Beware These Hazards to Functional Engagement in IT Projects

Beware These Hazards to Functional Engagement in IT Projects

We all know good functional leadership is key to IT project success, so why do we keep forgetting it?

Entire organizations (product management) exist to thoroughly own the product and ensure it hits the mark. This is sparklingly clear on the product side of the business but the message is lost when it comes time to implement a solution and digitize an internal process. Why on earth would anyone want an IT professional designing a business process? The best IT project leaders will ask "Why?" repeatedly when discussing needs and desired functionality. But the response must come from an empowered business person, a functional owner.

4. It is just a data warehouse — it doesn't do anything! How hard is that?

Don't be fooled! Data warehouse projects can be a path through quicksand. Sure, if they are constructed well, they really don't do anything. There is no functionality to develop because what is needed for reporting is native to the application. So what is the need for a functional lead; how hard can it be? Well, it's hard. If you don't get the data model right, you will end up trying to cobble it together with code.

The IT project lead must spend weeks with functional teams understanding sales and product hierarchies, territories, go-to market organizations, pole structures — poking on every exception that has been baked into the business over years. IT project leaders know how to ask the questions but we simply can't do it alone. If you try to, your data warehouse will be clogged with code intended to fake the wrong business model into acting like the one you should have designed in the first place. It won't scale. It will cost a lot to support. Spend the time with the functional experts to get the data model right and it will rain reports.

5. We will do even better — we will have several functional leads.

Sun Tsu listed Unity of Command as one of his five basic principles of war. Seriously, he only went five deep and Unity of Command made the list! Must be important. Multiple functional owners = no functional owner. I'm not suggesting project management is war, but there are certain similarities. Listen, one key purpose of the functional lead is to boil all the issues to the surface, get the right people in the room and drive to a decision. That is much easier to accomplish if one functional owner is empowered above all others to be the deciding vote if necessary.

Accomplishing any objective is much more likely to happen if one person feels the burden of responsibility disproportionately carried on their shoulders. Thinking of it like this, it becomes very clear why naming a tomato can to lead the project is as dangerous as not naming a leader at all. If the business wants the project done right, they must look down the bench and find someone with the credibility, experience and seniority to make things happen. Tap the sixth man, not the water boy. If the business can't spare a ringer, cancel the project. Spend the money on new product development.

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