Posted by: Arun Gupta
CIO, Leadership, managing expectations, role of the CIO
It was evident that the project wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry even though the CEO had endorsed and inaugurated it in a gathering of all key stakeholders. It was (had become) the CEOs project which no one believed in. The floundering state of affairs had the IT team and the CIO wondering on the steps they could take to come back on track. After all abandoning was not an option considering the large sunk capital investment and the CEOs belief. The CIO started asking around in the network to explore possibilities.
Almost a year had elapsed since the licenses were procured and the hardware installed; everyone had delivered to promise more or less within the timelines they had agreed to. The IT team had done their bit and ensured that everything worked the way it should. None of the business heads or the key users believed that the priority set by the CEO mattered; their level of thinking was far removed from the ideas perpetrated by the CEO. This disconnect resulted in sporadic half-hearted participation.
The IT team discovered bottlenecks in the master data, correlations between systems and disparate formulae for the same KPI across functions. Getting everyone to the same platform was resisted actively or met with indifferent attitude and claimed conflicting priorities. The CEO in the infrequent status meetings pushed the CIO and the team with little change in outcome. The CIO explored all advice thrown at him and decided to take a few bold steps to recoup the situation.
The starting point was revisiting the outcomes expected from the project; what is the need ? Who benefits from it ? Do expected key users feel threatened with the new process ? Is there a problem with the technology ? Did we get the architecture right ? Are internal and external resources deployed the best ? Were timelines set realistic ? The answers were what he thought they would be. Everything was fine, it is just that people nit piking and splitting hairs, blaming the tools and the result.
So what were the real causes of the lack of traction and belief ? Evidence pointed to the fact that the CEOs thinking process was ahead of the curve which his team found it difficult to connect with. Sycophants in the team prevented others from raising the issue and everyone was on a merry-go-round. End result, the CIO was left with the orphan baby crying for attention and an adverse impact on his performance bonus. So he had to find a solution and that too quickly.
Working diligently through the layers with open communication flowing through the hierarchy, the IT team and the partner worked step by step resolving all direct and ambiguous queries. External Subject Matter Experts were brought over the next six months to educate the users on why the CEO defined path was the way to go in the future. Global benchmarking helped in reinforcing the way less trodden locally. Finally one business head saw the value and agreed to be the guinea pig and the proponent.
The BU head worked with the CIO for further six months reaping the benefits and promoting the cause to his peers who grudgingly began to acknowledge the benefit. The CIO pressed hard this time and found no pushbacks. The acceptance and traction was good. Three years since the start and two years from the time the problem was elevated, the solution was a big hit. Everyone quoted it in internal meetings and external seminars as the strategic differentiator. People raved about it as one of the best implementations.
Incidentally the CEO had moved on just when the project started turning around. His last words of advice to the CIO that he believed in the solution, he should continue to pursue it. We all see such favourite projects of CEOs and other CXOs faltering after a great pomp and show. They take away a lot of energy, budgets and resources to see through to fruition though rarely anyone wants to challenge the need or the relevance at that time. The emperor’s new clothes will always be a parable with learning for everyone.