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David Wright
David Wright

Who owns a Project? and, who is IT’s Customer?

Who owns a project?

  “You pay for it, it’s yours.”

I am sure I am quoting (or misquoting) someone here, but you get the idea. For an IT project of any size or worth, someone senior enough to be an effective sponsor is usually desired, along with the budget to ‘pay’ for it. I put ‘pay’ in quotes because all the dollars spent on a project aren’t coming personally from a Sponsor; they are the guardian of the funds allocated to them in a budgeting process. I make this distinction because some companies operate by having IT treat other areas as customers, which I think is a mistake. The only real customers are those who pay for your company’s goods or services; they in fact are paying for your projects, along with investors and other sources of funds, Inside the organization boundary, the customer/supplier is not a good model. It can lead to uncontrolled competition for resources and business people going outside for IT services if they decide they don’t like IT anymore.

The real model for project and business success is the team, and good companies know that. From the sponsor down to the junior ranks, all must work together to deliver the results. Sure, there are hierarchies, chains of command (and performance reviews!), but they exist to organize and support the team.

The worse case I have seen of the Customer model was the use of internal budgets like real money. In one of my previous jobs, one business unit had built a good system, and so a similar unit was interested in re-using it. The original business unit wanted a budget payment before releasing the system (I call this funny money), to offset the development cost and improve the units internal bottom-line, with direct impact on management bonuses. The second unit balked at the ‘cost’ and so went out and bought a package that ‘cost less’, spending real money when re-use at no real cost was possible. I still shake my head when I think of this.

I have also finally been boning up on ITIL, courtesy of some great posts by Terry Longo. What scared me right away was its focus on Services as the basis for management of IT assets and other resources. It made me think that someone had taken the very good idea of software services (SOA) and applied it to all of IT. What scared me worse is I saw the appeal of doing it this way, and will be reading more to see if it really bows down to the internal customer model.

I would say at this point that a Services approach can work if the users of IT services (don’t call them Customers!) and IT itself agree on a few things.

… a Services model is used to effectively manage IT for the whole organization. It does not define an internal marketplace for IT services.

…users can’t outbid other users for services; allocating scarce resources has to be based on overall organization strategies and plans, not the size of department budgets

…IT manages external resources as well internal; no outside shopping by users

…and don’t call the users Customers!!!

This entry was published on Mar 12, 2009 / David Wright. Posted in Project Management, Leadership & Management. Bookmark the Permalink or E-mail it to a friend.
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