Essential elements for governing IT change programmes

Posted by Prue Beams on March 21, 2019

Essential elements for governing IT change programmes


In our last blog we talked about key considerations for constructing successful project teams.  But no matter how well you have recruited to those key roles, if you don’t have an effective governance structure in place to support the team, then the project will undoubtably run at a significant risk.  So in this instalment, we’re looking at the essential elements required to effectively govern IT change programmes – starting with the first, and most critical: an influential and committed Project Sponsor…

A Project Sponsor willing to lead
When the 2018 KPMG State of Play Australian Project Management survey assessed ‘what does project success look like?’  74% of projects with successful outcomes referenced actively engaged Project Sponsors.

Any experienced Change or Project Manager will stand behind this statistic.  A recent Prosci publication also referenced research stating: The greatest contributor to a successful change management initiative is Active and Visible executive sponsorship. The report also identifies the three key roles and responsibilities of sponsors:

1.    Participating actively and visibly throughout the project
2.    Building a coalition of sponsorship with peers and managers
3.    Leading communications to employees and managers and being the face of change

In today’s project environment, an effective sponsor not only understands the importance of delivering project outcomes on time and within budget, but also stands behind the importance of change management activities and ensures a Change Manager has a seat at the table in key governance forums.  They also make themselves accessible to the Project Manager to ensure they are given the support and authority to make things happen in the business and to remove any obstacles that are impeding the project’s success.

Engaged stakeholders across the business

Part of building a coalition of sponsorship with peers and managers is about identifying key people within the organisation that are willing to represent their business unit at Reference Groups and Steering Committees. Successful projects need engaged stakeholders with subject matter expertise who are willing to raise issues and to champion the project within their business units. They act as the voice of the business and should become your trusted advisors.  Having this network will mitigate the risk of the project not delivering what that business unit needs and play an active role in communicating and embedding the change.

A decision-making framework that fits with your delivery approach
All governance structures need a decision-making framework that is robust but at the same time responsive enough to accommodate an agile software delivery approach.  Formal Steering Committees are an essential assurance element of any project or programme of work.  Unfortunately, as they often meet no more than monthly, this does not always facilitate access to decision makers to keep the project moving forward.

To overcome this, Tribal’s recommended model is to form a Senior Leadership Team made up of the Senior Responsible Office Business Owner, Product Owner, Project Manager, Change Manager and Implementation Lead from your solution partner. Ideally, the SLT meets fortnightly or weekly, and during the meetings the Project Manager reviews progress, asks for assistance in removing obstacles and discusses key design decisions.  The aim of this group is to resolve items in a timely agile manner and make a judgement call of what needs to be escalated up to the Steering Committee.  

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities
It’s simple really – for people to do their job effectively they need to be clear about what their role involves, what outputs they are responsible for delivering and who to ask for other things.  When this is not clearly articulated you run the risk of duplication of effort, gaps in deliverables, lack of accountability and general miscommunication.

In the last blog we discussed that roles are not people.  And it’s important to remember that if roles are omitted, you need to ensure the activities that would have been undertaken under that title are covered elsewhere within the roles and responsibilities of your project delivery team. By simply writing these down within your project documentation (such as the Project Initiation Document) and sharing this across the team, everyone can ensure they have the clarity they require.

Reasons why IT change programmes fail

Clear reporting that enables effective decision-making

We can’t expect Project Sponsors and governance groups to make effective decisions if they are not presented with accurate reporting information.  The Project Manager needs to determine several levels of reporting with the required detail tailored for each audience.  Sponsors need to know how the project is tracking against timeframes, budget, scope, and key design decisions that are likely to have significant change impacts across the organisation.  Whilst they don’t want the detail, they should feel confident that the required level of analysis and understanding sits below the information they are receiving - and Project Managers should be able to answer detailed questions if required.  

It’s important from the outset of the project for Project and Change Managers to seek sign-off from governance groups on how information will be reported to ensure they are meeting decision-makers requirements. Here at Tribal we have standardised the way in which we present options around design decisions to our customers into a clear and concise Options Paper aimed at assisting our customers in making the decisions they require.

Incorporating lessons learned along the way
Does your institution have any post-implementation lessons from other major change programmes that could be adopted into your current project or should be avoid going forward? Feeding lessons learned into the governance process supports a culture of continuous improvement.  Your solution partner is great source of lessons learned and should be encouraged to share their previous experiences with governance and project groups.

Project Sponsors and governance groups should also encourage frequent reviews of what is working and what’s not.  Sometimes this will involve making difficult decisions around resourcing or scope, and in some instances can involve an element of identifying and moving on from a sunk cost (e.g. configuration or design decisions that are no longer practical, or a poorly performing manager or team). In our experience, a project culture that promotes continuous learning sets the scene well to continue that ethos into the BAU operational support team.

As implementing IT change programmes is at the heart of what we do here at Tribal, our team has seen first-hand what works well and what doesn’t in each of the elements discussed in this blog.  So when embarking on a new project, talk to one of our project or change specialists about how you can set up a governance structure that is best suited to your organisation. They’ll be happy to share their insights and recommendations.

If you’d like support in creating a project team or you’re in need of skilled project resource – get in touch with the team to discuss how we can help. You can read our previous blog in this series 'Beyond software: bringing more to our customer implementations' here and 'Key considerations for constructing successful project teams' here.

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