Naked CIO: Don't let failed IT projects of the past poison progress

CIOs are still suffering the consequences of IT failures that happened before their time

After a promising start, a major initiative has hit the buffers. The challenge now is to stop seeing a lack of confidence in the IT team as a personal attack, says the Naked CIO.

I recently had a meeting with some key business colleagues about a long-term strategic initiative to consolidate our diverse data environment. This project inevitably represents a huge shift in organisational process.

I have been selling this approach for months as part of an integrated IT strategic plan. Generally, it has been well received.

But we are now moving from theory to design and rapidly approaching planning and execution. The meeting was called to discuss our approach and engage some key revenue-generating areas of the business.

Lack of confidence in IT
The meeting was a disaster. It was unproductive and personal. What became evident is that these groups lack the confidence in me and my team to contemplate the changes we are proposing.

They continually referred back to their experiences of incompetence in past projects, which happened well before I arrived and may even have been partly why I was hired.

I couldn't defend my staff and felt utterly deflated against a series of implacable objections. While the other managers saw the conceptual benefit, they refused to support the practical execution.

I left the meeting fuming and for the next two days vented my anger and resentment in some well-crafted but rather obvious emails and communications. Not my finest moment. But then passion is often my biggest flaw.

Key to success
The people in question are key to the success of the initiative and I can't do it without them. The initiative in turn is essential for driving huge value into my organisation and will save the company a great deal of money, time and provide huge opportunities. By the way, no one disputes this value - just the ability of my team to deliver it.

But since I wasn't involved in those unfortunate past projects, there is little I can do to meet their concerns and defend my group. My interactions with my team and my impression of their capabilities have been good. Certainly, there are always areas where skill and personality have an impact, but I honestly have no concerns about the abilities of my key personnel.

After my tirade, I have changed tact, taken the higher ground after a day or two swimming through the sewer. I am now advocating more involvement and providing a series of steps and actions designed to build trust, which I do hope will work.

It bothers me that perception can have such a huge impact, even when those people blocking progress have no justification, in the face of my extensive professional experience and accolades, for a lack of confidence in my ability.

Frustrating aspects of being CIO
While I think my initiatives will work and build trust, I still resent the games we have to play that have nothing to do with the outcome of the project. We now face delay in driving benefits to the business because of additional steps to drive confidence.

We have less trust in each other and are busier and sapped of the momentum and energy that the initiative had been carrying. It all seems a waste of productive time and effort and just another frustrating aspect of being a CIO.

I almost gave up on the project, thinking it would impossible to deliver in the face of such objections. Then I remembered why I was here, why I love what I do and why they hired me. They employed me to promote this change and to improve the business.

Even if I took these difficulties personally, they have now only strengthened my resolve to prove the assertions wrong and to impress the naysayers with the power of integration and technology. Thomas Edison attempted to create the lightbulb 1,000 times before he was successful. I too will succeed in adversity, even in the face of 1,000 objections.