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Software & Web Development

Leonardo Mattiazzi (Brazil) - Distinguishing "What's Crucial" vs. "What's Important" in IT Projects with Val-IT

When undertaking an Agile development project, the use of Lean thinking as a complement to the Agile methodology can be highly beneficial in increasing the value the project delivers to the business, as well as in reducing waste in the overall value stream. This requires taking a good, hard look at how the features and requirements will impact the business, and delivering only those features that impact the realization of that value. But often, this is not quite as easy as it seems.

What needs to be determined, in identifying how value will be achieved, is what's crucial to the project vs. what's merely important. This is something that can be difficult to quantify and implement, but it can often make or break a deal or separate a "killer" application from a "killed" application. And the good news is that it's a distinction IT can help the business stakeholders to make. If the business goals are discussed and made clear at the outset, then value can be defined (the first principle of Lean), measured and governed, with the help of frameworks such as Val IT.

Val IT complements COBIT with a business perspective. While COBIT is concerned with the question of "are we doing things right?", Val IT is concerned with the question of "are we doing the right things?" Where COBIT asks "are we doing things well?", Val IT asks "are we getting the expected benefits?" In other words, where COBIT is concerned about the means, Val IT is concerned with the ends.

Val IT takes a portfolio approach, and is concerned with a portfolio of IT-enabled investments. It covers business alignment, costs and benefits (financial and non-financial) and risks. It helps select programs that consist of IT-enabled projects, but go beyond just the IT side of things. And, after the selection of the programs with the higher returns, it closes the cycle by verifying whether or not the benefits, i.e., the value, are being realized as expected. If not, it provides a framework to fix the route or interrupt the program. So it comes as a fundamental tool in Lean IT, relating to the first principle - the definition of value - from which almost everything else will be derived.

The use of Val IT goes well beyond application development. It is applicable to any kind of IT-enabled investment - infrastructure, acquisition of software packages, platform migration - and of course, application development. It helps to define what to do, and to govern projects well beyond the "delivered on time, on budget, with expected quality" paradigm. It's a tool that essentially intertwines business and IT into a single strategy, and focuses purely on value generation.

The Val IT framework is comprised of three domains: Value governance, Portfolio management, and Investment management. Value governance sets the basis for the whole governance framework, and its objective is to embed value management practices in the enterprise. Portfolio management processes help enterprises to select investments and monitor the portfolio performance. These two domains are indeed very high-level and would be a stretch for application development teams to grasp. But the third domain, Investment management, is the one that deals with individual investments (not individual projects, but a collection of projects that make part of a program, which is the minimum necessary and sufficient to achieve a desired business outcome), and is where I believe the links with application development exist.

Clearly, vendors that adopt this approach can differentiate themselves from commodity-like providers. In the enterprise, of course it requires a cultural change, and IT actually has the chance to take the lead on it, with the confidence that the business benefits will ensure that the C-level will be supportive of the results.

The relationship between Lean thinking, Agile methodologies and Val IT is complex, but it is achievable. What's most important is how companies apply these disciplines in such a way that the combination best supports both business goals and IT objectives.

 

Leonardo Mattiazzi is Vice President of International Business for Ci&T, a global IT services company headquartered in King of Prussia, Penn., and Campinas, Brazil.

 

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