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5 common mistakes in IT project intake processes—and how to correct them

September 27, 2019

Chaotic, inconvenient, and inaccurate: words all used by IT Forum partners to describe their institution’s approach to technology project intake.

For most universities and colleges, it’s because IT project requests have multiplied over recent years and their traditional, ad hoc approaches to intake have become overwhelmed. Without fair and standardized project intake processes, CIOs are finding that stakeholders can game the system through back-door submissions or vocal support of individual pet projects that might not support the institution’s strategic direction.

To ensure wise campus technology investments, IT leaders should look first at their intake processes and attempt to level the submission playing field. Here are five questions to ask about your project intake processes to uncover and correct common failures that compromise effective IT project evaluation.

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This resource is part of the Prioritize the IT Projects that Best Serve Your Institution Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

1. Can applicants complete a project submission form in under an hour?

Lengthy and complex project application requirements can tempt users to circumvent the formal submission process with direct appeals to developers or institutional leaders. They also encourage procrastination and last-minute submissions. Make it easy for applicants to get the process moving so that IT gets consistent and early warning about project demand.  

2. Is there a single point of submission for all forms of application, regardless of medium?

Multiple, uncoordinated project submission points are another obstacle to coherent project portfolio management. Make sure that all project submissions flow through a central hub so that you can capture a complete view of demand. If all requests converge at the same point, you can ease the burden on applicants by providing diverse submission options, including email, web forms, or even a telephone call to a qualified staff person.

IT Forum partners tell us that one of the challenges to converged intake is IT staffers’ willingness to accept projects informally, so get the word out to developers that they too must direct requests to the central hub!

3. Do you fast-track initial reviews to remove projects that don’t merit further development?

The tradeoff to simplifying project applications is that most requests will require further development in the form of business cases, cost and risk estimates, and other assessments. Requests that are far out of line with resource constraints or strategic priorities don’t merit this additional attention and should be eliminated early with a “reality check” at the point of submission, or even a quick pre-review by IT governance. This form of triage allows project development and prioritization resources to be reserved for the highest quality submissions.

4. Are applicants required to show their project’s contribution to institutional goals?

Too often, a project’s connection to the broader institution is not immediately apparent. Project request forms should include the university’s current strategic goals and robust applications will clearly define their project’s contribution. The exercise forces applicants to think about whether their proposal is meaningfully advancing the institution’s goals, and provides prioritization committee members with information that helps them consider the project in the context of broader campus initiatives. 

5. Are you shaping project demand at the source?

To keep project intake under control, it’s crucial to redirect misrouted project requests and eliminate weak projects early. But it’s better still to instill customers with good project development practices and a commitment to working closely with IT.

Increasingly, IT organizations assign relationship managers from the PMO or the development organization to meet regularly with customer unit leadership. These relationship managers help customer leaders prioritize project requests, develop business cases, and align their technology requests with unit strategy. Improving customer awareness in this way improves overall request quality and converts IT from a project gatekeeper to a business partner for the institution.

A fair and standardized approach to project intake, sets IT prioritization committees up for success—but the work doesn’t end there. Taking submissions through effective governance processes and selecting the right projects for implementation requires getting the best from your prioritization committees. For more advice on managing technology project intake and prioritization, take a look at the IT Forum’s suite of IT project management resources.

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