2.10 Simonsen, J (2007): "Involving Top Management in IT Projects: Aligning Business Needs and IT Solutions with the Problem Mapping Technique", Communications of the ACM, Vol. 50, No. 8, August, pp. 52-58.


Involving top management in IT projects requires a vendor to be able to convince management that a proposed IT solution meets an organization’s particular needs. Vendors must convince management they understand the customer’s business and their solution fits management’s overall requirements. A simple technique known as problem mapping has proved efficient in aligning vendors’ and customers’ interpretations of business needs and potential IT solutions. System consultants from a large international vendor learned to apply this technique of involving managers in the definition of their problems and in the causal relations between business needs and prospective IT solutions.

Top management involvement and the development of strong relationships with top manage- ment are consistently reported as the most important chal- lenge within IT projects. In a May 2004 Communications article based on a survey of 541 IT projects, it was stated that when it comes to the complexity of IT projects, the technology aspects are more apparent but the orga- nizational aspects have more significant effects on IT project performance and outcomes: to improve project performance, project managers must develop strong relationships with top management [8]. A similar conclusion was reached in a compre- hensive and recent study resulting in an authorita- tive ranked list of IT projects’ risk factors [5]. The list was based on a Delphi study, in which the par- ticipants were 45 experienced project managers from the U.S., Europe, and Asia, who have man- aged a total of more than 1,000 IT projects. They identified, analyzed, and ranked experienced proj- ect risks. This study confirmed that the lack of top management involvement is the primary challenge project managers felt was most deserving of their attention.

Top management involvement requires that management undertake sponsorship and owner- ship throughout the IT project, starting with the initial definition of the project’s purpose and goal. It requires that management sincerely believes the IT project is business-relevant: management repre- sentatives must be convinced the proposed IT solu- tion solves a relevant problem or supports a true business need.

This article describes how to establish initial top management involvement by using the problem- mapping technique, in which management and system consultants openly communicate their understanding of problems, needs, and IT solu- tions. We outline the participatory design approach, through which the problem-mapping technique is based, and demonstrate how profes- sional system consultants experienced a problem- mapping session, which was used to obtain top management involvement in their suggested IT project.