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4 July 2006

Tactical governance

By Andrew Clifford

We think of governance as a long-term strategic initiative. But governance of IT systems also delivers short-term tactical benefits.

System governance is a method for the long-term management of IT systems. The main aims of system governance are to reduce support issues, avoid difficult "legacy" systems, and prolong the useful life of systems.

At Metrici, we have been presenting our ideas on system governance for a few months. Much of the feedback we get is, "Nice idea, but not our priority right now." People are more concerned with the immediate problems of project delivery.

This is a challenge to us. We clearly see that well governed systems would help project delivery. But we have not been clear about how these benefits can be achieved in the short term, not just the long term.

To tackle this, we have been looking at maturity modelling.

Many in IT are familiar with the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and its derivatives. This measures how much an organisation uses defined processes to manage its systems development activity.

Maturity modelling is a more general technique. The general idea is:

  • Different organisations tend to adopt the different parts of a method in a similar order.
  • Mapping where on that order an organisation lies gives an indication of its maturity in the method.
  • The maturity level shows what the most appropriate next steps are, and what the benefits are likely to be.

We drew up a maturity model for system governance. We came out with six levels:

  1. Non-existent. Organisation carries out no system reviews.
  2. Ad hoc. Organisation carries out occasional, non-standardised reviews.
  3. Standardised. Organisation carries out occasional, standardised reviews.
  4. Committed. Organisation reviews all project and existing systems.
  5. Consolidated. Reviews are co-ordinated across IT organisation.
  6. Strategic. System governance is used to set, communicate and enforce business-lead IT policy.

A more complete write up is available in the paper System governance maturity model.

Drawing up the maturity model helped us understand system governance. So much so that I would recommend maturity modelling to anyone trying to understand or promote a new technique.

The system governance maturity model shows:

  • For organisations that carry out few, if any, system reviews, system governance reduces risk in projects and delivers higher quality systems. System governance is an effective, fast, and cheap project review method.
  • In the medium term, system governance starts to become the basis for the long-term proactive management of IT systems.
  • In the longer term, system governance can be used to define, communicate and enforce business-lead IT policy.

Most organisations do not see the long-term management of IT as a priority. To them, we can more clearly present system governance as a good way of meeting their immediate needs for short-term project risk and cost reduction.

Stressing the tactical benefits does not weaken the strategic view. The maturity model shows how they are connected. Businesses have to see the benefits of tactical use before they can take on more strategic use.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will explore these short-term uses of system governance more. Next week, I will look at how system reviews deliver value into the IT project management process.

Next: Project system reviews

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