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3 ways to stop departmental silos from crippling project execution

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Departmental silos are viewed as problematic for organizations of all sizes. Silos occur when departments within the same company are resistant to sharing information and working together. 

The lack of shared information ultimately leads to inefficiencies, reduced productivity, and lowering of morale. In today’s customer-centric, omni-channel environment, departmental silos continue to impede companies’ ability to execute complex, enterprise scale projects.

The root cause of a silo mindset is a top-down issue, arising from a conflicted senior leadership team. What are the best-practices that lower-level executives and managers can follow to ensure the silo mindset doesn’t negatively impact their projects? 

Tear down the walls: End departmental silos and watch customer satisfaction soar

Let’s focus on a few fundamental best practices that – in my experience – will deliver the biggest bang for your buck, while not requiring you to move mountains to end departmental silos.

If these fundamental best practices are not followed, projects can be over budget, delayed, and ultimately not deliver what was needed. 

1.) You need executive alignment between the business and IT to be successful

A successful project requires all stakeholders to be aligned – most importantly the departmental executive sponsors responsible for the project.

In a typical organization, business’ role is to identify needed capabilities, and IT’s role is to provide the technology to deliver these capabilities. The initial impediment to alignment is typically who owns the budget, and their subsequent driving of the project as they see fit. 

Regardless of who owns the budget, it’s critical that executive sponsors from IT and the business are aligned on what capabilities the project will deliver, when will they be delivered, and what resources will be required from their respective departments.   

To ensure this alignment, executive sponsors need to engage in recurring steering committee meetings to stay updated and aligned. There needs to be some form of documentation, capturing baseline requirements, and technical approach, as well as a project plan clearly specifying roles and responsibilities for the various team members. 

This baseline documentation should be updated regularly as ongoing dialog, decisions, and priorities shift the agreed-upon plan. While this might sound quite basic, it’s not that unusual for department executive stakeholders not to be aligned. I’ve seen numerous projects where the executive stakeholders from each department have not met or communicated until the initial kickoff meeting, and then disappear until the end of the project. 

2.) IT and the business must leverage a common project management methodology

Typically, IT will own and drive project management and software development methodologies. Even more mature companies with a Project Management Office (PMO) will co-locate the PMO within the IT department. 

While most organizations do have some form of methodology to drive complex, enterprise-scale projects, the methodology hasn’t been fully adopted by the business. This leads to misaligned expectations on what will be delivered, when, and how much it will cost. 

I suspect methodology adoption by the business lags IT for multiple reasons, including many related to a silo mindset. IT owns the methodology, and hasn’t trained the business on how to leverage it on cross-departmental projects. Or the business departments are highly focused on day to day activities, leaving them little time to focus on major project execution and the associated methodology-based deliverables. 

The first thing to fall prey to looming deadlines is comprehensive execution of a methodology, including thorough documentation of requirements and design. A project team can address these issues at a micro-level without having to wait for the rest of the organization to catch up. 

Prior to project kickoff, executive sponsors from each department should review and prioritize key deliverables for each phase of the project, and share them will all team members during the project kickoff meeting. 

Your methodology must include a process to document and build consensus on what capabilities will be delivered via the project, including comprehensive functional and non-functional requirements. Recurring status meetings should capture status on key deliverables, as well as any major issues. 

In terms of day-to-day execution, don’t just designate a single project manager, but also assign a point person from each department to help drive that department’s respective activities and ensure the agreed-upon methodology is being executed. 

Lastly, if you’re working with consultants, don’t hesitate to adopt components of their methodology that make sense.  Consultancies will have robust, time-tested methodologies refined over numerous similar projects to the one you’re now executing. Don’t be afraid to integrate the best components of these into your own as part of a hybrid methodology. 

3.) Allow your consulting team equal access to both the business and IT

Too often I’ve run into a silo mindset where the department funding the project (and paying the consultants) will limit consultants interaction with other departments to the detriment of project success. While I understand the need to have clear lines of communication and direction, it will not come by blocking your consultants from working with your counterparts in other departments. 

Consultancies are adept at working across departments, and are situationally aware of cross-departmental politics and rivalries. This positions them to be most effective working with and across all departments, driving project success.  Leverage solid process and well-defined roles/responsibilities to maintain clear lines of communication rather than constraining your consulting team’s interactions with other departments. 

As you engage in your next large project implementation, ask yourself what impact a silo mindset is having on your ability to successfully execute. While you won’t be in position to address the root cause of a silo mindset, you can look for discrete opportunities to lower organizational barriers, including the best practices I’ve laid out in this article. 

Talk to your team and get a clear understanding of how a silo mindset impacts your projects, and how you can address them. And consider leveraging an experienced consultancy who has witnessed and addressed these organizational challenges on a recurring basis. 

Good luck, and don’t let the silo mindset impede the success of your next project!

Dave Greene
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June 25, 2018
Dave Greene

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