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Primer IT Negotiation making practical agreements possible

June 23, 2008

STAGE 0 – OPPORTUNITY IDENTIFICATION

IT is constantly inundated with requests for changes and the setting of priorities, so this step should look familiar to many in the IT field.

Identification

The main focus of this step is to give the opportunity a name and a shape. “What is the big idea?” is a phrase frequently used in this phase of the discussion. Typically, in larger projects and larger organizations, this opportunity may have been defined in the normal business planning process.

The “elevator speech” is all that is needed to identify the opportunity. An elevator speech is a description of an opportunity that can be explained to a potential sponsor in the time it takes to ride an elevator from the ground floor to the boss’s floor. There is no need at this stage to get into final costing or even resource planning. A discussion of “What is the big idea?” and “Why is it being asked for?” is the focus. All too often, IT people start thinking about the “How?” and forget what is driving the “Why?” If the sponsor is clear on why this is important, then assembling the how is less likely to get bogged down, because the focus remains clear.

It is important to log every opportunity in a tracking system. The logging mechanism can be a spreadsheet, database, Web site, or even Notepad. It can be formal or informal, but it is critical that it is logged. For example, you could use your service desk to log all activities regardless if they are issues, changes, or projects. Such an approach makes life easier when resource planning and, once captured, it is guaranteed that all users and stakeholders can more readily follow successful processes.

Qualification

The qualification step focuses on placing the opportunity against the overall strategic business plan and moving priority projects forward, while at the same time redistributing other projects and priorities as required. This cannot be done in isolation; and it is not the role of IT to set priorities, but rather to act on business priorities. By providing trusted advice back to the organization, the IT group is enabling the organization to make better decisions with more and better information. And IT has to eliminate the “sell from the install”. During a “sell” engagement everyone is positive and wants to make and opportunity work. This is not a bad thing; however, the qualification step is intended to bring the “install” piece into focus. Issues, such as cost, time, and scope have to be mentioned here to validate the opportunity.

Qualification commences once the sponsor has clearly identified the business drivers and a further investigation has become warranted. Determining the requirement for further investigation can be the tricky part. For the sponsor, an investigation is always warranted and he/she usually can’t believe you are not jumping all over the identified opportunity. This is where you get to earn your money – this is your opportunity to work with the sponsor to explain the process, and help everyone understand where their opportunity fits within the context of other organizational initiatives. By working with the sponsor, you can help him/her articulate the opportunity using a pragmatic approach.

This process is meant to put all identified opportunities on the same footing and to align similar projects. It is always amazing how similar “different” departmental needs are when you look for common ground. Organizations that take a step back to align similar projects effectively have a better chance of stopping rogue projects and IT teams, and avoiding duplicated and wasted efforts. But by no means do you make this approach a “boiling of the ocean” exercise, because too much time focusing on strategic alignment prevents achieving valuable short-term gains that can move the organization forward and satisfy the legitimate desire users have to have their needs met.

Adopt a “make !T work” attitude (no, this is not a typo). The philosophy behind this is to make the IT components work for you, and to avoid those components becoming barriers to success. Your job is to align your IT services with opportunities realistically, so your organization can make an informed decision of the validity of the opportunity.

Priority Matrix

Using the priority matrix will give the organization a visual perspective of where their priorities align. On a regular basis, opportunities should be placed on the matrix for comparisons and synergies. What was deferred last time may be ready for action now, especially if your identification process has made a continued to effort to a build common technological framework for delivering business value

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