OUTSIDE THE BOX Forum: Becoming Customer-based and Technology-driven is a Survival Strategy for the Digital Economy
the digital world stand-out organizations are continuously evolving towards customer-based and technology-driven approaches.
These evolutions can be disruptive and to be successful demands an organized approach. Transformations needed to achieve this end state can have a disruptive impact on how projects, programs and portfolios are proposed, prioritized and managed. Perhaps with the exception of IT the project management communities have been slow to react. Many organizations are neither customer-based nor technology-driven. This might be their goal but they have no sense of how to do it. Their strategies are usually incremental strategies. That has to change to survive but how should or could that happen. There are lots of moving parts to consider. This article is a step outside that box to launch that conversation. It will identify the first of those challenges and how to address it.
What is a Digital Enterprise?
The transition to a customer-based and technology-driven organization requires a number of fundamental changes to how the organization operates. These transitions are not new and can be traced back to the 1970s under the label of End User Computing. Those who were there can attest to the confusions that resulted. Understand at the outset that this evolving world by its very nature is a high-risk world. It is a world populated by new products and processes and new partnerships both internal to the organization as well as external to the organization. To be successful requires project management approaches that are flexible, adaptive and creative. This is clearly some type of agile world but with new challenges. The first of those challenges is to become customer-based. The customer is no longer an after-thought but rather is seen as an active participant in all business processes.
Who is a Customer?
As for a working definition, the customer is the owner of the deliverables provided by the project. They could be internal or external customers.
These customers are known. They have faces and names and you can communicate directly with them from the first day of their request to the last day of their use of the project deliverables. They could be individuals (C-level executives, directors, functional managers, LOB managers, resource managers, business unit managers, etc.) or groups of employees (sales representatives, trainers, etc.).
These customers are generally not known unless they identify themselves through feedback (good or bad). Think of them as the end user of the product or service delivered by the project.
What is a Customer-based Enterprise?
At the highest level to be customer-based is to be an enterprise that practices meaningful customer involvement across the life span of projects, programs and portfolios. The life span is comprehensive. At the project level a 3-phase robust process can be defined as the architecture for a customer-based environment as follows:
- Ideation Phase
- Set-up Phase
- Execution Phase
However, you might define this process for a specific project in order to embrace meaningful customer involvement it must be:
What is Meaningful Customer Involvement?
Having your customer sign-off on a specification document or acceptance test is involvement but it is not meaningful involvement. To be meaningful the customer involvement must include full-time participation in the project that will deliver a process or product for their direct use. That participation should include decision-making authority and responsibility. The Product Owner in a Scrum Project is the closest example of that meaningful involvement. However, their involvement does not extend beyond the planning activities of the project deliverables. If their involvement extended into the Execution Phase as a decision-maker, that comes closer to a customer-based environment. An example of that customer-based team environment is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Co-Manager Model
The Process Co-Manager is much like the typical project manager we have had in place for some time with one exception. The Process Co-Manager share authority and decision-making responsibility with the Product Co-Manager. The Product Co-Manager represents the Customer and has the authority to act on behalf of the Customer whether internal or external.
On Becoming Customer-based and Technology-Driven
This is not an easy transformation. It won’t happen by next Tuesday. It is a process that requires a village to happen. The end state must be defined at the outset and supported throughout the enterprise. Its implementation can be top down or bottom up.
Top Down Implementation
It begins with a strategic plan. The Objective/Strategy/Tactics (OST) Model shown in Figure 2 is a good example of a top down approach.
Figure 2: The OST Model
The OST Model can be used to completely reconfigure the enterprise to be a digital enterprise. It requires active support from the very top of the enterprise. It is a series of process steps that will usually occupy several planning cycles as the number of transformations will span the business processes and all lines of business.
Bottom Up Implementation
It begins with a demonstration project in a single line of business. It could be a new or existing line of business. A bottom up progression is a less aggressive form of transformation as it will involve probably a single line of business or a single functional area of the enterprise. It is a good learning experience for the organization too.
If the enterprise is entertaining a new line of business that is customer-driven and technology-based a bottom up implementation process might be the best choice. It can be done independent of the remaining business processes and practices. It can also be considered as a learning experience for the enterprise.
Putting It All Together
Let’s be very clear, despite the fact that the digital transformation can be dated to the 1970s its impact on both project management and business analysis processes and practices is just getting started. From a process perspective not much has been done. From a practice perspective most of what has been done is not published but remains as proprietary. This article is one of many designed to promote that process effort. The newsletter HPW Newsletter (see www.eiipubs.com) traces that history.