A Recipe For Success
I decided to cook the family a meal recently. Not being a great chef I turned to a recipe book for guidance. There I found all that I needed, ingredients, measures for each, method to use, presentation suggestion and of course a coloured picture of what the outcome should look like. Add to this a small amount of skill and basically I had everything I needed for a successful dish. How different it would have been if I overlooked some of these important elements. The outcome would not be as expected had I omitted some of the ingredients, used incorrect methods and tools or failed to follow expert advice. The result certainly wouldn’t look like the glossy recipe picture and probably wouldn’t have tasted very nice.
If all this seems obvious we should ask ourselves why is it that some organisations believe that when embarking on professional IT transformation projects success is assumed as ‘a given’ without including – or at least giving consideration to – all the necessary component parts.
In more than 15 years as a consultant I’ve experienced good transition projects that include insourcing, outsourcing, technology changes and process implementations. I have also been called in by organisations to troubleshoot when things have gone awry. Each occasion has resulted in ideas and effective strategies that can be successfully applied to other projects. I’ve outlined some of them below to help make your next IT transformation as smooth as possible. They go beyond the prime project ‘must haves’ such as clear vision, management commitment, budget and timeframe, to highlight factors that frequently get overlooked or dismissed with the assumption that “it will be all right on the night”, when in fact they are crucial to the project’s success.
Firstly, there needs to be someone identified as the figurehead of the project who has the authority to make key decisions, including changes to plans, throughout the transition. Most projects will have a number of ‘streams’ each being led by a stream lead. Although collaborative working is the ideal, there will need to be a project manager in the position to take a holistic view, overseeing harmonised working, and able to assess interdependencies and risks. The project manager must act as the key interface with other stakeholders for reporting progress and taking instruction. Anyone finding themselves in the position of ’project lead’ by default but without official recognition and release from other duties, will find it extremely difficult to run the project effectively.
Secondly, selecting a project manager with proven competency and confidence in IT transition, possibly involving multiple suppliers and across geographic regions, will greatly improve the chance of success.
Depending on the size and complexity of the transition it may be necessary to support the project manager with administrative support, perhaps in the form of a PMO. Again, the role and responsibilities will need to be defined and communicated so that all involved understand how this fits in with the project control mechanism.
Subject Matter Expertise
It is commendable when organisations seek to deliver a project using internal resources, as this enhances a sense of ownership. However, the mistake is often made in thinking that the required skills and capabilities already exist to enable efficient progress. Once the project is underway with milestones and targets to achieve, it is not the right time to learn new practices and techniques from scratch. It is far better to engage with professional service providers who are well versed in using tried and tested ‘best practice’. Such consultancy and expert managed resource can offer advice, documentation (including templates) and techniques built on the experience of performing similar transitions. Independent parties are also uninhibited with internal politics and can be used as the catalyst to ease any culture change.
Depending on the type of IT transition being planned, technical specialists may be needed. For example, introducing or replacing IT Service Management tools, insourcing or outsourcing services. Again, this may sound obvious but as IT professionals we sometimes fall into the trap of believing that all the skills required are available ‘in house’ only to recognise shortcomings and introduce specialists later with a potentially greater cost. In a similar way to the SME mentioned above the risk is greatly reduced when using professional bodies who understand the capabilities of the tool and the configuration options available to maximise client advantage, and who have the trained resource to undertake the task.
Major transformation projects tend to occur infrequently within organisations. The knowledge of how to successfully navigate from a current state to the desired state via a logical sequence of events may not exist or if it does, may well be rusty. The know-how of ‘having done this before’ should not be underestimated. Experience gained elsewhere will help avoid common pitfalls and overcome barriers more quickly. Reputable third parties who provide this service as core business add low risk security to the project and provide a valuable ‘hand holding’ role.
Do not assume that all appointed internal resources will embrace transition as enthusiastically as other stakeholders. Change can represent both advantages and disadvantages in the eyes of those affected. Two way communication is vital to ensure all viewpoints are heard and to convey the drivers for transition and the consequences of not changing. Potential barriers need to be confronted and solutions put in place.
Resources and Time
Internal staff are typically employed to perform defined operational duties. It is a big mistake to assume that those being asked to undertake additional activities as part of the project have the necessary spare capacity to do so without one (or both) roles suffering in quality. Issues can manifest themselves in many ways such as slipped deadlines, absences at project meetings, missing progress reports and communication gaps. Those directly involved need to be given the bandwidth to complete what is being asked and possibly incentivised on successful achievement. Where conflicts of duty are unavoidable there should be named delegates who have authority for decision making to step in.
Collaborative working was mentioned earlier and certainly has its advantages, however, the involvement of large groups can prolong debates unnecessarily and develop into ‘decision reaching by committee’. Consider smaller more focused groups for driving through decision making and task fulfilment.
Finally, strive for consistent involvement by nominated individuals. Project progress can be frustrated by continually changing faces. The effective team dynamic, shared understanding, decision history and project gained ground can be halted or reversed by new people who have not been party to what has gone before.
Throughout the lifecycle of a transition project there will be the need to communicate and contribute fully to task completion. Those involved should be able to understand the concepts and terminology being used as well as any technical skills and Service Management principles being developed. A programme of training and awareness should be undertaken in advance of the project to ensure minimum delay from day 1. A word of caution is also added here – don’t expect training alone to equip a person with all that is necessary to confidently approach all that will be required. It is unrealistic to expect newly trained people to replicate the offerings of the SMEs and the experience they bring.
In summary, IT Transformation success is dependent on many separate but interrelated elements. Each one is crucial to achieving the overall objective and making the experience enjoyable for all concerned – rather like getting together to share a fine meal.