CIOs recommend ditching project management

Is project management on its way out?
Is project management on its way out?

The concept of having an IT project with a start and end date is becoming obsolete in the era of digital transformation. This means that project management, as we currently know it, could be heading for obsolescence as it is replaced, increasingly, by product management.

That's the consensus of 16 technology executives from a wide range of organisations including Adobe, AT&T, Toyota and Walmart, who participated Harvard Business Review Analytic Services research aimed at identifying the most salient issues and pressing problems CIOs face today.

The report based on these findings, "Transformation Masters - the New Rules of CIO Leadership" reveals that top CIOs and digital officers, the "transformation masters" are rewriting the rules of CIO leadership.

Two key drivers

In all, the report identified two key drivers that underpin the emergence of seven key new rules: speed and collaboration. The move to digital demands that everything must move faster - time to insight, time to market, time to develop products, and time to develop those products. It also requires far more collaboration across former organisational boundaries, within IT, across the enterprise, and with strategic partners.

Of the seven new rules identified, rule number two in the list (the first is to take customer-centricity to the next level) states that rather than merely manage projects which have a defined start and end date, CIOs must enable the management of products (and their value streams) by a single team throughout their life span. This team would consist of a product owner or manager, and a team to support it.

Clay Johnson, CIO at Walmart explained that in the "old" project management model, there would generally be three different teams, for requirements, development and support, that would potentially "own" one application. So who would ultimately be responsible for making decisions about it? Probably none of them.

"Once an IT organisation shifts to a product model, with the whole team involved in every aspect of the product, you end up with a quicker development cycle and a better product at the end," he said.

Extending beyond IT

In addition, the product model will often extend beyond IT to include teams of people from the organisation's lines of business. According to Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and CIO at Adobe Systems, focusing on capabilities and using product road maps to discuss product development had removed the mystery about what IT was delivering to the business, and enabled the business to plan around it.

However some CIOs are going even further. They find the product focus too limiting and instead are drawing on the lean manufacturing approach and organising around value streams, with value identified from the end customer's perspective (in line with rule one)..

"A value stream is an aspect of scaled agile where you have a portfolio of funding and a mission of what it is that the team is going to develop," said Pam Parisian, president, technology development at AT&T where there is dedicated, full-time, cross-functional membership and co-location of IT people in the business for different value streams.

"Having dedicated people who don't just show up at a meeting once a week to check on status, but who live and breathe this mission, that's helping us get a lot of speed," she added.

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