Defining the Context: There is only one driver!

Only one

Possibly the single most important thing if you want to have a successful engagement of an IT vendor is to define and agree the objectives and context of their work.


One of the most successful projects I managed as an SI Engagement Manager was led by a customer manager who had distilled the many business requirements and constraints of a context business transaction into a single and clear driver for the IT work stream. When the business context changed and we needed to assess our progress and make corrections, we had a clear and shared understanding of what was required for success. We knew what our constraints were and we also knew which expectations we didn’t need to worry about.

We have all heard of the iron triangle for project management – cost, schedule/time and quality or scope. It wasn’t until recently when I read Manage IT!* that I understood what this customer manager had done. In the first chapter of this book, Johanna Rothman sets out why defining the context of a project is so important and how to do this by going from identified customer expectations and constraints to a list containing; one driver, one or two constraints and a number of floats or optional objectives.

From all the business’ expectations there can only be a single driver for a project to be successful because once there is more than one no one knows or can agree on the criteria for success. Two objectives may not be able to be met at the same time or within the budget. Which is more important?

Once the driver has been agreed then the constraints need to be arranged in a hierarchy. Typically constraints fall under one of the following: timescale, cost and resources. Ideally, only one constraint but at most two, should be agreed. The remaining business or customer expectations are floats. These we can choose to satisfy or not.

*Manage IT !– Johanna Rothman, The Pragmatic Book Shelf, 2007, USA .


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