Crawl, Walk, Run: Establishing a Governance and Prioritization Process for IT

Craig Fowler

Implementing an IT Governance model is a challenging journey into culture change, within the institution and IT itself. This session describes the crawling and walking stages of one university's experience with the roadblocks, political nuances and practical processes related to transparency and prioritization. Attendees will reflect on their institution’s readiness and will receive a portfolio of governance templates.

Challenges and issues, both internal and external to IT are involved in moving a campus to an IT governance and prioritization model. Confronting IT internal cultural issues as well as campus cultural issues can result in pushback and conflict that must be carefully managed. The central question for our campus became “Where should IT spend its time?”  We were keeping 100 things alive and making no progress.   In addition, when combined with scarce resources and budget cuts at the same time, the CIO and his/her team found we had to be strategic, purposeful, and transparent through the journey.

The presenters will share a campus case study designed to elicit discussion and sharing with the audience around challenges related to securing internal and campus wide support for an IT Governance and Prioritization Model.  The case study involves a new CIO from the corporate world entering a university IT organization faced with funding issues, a lack of prioritization for work and projects, and concerns from the campus community about a lack of stakeholder input into IT decisions. Presenters will describe the crawling stage of implementation that began in July 2009. The CIO, reporting directly to the Chancellor, became a member of the university’s Executive Team.  After meetings with various campus constituents and review of data, he worked with his team and key campus leaders to develop an IT governance and prioritization plan designed to mirror the needs of users and involve them in the setting of IT priorities tied to the mission of the institution.

The plan involved creating three specific advisory committees- academic, administrative, and infrastructure- composed of wide campus representation – IT, faculty, staff, and students.  These three committees were designed to review and recommend rankings for work prioritization to IT. Their recommendations moved to a new central IT Council chaired by the CIO and composed of executive level representation, deans, faculty, staff and a student who helped set a general direction and final recommendation to the Executive Council.  Their role represented the broad view of IT for the campus with the focus on the creation of a funding model and multi-year capability road map.  In addition, the CIO re-purposed a position and created a Director of Academic Engagement and IT Governance who was tasked with the management of the governance process as well as serving as the official IT liaison to the Faculty Senate and other areas of the campus.

In the walking stage, working with the four committees, IT created the definition of a project, criteria for the ranking of projects, and a dynamic list of all IT projects in priority order. There were culture change challenges in IT as a talented but organizationally immature staff were trained in bare bones project management. Specifically, they were taught to manage projects by creating project definitions, work breakdown schedules and one-pager monthly reports for IT Leadership review. Moving from working in firefighting mode to working a project and work request list was new for most employees. In addition, for the campus, the culture change had to move from “calling up who you know in IT for a favor” to learning to hear an IT employee say no tactfully based on working the projects in priority order. Entering into the mix was campus preparation for a 15% budget cut where contentions between divisions required IT to step forward to model transparency in the process for most divisions and earn the trust of the academic side of the house.

To date, the first campus IT projects list has been created with 149 projects so far. Forty-four have been prioritized through the governance process. The rest were already in flight. Thirty four projects have been completed. The campus has approved the following definition of a project that goes through the governance process:
(Meets one or more of the following)

  • Work requiring more than 24 hours (3 working days) of IT time
  • Cost> $5000 (Project cost adjustments > 25% must be reviewed by appropriate technology committee
  • Work/Impact broader than one campus department or equivalent unit
  • Requires significant coordination across IT
  • Involves standing up a new technology or modifying an existing one


  • Does not include repeating support activities (e.g. Tax table updates, leave roll-forwards, etc.)
  • Does include emergency compliance requests- work will begin and reported for information (e.g. University System Administration time critical data, legal, security, etc.).

The governance process itself has resulted in cost savings, as IT has been able to identify areas of the campus that could partner on projects.  In two cases, the College of Business and the College of Education partnered in projects- one a thin client lab implementation, and the other, External access to Blackboard. Both shared IT implementation costs. Presenters will share the results of a survey of participants in the governance process concerning their perceptions and suggestions for improvement.

Lessons learned are as follows:

  1. As an institution grows in size, the need for governance becomes even more critical.
    1. As our institution approaches the 10,000 student mark, the “calling up who you know model” no longer works.
  2. Faculty, particularly the Faculty Senate, are an important, potentially positive, and powerful ally.
  3. Chancellor support is critical.
  4. IT needs to “eat its own dog food.”  Even internal IT projects should go through the governance process. This can be hard for IT staff to accept.
  5. Collecting and sharing data are critical to fostering change and can set an example for the rest of the campus.
  6. A budget crisis can make the implementation process more difficult but can also provide other opportunities to move it forward.
  7. Some days are hard and lonely.  Charges of “taking over,” “being too bureaucratic,” and “We are not a corporation,” can be difficult to hear.
  8. Small victories can come in the form of a meeting that went well, a dean who “came around,” a public thank you, an IT staff member who begins to see the change as a professional development opportunity.
  9. Crawl, walk, run.(We are not running yet)
  10. Progress, not perfection

Session presenters will use the think, pair, share strategy to involve participants to do three activities:

  1. On a scale of 1-10, rate your IT staff in terms of its maturity to implement a governance and prioritization project model.
  2. On a scale of 1-10, rate your campus with respect to its possible acceptance of such a model.
  3. Identify any cultural barriers in your institution to the implementation of such a model.

As a result of this session, attendees will be able to

  1. Test the applicability of a governance model to their campus or institution
  2. Reflect on and discuss the unique cultural issues that could be impediments on their own campus.
  3. Review and take with them a portfolio of documents for duplication or modification.


Experience level: 
Leadership and Management

Schedule info

Time slot: 
3 November 08:30 - 09:15
Breakout Room - D