The First 100 Days as an Application Leader

How you perform in your first 100 days in the role is critical to your success.

New application leaders are judged against the reputations of their predecessors. If they are to make the most of their first 100 days in the role, they must understand historical successes and failures, as well as the future expectations of their managers, peers, teams and business stakeholders.

Application leaders develop, evolve and maintain business application portfolios, integration technologies and application disciplines. The application leader role has become more visible and strategic as applications have become crucial elements of competitive position and advantage.

According to Bill Swanton, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, the first 100 days for any new application leader constitute an expected “honeymoon” or transition period.

“This all-too-brief period should be used to formulate a course of action, make connections, and establish and communicate a personal management style,” he says. “It is within this critical time frame that application leaders must define themselves and create the basic perceptions that others will associate with their subsequent plans and actions.”

Gartner breaks down the application leader’s objectives into a 100 day roadmap. Each phase includes critical target outcomes, actions and resources, as well as some optional ideas to consider as time and resources allow.

Prepare Phase (Days −10 to 15)

Don’t wait until the first day on the job to prepare. Take steps before starting to inform yourself, learn about colleagues and draft communications to make a great first impression:

  • Reinforce new connections: Thank interview participants to build relationships and set a positive tone for your next interaction. Arrange lunches with key people.
  • Set logistics: Connect with HR representatives and future administrative support to sign off on any logistics that you can complete upfront.
  • Understand your organization’s structure: Request organization charts etc. to clarify the structure of your new team and key leadership roles across the organization.
  • List key stakeholders: Compile a list of key stakeholders to meet the first week.
  • Put clear communications at the forefront of your strategy: Draft a brief introduction to be sent out on your first day.
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Assess Phase (Days 0 to 30)

“Use this period to gain as much insight as possible into the current state of the application organization,” Swanton says. “This should include getting a clear view of the applications and systems for which you’re accountable, reviewing your budget versus year-to-date actual and health-checking processes and governance.”

Identify upcoming critical events and key dates such as people milestones, contract renewals or negotiations with strategic vendors, and annual planning process deadlines. Pinpoint collaborative key initiatives that you must jointly own and execute such as application rationalization and modernization, pace-layered application strategy, alternative sourcing strategies and master data management (MDM). From a communications perspective, schedule regular meetings with key stakeholders and connect with key talent.

Plan Phase (Days 15 to 45)

This phase synthesizes all you’ve learned during the first weeks on the job into a blueprint for action. Top of the list is clarifying your application strategy for the next 12 to 18 months, which will enable you to plan your operational application budget for the next two to three months. Spending time in each of your application owners’ business areas will help you to evaluate and update your strategy and plans for application key initiatives.

“Keep communications constant,” Swanton says. “Share a snapshot of your initial observations and announce your intentions regarding the organization. Meet with direct reports and key team members to determine the status, obstacles, resource gaps and alternatives to resolve any issues and create or confirm plans, actions and shortfalls, and how to address them.”

Act Phase (Days 30 to 80)

Now you’re ready to put your plan into action, engage your stakeholders and sponsors in the application organization, and demonstrate the value of your organization to the enterprise. Begin by announcing and implementing any initial organization changes among your direct reports. Be careful here — an organizational change may be necessary, but it’s also disruptive. Conduct an application maturity assessment with your direct reports and key stakeholders to identify any short-term changes that can yield results and build credibility and schedule these into your immediate plans. Identify longer-term changes and integrate them into your six- to 18-month plans.

Measure Phase (Days 45 to 100)

Develop the metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that will allow you to track the application organization and ensure it is delivering business value. Revisit and revise your job description to reflect any updated responsibilities.

“Make sure to communicate progress and highlight early wins, successes and challenges. Schedule meetings with your line manager, team leaders and key stakeholders to gather their thoughts on the progress made and challenges encountered during the first 90 days of your tenure,” Swanton says. “Collate the findings into a first-quarter status report for executive management and the steering committee.”

Gartner clients can read more in the report The Application Leader's First 100 Days by Bill Swanton, et al.

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