Negotiating End-User Roles in I.T. Projects

Updated:  October 25, 2013

Successful IT projects depend on successful partnerships between the IT organization and its end-user community.  Unfortunately, the IT/end-user relationship is not always what it should be (or could be).  In fact, at times, the relationship can even turn adversarial.  This does not bode well when projects are at stake.

What is the most common source of all this frustration? 

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, with shared interest and ownership, is to clearly define project specific roles and responsibilities.  And, when it comes to fast tracked IT projects, this specification (as expressed in the responsibility framework) is considered a “must-have” process deliverable.

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.

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”? (see Organizing for Team Success)

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). (Note: that does not mean that these requirements are not subject to negotiation as part of the fast track planning process).

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.

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). 

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