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Who’s responsible here?  Why you need an SRO on your next project

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It should be no surprise, given where I work, but I’ve always loved the old adage, “In God we trust; all others bring data.”

As much as a CEO or CIO would love to take your word for it that the new system or software installation does everything it’s supposed to – that it meets all the goals it was designed to meet – you’re going to need some proof.

Too many businesses stand up projects in the same predictable sequence: The company pulls their people together, they create a plan, they put the thing in, everybody sings Kumbaya, and away they go. So, what’s the problem? Nobody knows whether it delivered or not.

While most people assume some type of review should be part of the program management office, the truth is it often gets overlooked—and as a result, you might have just spent millions on a project that doesn’t come close to meeting the business goals you’ve established.

SRO brings a new approach to large projects

Large enterprise IT projects are complex and unruly, so one new role is gaining in popularity—a senior person accountable for the project as a whole. Known as a senior responsible owner (or sometimes a services realization officer), this new “SRO” is focused on a singular task: ensuring what’s delivered maps back to the business case.

While the term is still fairly new in the U.S., it was first mentioned in a 2000 report in the U.K. called “Successful IT: Modernising Government in Action” (also sometimes called the McCartney Report). Milvio DiBartolomeo with the London-based firm Axelos provides more insight on the role:

“The SRO should be prepared to make judgement where required and should be proactive in providing strong leadership and direction throughout the life of the project or programme. They should be responsible for ensuring the organization can fully exploit the outcome of the business change so that the financial and quantifiable benefits are delivered as a result of that outcome.”

Look at it this way: When you put a project management office in place, that PMO will say, “OK, we need to deliver this piece of software in this timeframe, at this cost, and at this level of quality.” And most of the time, that’s where it stops. If those three milestones are hit, the project must be successful. In reality, however, the project might be an absolute failure. Why? Because as the PMO went through the process, it didn’t pay attention to how the project would hit the key metrics.

The SRO really needs to keep eyes on everything throughout the lifetime of the project, or at least until those key metrics are met. And keep in mind that these metrics need to be established before the project kicks off, and they should also tie back to the business case or the problem for which you’re trying to solve.

What to look for in an SRO

Don’t confuse the SRO role with quality assurance, however. The primary function of QA is to ensure the project works once you stand it up. But just simply “working” doesn’t necessarily mean the new solution is solving the core issue.

Instead, I would argue the SRO is closer to an auditor in many ways. When a team starts to build out requirements, they’re also looking at functionality and capabilities. And that’s often when trade-offs are made. The problem is the people doing those trade-offs may not have an appreciation for what the implication will be, or how those trade-offs will impact the overall delivery of the functionality that’s going to allow me to hit those critical key metrics.

This is why the SRO role – and choosing the right person for the job – is so important as you embark on a new program or project. Not only should this person have the ability to nurture strong relationships both inside and outside the organization with key stakeholders, but he or she should also have the authority to provide the needed oversight.

DiBartolomeo elaborates:

“This is someone who not only scrutinizes progress report information but also holds the programme/project manager to account. The SRO role exists not only to receive information but to enable checks and balances to occur by being proactive and to probe evidence by asking questions …  SROs need to continually understand why resources (people, funds, assets, materials and services) are being invested and what the desired outcomes are.”

Whether that person is someone you already have in-house or you need to find a reliable external partner, make sure you have an SRO overseeing your next project. Because once you have that all-valuable data, you can more confidently trust the team when they tell you it was a success.

Mike Gowan is the vice president of the commercial market at Veracity Consulting, a tech consulting team of problem-solvers and truth-tellers who deliver customized IT solutions for commercial and government clients across the U.S. Share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter @engageveracity.