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Governance for IT Work Intake – One Size Definitely Doesn’t Fit All!

When organizations decide to adopt project portfolio management practices within IT, the usual starting point is to revamp their work intake and authorization processes by incorporating the active involvement of one or more cross-functional external (to IT) governance committees.  The expected benefits of this change include a reduction in stealth work as well as a gradual evolution in the IT engagement model.

When designing the changes to these processes, a common challenge is finding the right balance between too much involvement of external governance bodies and too little.   Even if governance committee members are available, excessive involvement may be perceived as IT abdicating its responsibilities.  With insufficient involvement, IT resources would continue to be diverted from the highest organization value initiatives.

One way to reduce the risk of this happening is to define the scope of external governance over different types of IT work.  Almost all IT work can be classified as one of the following:

  • Large projects
  • Service requests/small projects
  • Operations(”Keep the lights running”)

Objective definitions for each of these categories should be developed to facilitate the consistent differentiation between large & small projects.  These definitions should ideally include multiple criteria – for example, a combination of estimated cost and planned effort.

For large projects, selection and prioritization decisions should be the responsibility of the governance committee.  Sufficient project status details should be provided to the governance committee as part of their regular reviews of the active project portfolio to facilitate decision making.

For service requests or small projects, work authorization and prioritization should be done by the IT management team, but the aggregate annual or quarterly resource effort and costs for such work should be pre-approved by the governance committee and aggregate actuals should be reported on a regular basis.  This will ensure that strategic projects do not suffer the “death by a thousand cuts” that can result from too many service requests being delivered.

For operations activity, work authorization is performed by the individual IT line managers, but the total costs and resource effort should be budgeted annually and actual cost reported to governance committees on a regular basis.

Providing governance committees with consistent visibility across project and operational work should improve balanced decision making without over utilizing their limited capacity.  In essence, this approach embodies a core objective of project portfolio management: optimizing the return on limited (governance) resources!

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