology, develop a business solution. Once you understand specific stakeholder need, educate them on how the program can help meet their specific objectives or overcome challenges. We've all seen movies featuring used-car salesman using the immortal line, "have I got the car for you". Don't try and put your stakeholder in the car of your choice, let them decide which is the right car for them.

  • Determine a realistic plan for delivery that identifies all tasks, dependencies between them and assesses realistic resourcing -- include both internal and external resources that will be required to deliver as well as resources required to operate post implementation.

  • Prove the financial case in a compelling and robust manner. The budget needs to include costs for all activities, appropriately allocated as capital or operating. Benefits must be realistic and achievable -- how will this program affect the top- or bottom-line? Benefits should not be based on unquantifiable efficiency savings that do not equate to dollars really being saved. And finally, what monetary value will the program deliver over time compared to other investments, typically captured as Net Present Value?

  • Highlight when value will be delivered to the business. Executive stakeholders don't really care about technical project milestones -- they care about when the value and benefits will be realised. As part of the implementation roadmap, highlight when value will be delivered and use these benefit milestones to communicate progress. This will help prioritize early wins to demonstrate real progress 

In conclusion, yes it's a lot of work and it will involve you following through, doing what you say you're going to do and being committed to the task. It's not a part-time endeavour but one that requires passion, commitment and the ability to manage a diverse stakeholder group. If done well, however, the outcome will inevitably lead to a more realistic program plan with measurable goals aligned by stakeholder against which to deliver, and with it long-term commitment and ownership to ensure that it happens.

Craig Rintoul advises clients on technology-enabled business solutions addressing strategic and operational issues, leading the firm's IT business case service in the U.S.

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