Want to get the benefits of IT governance without dealing with all the layers of the onion? Jay Rollins outlines what SMBs need to do to start formalizing the IT governance process.


How do you know you need some sort of formalized IT governance process in your company? When your project queue starts filling up like a water balloon attached to a fire hose, you know it’s time for IT governance.

Just having the tools to organize, prioritize, and resource IT projects can be a huge help. Without those tools, paralysis can set in for an IT organization. Here is an example that illustrates my point: If tennis balls are thrown at your head one at a time, you can usually catch them. If tennis balls are thrown two or three at a time, if you are good, you can catch those as well, but occasionally you’ll miss one or two balls, which will drop to the floor. If 10 tennis balls are thrown at your head, human instinct kicks in and you duck! Now, picture the tennis balls as IT projects. How many fall on the floor? Are you trying to catch them all, or are you at the point where you are just going to duck?

The challenge with IT governance in smaller companies is perception. When you hear the words IT governance, pictures of bureaucratic processes resulting in slow decisions come to mind. Layers of decision making, meetings called in order to plan other meetings, etc. A hybrid-ized version of IT governance may be the answer.

There are a lot of benefits to formalizing governance. It helps with standardization and controlling the stray software or system purchase/install that organizations sometimes get and then chuck it over the wall for IT to support. If you are in an SMB and this has not happened yet, it will — you can bet on it. Some well-meaning decision maker in HR or Marketing goes out and buys a new system and calls the IT group, “Hey, we bought this system that you had no role in helping us select, and it may or may not be built with technology you are familiar with and we need you to install and support it…today.”

Additionally, IT governance is a great way to focus the company on selecting the projects that should be worked on and prioritizing resources. In an SMB, the trick is to try and get the benefits of IT governance without having to deal with all the layers of the onion. What needs to happen is to develop a process that is less time-consuming but still gets the job done.

The project queue is typically the first element that needs to be addressed. Listing all of the projects in a spreadsheet with rule of thumb time frames and costs is a beginning. (Basically, you’ll use educated guesses.) The spreadsheet would list the organization’s strategic goals, and it would be up to the requester to select which goal the project supports. There should be a small space for a 200 word description of the project and how it supports the goal.

If you are not already invited, see if you can get an invite to the weekly management meeting where the department heads get together and take 30 minutes to go through all of the projects. You want to try and avoid them from diving into details about all of the projects. Your goal is to say project Y will take three weeks to do with two resources at a cost of $X; the project is necessary to support Z strategic goal. You should provide the department heads with a copy of the spreadsheet that has all of the projects listed in order of priority. Then ask the following questions regarding new projects:

  • Is it important? Do we spend additional resources to solidify the project and get hard numbers?
  • How important is it? Should we move this project up in our priorities? Should we cancel a project currently in process so we can do this project?
  • Who is the executive sponsor? Someone on the business side needs to be responsible for the project. Getting a name associated with it will make sure that the workload is distributed a little better.

This much abbreviated process will work for small companies. Many members of the management team inherently know what is important and can usually make a good call with the limited information. If the project is important, they will likely say okay to taking more time to find out about actual costs (instead of your estimates) and time frames.

Midsize companies with more employees will need to be much more formalized, or you will introduce significant risk in the project selection process. But if this process is implemented correctly, now there are 10 tennis balls being thrown at the team instead of just you.

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