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Why Some Projects Should Be Led, Not Managed
By Vaughan Merlyn

I’ve written before about Business-IT Maturity, and the common “sticking points” that most IT organizations run into around the mid-point between low and high maturity.

Walking Ever Faster Will Not Get You Running!

If, arbitrarily, you pick 3 levels of Business-IT Maturity – say Level 1 = low, Level 2 = medium and Level 3 = high, you will typically find that the things you have to do to get from Level 1 to Level 2 not only won’t get you from Level 2 to Level 3 – they will actually prevent you from reaching Level 3! The trick is to recognize what these things are, and that you are entering a very different learning curve. For example, if your solutions delivery process is broken, you need a great deal of rigor and discipline – in the form of Project Management and a Systems Development Life Cycle. That will get you from “chaotic” (Level 1 in my hypothetical 3-Level scale) to “managed” (mid-Level 2). But over time you will find the limitations of a “managed” approach to solutions delivery – especially when you need to implement “fuzzier” solutions, such as social media, or business analytics.

One Size Does Not Fit All

With solutions delivery, one-size does not fit all, and the methodology that works well for a relatively easily pre-specified transaction processing system (order-to-cash, for example) will not work well for something that is less predictable and more emergent. Hanging in there with the “official” methodology (for fear of reverting to the chaotic situation that persuaded you to implement the methodology in the first place!) will frustrate the developers, annoy the business client, and will probably lead to a poor or unworkable solution – which will upset everybody! What is needed is a finer-grained way of categorizing types of business solutions, and flexibility with methodologies to fit the best approach for a given solution type.

What Worked for Transactional Systems Won’t Work for Innovation Solutions

Collaboration and Knowledge Management initiatives are not readily planned using traditional project management methods – they tend to follow an ‘emergent’ pattern that is typically non-linear and somewhat unpredictable. A traditional planning style, with detailed deliverables, work steps, activities and due-by dates must give way to a more iterative and organic approach.

Social Media Projects Should be Led

You cannot mandate participation in a community – you can invite participation and create reasons to do so. You cannot schedule a date by which a given percentage of a community will be collaborating on a wiki, for example – you can only set expectations, model desired behaviors, and create good reasons for people to become active users of the wiki. Then you must reevaluate the results and adjust the approach in the light of experience.

Recognizing the Hard-Won Battle – and the Need to Fight New Battles

It seems that sometimes the battle of getting from Level 1 to Level 2 Business-IT Maturity is so hard won, and the win so apparently fragile, that leaders hang on to the methods that got them to Level 2. This is about being really good at solving yesterday’s problems. It’s a different world today, and the ways that technology and information can be exploited for business advantage demand different approaches. Don’t let the trappings of Level 2 restrict your ability to get to the next level!

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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