The Design of IT Procurements as Enterprise Learning Processes

Procurement of a mission-critical IT system or service should be undertaken as a team-based enterprise learning process that:

• Educates the institution about choices and consequences
• Leads to informed decisions made with confidence
• Delivers consensus-based outcomes and stakeholders’ buy-in
• Is preparation and practice for the implementation phase
• Wraps-up with contracts that define, budget, and schedule the implementation project.

The keys to achieving this are:

• Design of the Project Organization
• Design of the Procurement Process
• Direction and Management of the Project.

The Procurement Project as a Learning Process

The goal of designing an IT procurement project as an enterprise learning process is for the organization to gain understandings of alternative IT solutions before committing to selection and implementation of one.

The organization needs to learn as much as reasonable before committing to an IT solution – particularly if it is planning a next-generation system that requires re-structuring and re-engineering basic workflows and operations, that might support core business operations for 10 to 15 years or more.

Conducting the Procurement Project to Achieve Consensus and Buy-In

A well-designed procurement project conducted with the right methodology can achieve consensus-based outcomes and stakeholders’ buy-in that are invaluable to the next stage -- system implementation.

The keys to building trust and consensus are to organize the project into:

• Right-sized teams
• Rightly-constituted teams

and for team members to:

• Receive the same information at the same time
• Meet and discuss information together in order to learn from each other’s interpretations and understandings – and to develop shared understandings
• Appreciate that the team’s understandings are broader/better than those of any individual
• Recognize that a team-based approach is a “buddy system” that relieves each member from “having to know it all”

?“Wow, I never thought of that. That was a great discussion – they’re both right. And I really didn’t get it ‘til now.”

Making Informed Decisions with Confidence

If a procurement project (or project team) is uncomfortable making a decision or reaching consensus, it is usually because

• More information is needed, or
• Information in hand is not well understood.

Designing further steps in the process to gather and evaluate more information will usually position a team to make a comfortable decision that it can justify to other project teams and the institution.

The Procurement Project as Preparation and Practice for Implementation

A team-based procurement process develops not only individuals’ team skills – but also shared understandings and trust. Developing key players and giving the institution experience with the project organization and structured decision-making is a valuable lead-in to the implementation phase.

The formula for success is to involve the organization’s key individuals and opinion leaders in the right places and roles in the project organization – to ensure representation of people who make or are affected by the project’s decisions.

Wrapping-up the Procurement Phase with Contracts that Define, Plan, Budget, and Schedule the Implementation Project

The procurement project ends best when contracts with vendor(s) finalize the definition of project scope, implementation plan and schedule, and budget. The goal at this stage is to eliminate unknowns insofar as reasonable, in order to avoid (minimize) unwanted surprises in the implementation project that lies ahead. The negotiation stage – with development of detailed, comprehensive contracts -- is the final learning phase of the procurement project.

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Designing, Directing, Facilitating, and Managing the Project
Designing, directing, and facilitating the project requires a combination of skills that often are best provided with outside, experienced, and neutral assistance. Through close working relationships with institutional administrators and the project organization – particularly with the institutional project manager and key project decision-making teams – an outside consultant can make a big difference.

Properly designed and conducted, the procurement project is a dry-run for the implementation project, and sets the stage for transitioning the procurement project organization and key individuals who have proved themselves into the implementation project organization.