• Dynamics Matters Podcast: Ep 66 - The difference between IT and business led projects

Dynamics Matters Podcast: Ep 66 - The difference between IT and business led projects

With special guest Mike Stanbridge, Enterprise Architect at HSO

This episode covers:

✓ IT or business led projects?

✓ Which gives you the best chance of success?

✓ What are the concerns for either method?



Welcome to episode 66 of the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.

Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.

I’m your host Michael Lonnon, and in this episode, I had a lovely natter with HSO Enterprise Architect Mike Stanbridge.

In this episode we chatted about the difference between tech led vs business led IT projects, and which is likely to get you better end results. Also, how to take the best from both disciplines to deliver a project that rocks.

So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Michael Lonnon

So, the thing I want to talk to you about Mike is we were talking about this earlier on, and it’s when it comes to IT projects, I want to know what the difference is between a project that is IT lead and one that is business led, what is the difference between the two?

Mike Stanbridge

It is all about focus and excitement in some ways. It’s an interesting piece and the first example is one from a previous company I worked for, and I won’t use the name, but they named their project, the ACME Corp, and I made it up ACME Corp, business systems replacement. Now, how inspiring is the project name that says it’s a company name, business systems replacement, where it sets a tone, doesn’t it? That’s the sort of point where if it’s an IT thing, I’m replacing a system, I’m going to get what I had before, what difference it’s going to be, it’s going to be a pain in the ass, and I’m going to work through it and get guess what I’m going get the end, it’s a replacement for the same as before. Brilliant, how inspiring? If someone in that business said to you right then, Michael, I want you to lead a project that’s going to replace our existing business system and you’re going to go brilliant versus Michael, what I really want you to do as I really respect your energy and your efforts and that sort of thing. I want you to lead a system and process that helps us transform our business and delivers these benefits. Now that energy is very different, and the input is that first message that says this is what I’m doing. It just sets the tone consistently. So therefore, in terms of leadership, where are we looking? Have we got the energy that’s saying I want to make a difference, I’m going to make a positive impact that comes from businesspeople saying I need this benefit, I need this process, I need this thing I need to change that I need to make this more exciting. I need to offer this to my customers, that’s a real buzz versus IT lead that says you need to mitigate some risk.

Michael Lonnon

So from an IT point of view, it’s almost transactional. Whereas if it’s a business led thing, it becomes visionary?

Mike Stanbridge

Yes, because they’re looking to achieve something is that achievement piece and i’ve been an IT director, as you know, and it’s something that it’s about the energy that comes from it. Typically, IT teams reporting to finance. Typically, the finance team is very focused on cost and cost management and finance directors, absolutely rightly, focusing on cost, cost management and risk management. So that ethos tends to transfer into the IT teams and the IT directors or while they say right must focus on risk, most focus on cost and absolutely they must do in terms of doing it. That sort of affects the mentality and the process and those sorts of bits so you then constrain yourself into this world that says I’ve got to keep the cost down and I’ve got to keep up. If we can get in a world where you look at the more visionary parts of a business. So, the MDS, the sales team, some of the operational teams, I was really inspired, sort of middle managers, those are coming up, and we can leverage them that says, here’s the energy, this is what I want to achieve, and somehow hook in this risk management and cost piece together. That gives us such as firm structure to be able to move forward. Obviously, you can’t run every good idea and every direction, because then you end up with chaos but, somehow, you’ve got to merge the two together with a very strong business architecture to make it business relevant and deliver something positive.

Michael Lonnon

So is it the difference between the type of individual that’s driving a project as well. So the personality of an individual from an IT point of view the quite transactional and the thinking the processes versus a business lead person, I don’t know as the CIO, maybe who’s more business oriented is that kind of a personality thing as well?

Mike Stanbridge

I think personality absolutely comes into it; it has to in terms of how you put in the energy behind it. The message is what’s key, get that message right at the beginning of the project that says, we’re going to achieve this, and we’re going to get it done. One of the companies we’re working with at the moment, one of the major motorsport’s companies, the really nice thing about working with those guys, is that the whole team is intensely focused on one objective: how do I make that car go faster. And that message and all the systems and all the processes are focused on that. The vision isn’t about people that’s just about the ethos of the company, taking that ethos and somehow giving a message of process to get in the systems changes and these business changes, is I think, what makes a difference between a decent project or a boring and hard work project.

Michael Lonnon

How often do businesses set projects up in the right way like that? Where they lead with the business as opposed to with IT? How often do you see that?

Mike Stanbridge

It’s another one of my bits of preparation for this really is one of the disappointing pieces, I think, ultimately, not often. And I think this will change and the reason I say not often is that historically, you’ve got this ERP system that ages and ends up out of life. So, you’ve got this cadence and a business at the moment that says, right, I’ve just installed a system, five years later, it’s going to be unsupported or on a different piece of software and all that. Therefore, I need to change and there is my excuse to do a bit of business reengineering. That’s the excuse as it were. Dynamics 365 and Microsoft are going to break that rule, which is going to get some really interesting processes in it. Because now you’ve got a system that evolves over time, month on month, with all the releases through the year, you’re getting updates. How does a business make fundamental changes and have an excuse to re-engineer and reinvent and that sort of thing. Now they’ve lost that excuse. So, I think historically, there’s been many reasons for just replacing, because of the risk mitigation on all the things we’ve talked about, into the future, because the excuse doesn’t exist. I think it’d be more often that business leaders are saying, I need to reinvent myself, how do I do that?

Michael Lonnon

But who within the business is best to lead that type of approach?

Mike Stanbridge

I think it needs to start with those setting the strategy. If you use the sort of books that come around it and operating models and business strategy, like how else do you achieve something so your business strategy tends to be where to play and how to win, that’s the only thing I’m going to play on this particular pitch, I’m going to win like this. To win in your games, you need to be able to have the right infrastructure in place, that means the team, that means infrastructure, that means that all the technology and processes and that sort of thing was designed. So, I think it starts at the very top and has to cascade down out of that, in that people process technology way and they’re all equal and it’s led from that level.

Michael Lonnon

But it’s not to say, and not that we’re disparaging in any particular way, that IT are essential in changing the systems and taking the business requirements forward. So, business and IT work together.

Mike Stanbridge

IT is the glue, I think, Michael. They’re the glue that holds these different ideas together. They’re the rational bit of thought that says we can’t do that, and it won’t go to there, it’s providing that sort of level of sensibleness and process-based thinking to glue these bits together. You have to have this right balance that says here is the art of the possible and how things work and here is a vision, and it probably should be a bit of tension between those. You don’t want gilded lilies. You would need to make sure it all fits together to get to a common purpose. So, there’s a bit of natural tension.

Michael Lonnon

There’s never going to be complete harmony?

Mike Stanbridge

No and we find that in projects, Michael, as we go into these things, we’re going through the processes and I’m in a luxurious position, and really enjoyable position where you see a project evolving, and you see someone in the business come up with a great idea and you think that will make a difference to the business. We can just tweak the project by doing these sorts of things in this particular way, and it will make that difference. Then I go to the project manager and say I need another 50% worth the budget, please. At which point the tension goes dramatic because the scope of the PMI is I have to deliver something, but this budget and this timeline, how am I going to do that, but this is a really good idea and then natural tension develops when we get into steering, we take the process and we either adopt it or don’t. But that’s a good thing. That’s how we get the right result for the business. That’s how we make sure the benefits for software and process are delivered in a pragmatic way. We might choose to take the good idea and put Go Live back that’s not a wrong decision. We might choose to get the Go Live done and then put this in later equally just as valid a decision, but the tension debate frankly, that’s where the fun stuff happens.

Michael Lonnon

So for organisations starting any particular project, from your perspective, where have they started most successfully or where has the start led to the successful projects that you’ve seen, how have they started?

Mike Stanbridge

I think it’s the inspirational piece. So, when someone says I want to do something different, that’s the piece, I want to achieve X and they start with that and so it tends to be out to an MD or a sales director that says, I’ve got this opportunity, I’ve got this customer, I’ve got this strategy, I’ve got this market, I’ve got all these things that I want to get into. How am I going to do that? What makes a difference? How do I realise the value in it? Or how do I offer something new to the customer? Again, looking at how you can talk to the customer and integrate systems with the customer to provide a better service. So that comes out of sales, or at least conversations with the sales team and IT. They say, how do I get information as to what the customer has got? So, I can give my stock to them before they want it. That’s a service that triggers a level of thought and level of process and level of design that says here’s a project that is focused on delivering something new.


Mike suggests that it’s not IT vs business. That successful projects combine the skills of each.

The ability of business to articulate a challenge in a value-oriented way – from replacing a system to reducing cost of product, or go faster, or increase efficiency, and so on. Language the CFO, CIO and anyone else can understand.

And the ability of IT to take a clearly articulated problem and find the best – most rational – solution within the constraints they operate.

Bringing these disciplines together becomes increasingly important the more complex and transformational the project. Without business articulation, a large project may give you a shiny new solution that delivers little value. And without rational IT guidance, a large project can quickly go off the time, budget, and capability rails.

A mix gives your project the best outlook.

Thanks for listening, until next time, take care of yourselves.

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