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Building Active Partnerships: End-User Roles in IT Projects

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Successful IT projects depend on active, ongoing partnerships between the IT department and its end-user community. Unfortunately, the IT/end-user relationship is not always what it should be (or could be).  And when that "partnership" is lacking, it's makes it even harder to achieve desired project results.  Read on to learn how to lift that burden and create active partnerships to promote project success.

Hey -- We're in this Project Together.....

To realize project value and deliver the best results, the IT organization and the end-user community must share a common goal, and must work together as partners to reach that goal.  That requires a positive relationship, characterized by collaboration, communication, information sharing and realistic expectations.  But what happens when the IT/end-user relationship is not what it needs to be - and is in fact, at times, even adversarial? This does not bode well when projects are at stake.

The key to coping with a negative IT/end-user relationship is to determine and address the underlying "cause".  Just what is the source of all the frustration? At the end of the day, it may all come down to internal politics, pride of ownership and a fear of losing control.

  • Too often, team “IT” may believe that end-users should not have control over technology projects (or even active involvement) because they do not fully understand (or appreciate) the technology, don’t have a handle on their own requirements, and change their minds too often.
  • On the other hand, team “end-user” may believe that IT is too rigid, not willing to appreciate end-user concerns, and not fully informed as to key business needs. These beliefs can be firmly held, with neither side being “right” or “wrong”, (and it wouldn’t matter if they were).

Both sides have a stake in how the game is played (whether they like it or not), and the best way to achieve success is to get on the same team. The first step towards building a successful partnership (part of a strategic IT vision), with shared interest and ownership, is to clearly define project-specific roles and responsibilities.

To begin, you first have to consider the primary role each party plays in the project equation.  As a start, the IT organization and the end-users are all project stakeholders, having a vested interest in the project and the ability to influence the outcome.  That makes each party uniquely indispensible and potentially dangerous.

  • The IT Organization is likely the project "performing organization" responsible for planning and executing the subject project.  Depending upon organizational characteristics, the performing organization will have varying levels of authority over the size and scope of a given project, or may merely provide the resources required to get the project done.
  • The end-users can play multiple roles for any given project, as the project customer, sponsor (with authority to negotiate, authorize and/or fund) and as performing members (to participate in planning and execution).  The roles played will determine the scope and specifics of the "relationship" to be built and cultivated.

At the end of the day, the most effective and practical means to address and avoid these types of "relationship problems" is to ensure that roles and responsibilities are clearly defined going in, minimizing fears and reducing the possibility of unrealistic expectations.

Action Item:  Perform a stakeholder analysis to establish clearly defined roles and responsibilities early -- as part of the project definition process.

Set the Terms: Scope, Ownership, Input and Authority

Depending on the project and related organizational needs, end-users roles can run the gamut from customer, to sponsor, to active participant, to liaison and even project executive. The possibilities depend on how your IT organization is structured, use of technology, and IT/end-user relationship. While related project roles will vary in specifics, there is one constant - assigned roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined and openly approved. To get everyone on the same page, these elements are most efficiently expressed and allocated according to four (4) key variables - scope, ownership, input and authority.

  1. Scope: The extent to which end-users will be actively engaged in a given project, considering assigned roles and responsibilities for project management, execution, oversight and related decision making authority. For example, will the project manager come from the business or IT side, or will IT execute the project with the limited assistance of an “end-user liaison”?
  2. Ownership: The extent to which end-users will be in control of business and operational requirements, and resulting deliverables. In most cases, end-users will have full ownership of these requirements (i.e. responsible to specify and ensure compliance with).
  3. Input: The extent to which end-users will provide feedback and be empowered to negotiate technical “features and functionality”, including the application of technology related standards and governance policies. Whenever possible, input should be provided to ensure that the technical side is properly aligned with the business side.
  4. Authority: The extent to which end-users will have decision making authority over project and process related matters, including plans, strategies, schedules, funding, deliverables, and requested changes to project scope. To ensure a cooperative and collaborate environment, decision making authority must be clearly defined and allocated appropriately (too many cooks spoil the broth).

Take the Time to Negotiate Positive Results

In practice, these four (4) variables of scope, ownership, input and authority must be incorporated into all tangible project planning actions and decisions, starting from the time a project need is first recognized and the project solution is proposed.

How will we all work together to achieve the goal at hand? 

That is the key question to be addressed. In that light, end-user roles and responsibilities should be incorporated into expected resource requirements and stakeholder obligations as stated in the project “business case”. These requirements will then become factors to evaluate project viability and related risk. If sufficient end-user participation and engagement is not likely, compensating actions must be considered. At the end of the day, end-users are essential to IT project success and organizational planning must reflect that reality. 

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