Keep your key projects off the chopping block

Keep your key projects off the chopping block

How to save make-or-break IT initiatives in troubled times

Strategic to whom?

Like an emergency room doctor, you may have to perform triage. First, step back and take a hard look at the project. Sometimes CIOs consider a project strategic, only to find out later that they were the only ones who did.

IT people tend to justify projects in technical terms, rather than using financial metrics, says Michael Krigsman, CEO of IT consultancy Asuret. In today's economy, the only projects to survive will be those rooted in concrete business value and proven by specific financial metrics, he says.

But even those yardsticks may be evolving. Is the original business case still a priority? A project that was once justified by a four-year return on investment might fade into the background if the business is struggling with cash flow. The company's agenda may be quite different today than it was just six months ago, says John Ciacchella, a principal at Deloitte Consulting.

Ironically, if the project really is strategic -- if it involves the executive team and will enable transformation across the business -- then it is by definition more than an IT project, which means the CIO's discretion is limited, Cullen says. In a crisis, the executive team "has to figure out where to cut and where to continue to fund, and that's not a CIO decision," he explains.

IT executives should reiterate the benefits of the project and clearly outline the consequences of killing it. But if the other executives aren't persuaded, step back and shut up. "The CIO is first and foremost a member of the management team," says Whatnell.

The focus should be on doing whatever is necessary to sustain the company. Cutting the project "may be absolutely the right thing to do for the company," says Whatnell. "If [the other executives] are worried about making payroll in March, they may not be too worried strategically about what CRM is going to do for them in 2010."

In fact, the mantra of "business value" is so last year. Cash flow is "the emerging mantra for 2009," says Lopez. He says that an oil company IT executive recently told him that he was being asked to evaluate projects based on cash flow instead of ROI.

"Whatever project you want to save and are staking your reputation on, it had better be connected to dealing with this [economic] storm," says Lopez. "Because if it's not, not only will the project be gone, but if you fight for it, you'll be gone, too."

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