Building a technology steering committee

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Committees. Do you cringe at the name or embrace it? Information Technology departments use a steering committee to make decisions and prioritize work. Unfortunately, some business department leaders often roll their eyes or look for ways to request work without going through the committee. Who can blame them? Committees are difficult to operate without creating unnecessary delays for projects that need to be done. Yet part of the purpose of a committee is to act as a stage-gate and advisory board so that only the most important work is processed. Finding the right balance can be difficult and tricky.11080482376_602d236a44_z

I strongly believe there is no magic formula for steering committee design and operation. That’s because I consider the primary influencers of optimal committee design to be variable: culture, size, and purpose of the organization. My approach has been to keep a discipline to try, measure, and adjust. In this approach, I have a found a few elements of committee design that I consider to be the core of what makes the operations of the committee relevant and meaningful to the organization.

1. Name the committee with a purpose.

I don’t like the name Information Technology Steering Committee because it implies the committee is mainly comprised of and controlled by IT management. I chose the name Business Technology Steering Committee with the intention of showing that the IT group is neither the primary controller nor primary membership of the committee body.

2. Encourage and promote departmental representation.

For the committee to function as a complete governing body for the technology-spend of the company it should be represented by members from each department. IT is a cost center on the books and thus the decisions that are made on how to spend the IT allocation should be visible to everyone. Some may see this as the political recommendation in my tips-list as it involves building the membership of the group. I like to think of it more as the opportunity to build relationships with the various department heads. This has been a sore spot for traditional IT groups, but it can change if IT leadership sells the vision of the Business Technology Steering Committee and builds a committee that is well represented.

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3. Don’t over complicate the committee with process and procedures.

The top reason that business leaders don’t like to participate in committees is that they see the committee as overly bureaucratic: Too many forms, too much red tape and too much delay. Yet committee organizers need some level of process to govern the inputs, outputs, and conversation within the group. The trick is to find the right balance. When committee members see this they will in turn act as ambassadors for the committee and the process and it will make it much easier to gain compliance from the rest of the organization

4. Find a way to settle priority discussions.

I consider this to be hardest part of setting up the committee and I don’t know that I’ve found the best answer for my group yet. The conflict arises when multiple requests are approved but require the same set of employees to accomplish. Each business presenter favors their own request and many committee members want to do it all without having to prioritize. Other factors are that timing and execution could make or break the entire business case of what is presented. It’s important to stick to the facts and keep emotion out of prioritization discussions. Use business logic such as ROI, compliance, and regulatory matters as guides.

I’d like to know what has and has not worked for you. Committee design and operation is not easy. Can I say it’s like herding cats or is that too cliché? Let me know your thoughts.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit:  Reynermedia

#BeThankful

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Another year to return thanks.

My favorite holiday of the year is Thanksgiving because it’s not as commercialized as Christmas, Easter, or even the Fourth of July. Thanksgiving today has a rich history with influence from the Pilgrims, the colonial period, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. Through the years it has maintained focus on our blessings, a providential faith, food, and family.

Thanksgiving is a personal holiday.

But Thanksgiving goes deeper than just a holiday in November. It’s deeply personal. Thanksgiving is a holiday that means something different to each person. BeThankfulWe all have our own ‘thankful list’ comprised of people, places, and things that have made an impact on our lives. Our thanksgiving list is something that is etched on our heart and soul. It has the power to make us smile and weep. It is powerful.

My thankful pickings in 2015.

So here’s my list for 2015. It’s comforting to know that the list grows each year as it represents more-and-more blessings along the path of life. I hope you’ll give thanks this Thanksgiving season.

1.Co-workers that go the extra mile.

 

It’s great to be on teams at work when you see others that take their job beyond the reaches of their job description. These are the teammates that stretch the boundaries of their responsibility to create solutions. I call them “All in” employees. They take time to understand the flow of work through multiple departments and the value-add at each step. They speak-up in meetings to advocate the customer experience. They understand that everyone at a company is on the same team and don’t put-down the efforts of others.

 

 

2. A church that is focused on the local community.

 

I love that my church emphasizes and focuses on services and events to my local community throughout the year.  There is a saying at my church that for far too long the church has been known for what it is against rather than what it is for. We are ‘for’ our community to help lift others up and provide a helping hand. One highlight of the year is the annual giving campaign in which we give to local charities that are already making an impact in the community with services such as shelters, food banks, and education. The organizations are not affiliated with my church but they are part of the fabric of my community.

 

 

3. My grandparents who passed-away in December last year.

 

After 72 years of marriage, my grandparents passed on the same day last year. They influenced so many aspects of my life. They shared their faith with me which I chose to keep as my faith. They taught me to fish, to share, and to pray. In his final months of life, my grandfather shared a great teaching with me about worrying.  He said, “You see, I don’t worry about things. That thing worries about itself.“  His point was clear. Don’t worry about stuff in life because that can’t help make it better. He lived a simple life and didn’t over complicate it with unnecessary worries. He was true to his advice.

So I give thanks. It’s more than a list of blessings. It’s deeply personal and it’s part of my faith.  It’s my reminder that I need to return the blessings back to those in my circles of life. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

 

Onward and upward!

 

The greenest grass.

Finding valuable takeaways through everyday work experiences is something I started thinking about a few years ago. I attribute this behavior to my writing hobby. Since I try to blog on a regular cadence, I examine events during the work week as potential subject matter for writing.

How would you answer this?

Do you think about opportunities for strengthening individual relationships or for improving business workflows through the course of everyday experiences and interactions with others?

Admittedly this isn’t easy and not really natural. During a typical day I’m very task focused. How do I solve the problem in front of me? How do I complete a service request? How do I follow a process? How do I get as much done as possible? How can I complete more tasks?

I find that it’s easier to think about deeper meanings and opportunities after the day is over or when I carve out time for reflection. I don’t do it nearly enough. But the value in the exercise is that it helps me enjoy my job more and appreciate the efforts of my coworkers.

This week I saw a quote, “you may think the grass is greener on the other side. But if you take the time to water your own grass it would be just as green.” Maybe that’s not always true. But the intent of the words is clear and it agrees with the mindset of looking for opportunity and positive meanings in our current situations.

To help put some practical examples to my ideas this week I thought of a few common tasks in Information Technology that could have much deeper meaning or opportunity:

Common experience: Fixing a printer that won’t print.

Immediate need: Enable a co-worker to print invoices so that the company can pay suppliers.

Opportunity: A chance to discuss with the co-worker alternatives to printing by using an electronic method.

——

Common experience: Rerunning a report that didn’t generate.

Immediate need: Showing daily order totals for a product category.

Opportunity: A chance to deliver the reporting data real-time or improve the scheduled process flow that generates reports to make it more reliable.

——

Common experience: Setup computer and email for new employee.

Immediate need: Putting a fresh image on a computer so that it can be placed in service.

Opportunity: A chance to be one of the first smiling faces the new employee sees when you deliver the equipment and show them where things are located.

——

Common experience: A web form is susceptible to a hacker attack and reported on a penetration scan.

Immediate need: Fix the problem so the scanner passes the test.

Opportunity: A chance to see how hackers are breaking and entering. Play the role of cyber-cop by resolving the issue but learn from the experience and program to tougher standards with the next software release.

What’s great about this is that searching for the deeper meaning and opportunity in our everyday experiences can happen with any job at any level. It’s like watering the grass on your side of the fence. Do that and you might just find that the grass is greener in your current yard.

Onward and upward!