Developer

Who's at the wheel? Deploying business apps

It's not always the best idea to appoint an IT staff person to be the project head on a business app deployment. Though the IT staff has the technical expertise, they may not always have the authority needed to succeed.


Deploying business applications is one of the most critical and certainly the most visible function for an IT manager. Ensuring timely rollouts within the project scope and budget, in addition to interacting with different organizational departments, can be a real challenge. But there are ways to ensure a successful deployment. In this article, I’ll discuss one.

When I joined a media organization as the new director of information technology, the IT department was working on two application deployment projects. The first involved installing an automated scheduling application that tracked the scheduling of studio and engineering resources. If someone wanted to film a show, they could schedule engineers, other production staff, and equipment for their production through this application. In addition, it allowed management to see time allocation figures and corresponding budget numbers so they could track production cost. The IT department was commissioned to install and integrate this application into the production workflow, so everyone could stop using paper-based request forms and disparate tracking systems. Logically, since the IT department had the most expertise in installing business applications, an IT staff member was assigned by former IT leadership to be the project manager and lead.

The problem was that the project leader lacked the proper authority to enforce project deadlines. Even though the main stakeholders had given their verbal support and encouraged their staffs, there was still a lack of cooperation from cross-departmental team members. As a result, tasks went uncompleted well beyond original milestone dates.

My first course of action was to call the project stakeholders together and request that the project manager title for this installation be reassigned to someone within the main stakeholder’s own department. This person would need to have the influence and power to encourage timely completion of tasks. The IT department was to become a technical resource and was to handle the technical and application issues, but it would not be driving the project. The main stakeholder’s department was now responsible for timely execution and for the development timeline. IT remained committed to meet its assigned project tasks and the corresponding deadlines. After this change was made, the project was completed in a timely fashion.

The shift in power proved to be a good move. Closer management or stakeholder involvement and the close proximity of the project leader motivated all those involved in the project to work to complete their tasks. Meanwhile, the IT staff members were allowed to focus on technical issues and not performance issues.

Gaining the power to enforce deadlines
The process of developing a sound project team is important to installing any business application. Some stakeholders tend to think IT departments should be the project lead for any network-, hardware-, or software-related project. Since IT staff members can quickly learn how applications work and therefore know how to install and maintain them properly, they should lead the implementation. However, IT department staff members are rarely given the power to enforce deadlines and ensure quality work from other project team members.

Stakeholders should appoint a project manager within their own group to ensure:
  • Proper communication of business needs and requirements to application development or installation team members.
  • Proper chain of command. This person has the ability and authority to relay job performance to the department’s management or to a primary stakeholder.
  • Collegiate respect is given to the project leader, so tasks are completed in a thorough and timely manner and given priority.
  • Weekly status reports are given to managers, so they are kept abreast of the project’s progression and to ensure their involvement when milestones are not met.

Use caution when hiring consultants
I later experienced another example of what can happen when the wrong person is at the helm of a business deployment. The human resources department at one particular company wanted to implement a HRIS system. Again, someone in the IT department was assigned as the project manager and lead. Again, tasks were not completed and milestones were not met. Again, the IT staff member was powerless to enforce due dates and so the project stalled. 

The major stakeholder was encouraged to assign a project manager within his own group to focus on the installation and work out a new implementation schedule. Knowing his team was already burdened with existing work, the stakeholder decided to hire an outside consultant. Entering midstream into the project, the consultant worked hard to get the project back on schedule and placed into production. The consultant was fairly successful, but he did not have an opportunity to fully understand the requirements of the department, so several installation issues remained open. Due to budget constraints, the consultant left the project. While the remaining issues still needed to be addressed, the department did not have the resources to prod the vendor into completing the final integration tasks. So the IT director was called in to do some additional assessments and work with the vendor to get the outstanding issues resolved.

When determining project managers for your next business application deployment, think carefully before hiring consultants or part-time staff. Although they do an excellent job while they are physically present and are better at focusing on the project, when they leave, much of their knowledge goes with them. Be prepared for this by ensuring someone within the organization can wrap up outstanding issues and details as well as be the recipient of a full transfer of knowledge. If possible, a smart practice is to hire a qualified, short-term, yet full-time staff member to oversee a project and then to provide for future maintenance and support.

As they lack the authority and perhaps the intimate knowledge of business processes and practices, IT staff should rarely be the project lead in a business application deployment project. On the other hand, IT staff members will still need to be involved in the project as important players in its development and launch. Encourage a responsible and qualified member of the stakeholder’s department to be the project lead. If a suitable project lead cannot be found, see if you can hire one. Deploying business applications well requires a solid adherence to the best practices of basic project management. The more you succeed in making smart project management decisions, the more likely your business application deployment will be successful. Having the right person at the helm makes all the difference.

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