Friday, February 8, 2008

Taking Ownership

In any organization there are jobs that need to get done. These jobs are usually defined by the table of organization. The sales department handles prospecting, customer service deals with irate customers and so on. However, there are the inevitable situations where jobs are orphaned. These tasks must be handled by someone somewhere but they become a corporate hot potato. And in not time flat, these jobs become the source of frustration and fighting between departments as everyone battles desperately to ensure that they do not get blamed for dropping the ball.

I see this most often during the deployment of new technology systems. No one wants the aggravation or the extra work involved in taking ownership of a new project. Usually this happens because senior management makes a decision to implement something new without assigning responsibility for oversight. So, there I am looking for someone that can answer questions or make decisions that could affect the entire corporation. How am I supposed to know if you prefer FIFO or LIFO?

This is why it is important for companies to always assign someone that is responsible for a project. Incidentally, they must also have the corresponding authority to make decisions for the company! There is nothing that will guarantee frustration and failure faster than forcing someone to shoulder a responsibility without also granting them the authority to see it through. Responsibility without power just slows everyone down because every time a decision must be made, the responsible party runs to find someone else to make the choice.

This is why many IT projects fail. Just like the famous quote says, "victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan." It seems that many projects are doomed to failure from the beginning because everyone in a position to make a difference is too busy running from potential failure. When stated in those terms it seems ridiculous, but I have seen it in more situations than I care to remember. I have seen Vice Presidents that rule their departments like feudal lords run for cover when a new project is announced. They hedge and try to work every angle to push the project onto someone else. They claim they are too busy, too poorly funded or too under-staffed. Strangely, these are usually the same executives that will make my life complicated with ridiculous requests and demands. These executives are not taking ownership of the project and are part of the problem.

But what do I mean when I say someone has to take ownership of the project? Always remember that power can not be given or transferred. Power must be seized. If the person given the responsibility and authority never takes ownership of the project, they will never be anything more than a caretaker. They will be afraid to make decisions and will run to their supervisor for answers in a perpetual CYA game. Unless someone takes ownership of the project, the likelihood of success declines drastically.

R-Squared Computing - Business Technology Experts