Written by Craig Alexander
Strategic and Transformational Consulting
HP Software Professional Services
Transformation initiatives can be challenging and comprise some daunting undertakings. One never truly knows what to expect until the initiative is well underway and it is easy to lose perspective when the pressure rises.
Communication tools such as contracts, project charters, Project Initiation Documents and even emails from the boss can all clearly articulate what is to happen in any initiative such as a transformation, but they very rarely 100 percent state what will actually happen - or better what SHOULD happen - for the good of all concerned.
The difference to the norm…
In any transformation, there is always a degree of uncertainty and good risk management practice will mitigate as much of this uncertainty as possible. But there is one thing that risk management cannot fully address. There are those “hand-to-the-forehead moments” when you realise something simply won’t work or, more importantly, should not be delivered because it will not serve in the best interests of the customer. This can occur despite all the best effort in the world and the genuine intentions of all involved. Surprises are a fact of life and SMEs worth their salt know how to deal with these events.
Such instances are common and how we deal with them defines much of the success we will deliver. I have been fortunate (?) to have been involved in a number of initiatives where it has become clear to me that whatever has been sold, prescribed, dictated or demanded was simply not the right thing to do. As a junior employee, there is a natural tendency to want to follow the documented or dictated requirement. It is a daunting prospect to go off message, even if you know it is right. With experience, your gut feeling plays a bigger role. With the right evidence presented in a constructive manner, key stakeholders can be won over to the necessary alternatives.
An interesting example…
A complex example arose a few years ago at one of my previous organisations with a multi-stream programme across 30 countries for an international client. The client had the necessary components in terms of core programme resource, contact points in the customer CIO’s teams, support from each of the necessary supplier teams, significant investment and a clear plan for delivery. In terms of the delivery to the Global CIO, everything was in place.
But upon closer inspection, there was a fundamental flaw. Like so many other multi-national customers, each country had its own CIO who did not have a hard reporting line to the Global CIO but to their own in-country COO. This created a fundamental issue for the governance: the priorities of the Global CIO differed to those of the Country CIOs and the programme could never hope to meet the objectives of all 31 CIOs. Each CIO would need to see value in the programme’s execution within theirown environment. After the first delivery issues were experienced, it was clear that the programme - despite its depth, detail and undoubted value - could not deliver on the Global CIO’s agenda alone.
A radical change was required. The programme effectively had to be turned round 90 degrees. Instead of delivering each workstream across 30 countries, the programme needed to deliver as a consolidated effort into each of the countries. The programme needed to address in-country specifics where appropriate and demonstrate the value to each CIO. This required careful planning, presentation and most importantly the evidence to present the solution to the customer. The customer needed to see that timescales and quality would not suffer as a result of the change. In response to proposing the new approach, one of the customer’s responses was: “yes, we wondered when you’d work that one out!” This is great example of where the customer knows its own misgivings but is reticent to share them with a partner.
Seven things to do…
It is therefore important to take a step back once in a while to fully appreciate the landscape into which you are delivering. In summary:
- Once you’ve understood the ‘ask’ of your initiative, set out to understand the broader context. What else is happening in the customer’s environment? What is their structure like? Does the initiative align to business objectives?
- Never be afraid to raise fundamental flaws early with senior stakeholders. Offering candour and honesty supported by clear evidence earns respect, not derision
- Maintain clear documentation of the issues observed and ensure that the risks and issues are correctly communicated and their ownership confirmed and monitored
- Hold regular reviews of the initiative’s context - the landscape can change quickly and/or frequently through changes in stakeholders or financial climates. If at any point the delivery appears threatened or the value diminished raise this early and clearly
- Have frank conversations with customer stakeholders as well as partners and colleagues - a political standpoint will never go amiss
- If you are backed into a position to deliver against all of your instincts, look for alternative engagements (resourcing permitting). This may not always be possible, but it is better to deliver quality on your own terms than fail on someone else’s
- Above all, be yourself!
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to reach out to me using the comments section below. I know other readers will want to know as well.