Author: Drew Davison

Drew Davison is the owner and principal consultant at Davison Consulting and a former system development executive. He is the developer of Project Pre-Check, an innovative framework for launching projects and guiding successful project delivery, the author of Project Pre-Check - The Stakeholder Practice for Successful Business and Technology Change and Project Pre-Check FastPath - The Project Manager’s Guide to Stakeholder Management. He works with organizations that are undergoing major business and technology change to implement the empowered stakeholder groups critical to project success. Drew can be reached at [email protected]

From the Sponsor’s Desk – The Four Pillars of Successful Change Management

In my last post, Best Practices Accelerate Value Delivery, we saw how the CIO of a relatively new government agency used a comprehensive best practise based framework to quickly deliver a decision support mechanism that would support the leadership team in their decision-making activities related to IT application and services investments.

In this post, we’ll look at the repercussions a retailer experienced when it decided to move its administrative staff from the downtown headquarters to a suburban setting to provide more retail space and reduce costs. Unfortunately, management failed to include three of the four change pillars in the cost/benefit analysis. They reaped the consequences.

Thanks to L.P. for the details on this case

The Situation

This mid-west retailer housed most of its administrative functions in its historic headquarters in the downtown core. With the tepid recovery from the 2008 financial meltdown, the company’s management were focused on two key challenges: increasing revenue and reducing costs. The COO proposed that the company move administrative staff to a suburban location that offered much less expensive floor space and leverage the vacated space in their headquarters to support a range of high end products and services. Increase revenue and reduce costs in one move! It was viewed as a no-brainer. The proposal was approved.

The Goal

Within six months:

  • Complete the move of 400 administrative staff to a new location offering a 50% reduction in the cost of floor space
  • Refurbish the vacated space and have the retail space fully operational

The Project

The COO charged his real estate organization with locating new facilities to house the administrative staff and assigned his Human Resources VP with planning the actual move including the layout of the new facilities, a seating plan and communication to the affected staff. The real estate group acquired suitable space for almost 60% less than the cost of the headquarters space. Even with the required capital improvements, the savings realized would be greater than the 50% reduction target.

The Human Resources VP had his staff focus initially on the floor plan and facilities for the new space, figuring that would require the most lead time. With about three months remaining until the move, he started work on the transition and communication plan. The core elements of the emerging plan included one major big bang move:

  • Staff would receive notification about the move 30 days before the actual event. Part of that communication would include the new floor layouts and the workspace locations for each staff member.
  • Work from home would be expanded to reduce the commute stress.
  • On the Friday before the move, staff would pack up their work spaces for delivery over the weekend.
  • On Saturday, private movers would transport the personal packing plus personal computers to the designated locations in the new facility.
  • On Sunday, tech support would hook up and test the transported PC’s and their connectivity to other technical and network services.
  • Also on Sunday, store staff would start reconfiguring the former administrative space to house the retail operation.
  • On Monday, shuttle buses would leave the downtown store at 7:00 am for the new administrative complex. Shuttle buses would depart from the administrative complex at 5:00 pm for the downtown store. The trip was expected to take about 45 minutes each way, subject to traffic. Of course, staff could choose to use their own means of transportation as well.

The plan was reviewed and approved by the organization’s senior management. It looked like a nice clean move. Unfortunately, word about the move started to leak out shortly after the new facilities were arranged. The grape vine was alive with rumours and conjecture. Middle management was not in the know and so could not handle questions passed on to them. As the queries percolated up to senior management and on to the Human Resources VP’s desk, the standard response from HR was “all your questions will be answered shortly”.

Because of the growing unease among the staff and middle managers, the formal announcement about the move was released by the HR VP six weeks before the move date rather than the planned 30 days. Not only did the communication not address the questions and concerns, it raised a whole new set of issues, including:

  • Lack of public transportation to the new site
  • Significant extension to the work day because of the planned shuttle bus schedule
  • No consultation on floor layout and facilities and the location of departments and staff
  • Minimal neighbourhood services in the new complex for babysitting, shopping, dining, etc.

The office environment in the weeks before the move was a cauldron of criticism, accusation and spite. HR’s only comeback was “just wait, you’ll like it once you move”. That didn’t placate anyone.

The Results

When the new facilities were finally opened for business, 17% of the administrative staff had already handed in their resignations. At the end of the first month, the figure had climbed to 23% including a number of key managers. A couple of departments experienced staff losses of over 40%. Most of the remaining staff were frustrated and disgruntled. The lack of accessible public transit was the number one complaint. Even with revised shuttle schedules, the days were still considerably longer for most employees with no commensurate increase in pay. Those employees that tried to drive to the new location usually experienced morning and evening rush hour gridlock.

The loss of key staff caused a number of vital projects to be cancelled. Others projects were delayed. Consultants and agency staff were brought in to keep functions operating, increasing costs. A hiring campaign was launched to replace the lost staff but it was an arduous, costly process that just added additional stress on the shoulders of the managers and senior staff. The promised work from home expansion was killed because of all the other challenges.

On the retail front, sales in the new retail space created from the staff moves were 80% below target. Sales throughout the rest of the store were down more than 30%. It seems that those 400 employees that were moved to the burbs accounted for a considerable portion of the sales activity. On top of that, local neighbourhood organizations and their employees were feeling the pinch from the lost 400. Sales were down in local restaurants and other retail stores. They took it out on the guilty retailer by shopping elsewhere.

Finally, in an effort to place the blame, the CEO fired the Human Resources VP.

How a Great Leader Could Have Achieved Success

Do you want your change to be successful? Then you had best pay attention to the four pillars of change management: shareowners, customers, people who do work for you (including employees, partners and suppliers) and communities. Each had a vested interest in this change and each needed to be engaged effectively to ensure a successful outcome. In this case, three of the four pillars were ignored until they rose in protest, after the fact. Everyone lost. Yes, it can be messy and contentious engaging those with vested interests up front. But that pales in comparison to what can happen if you ignore a pillar or three.

Here’s what a great leader could have done differently:

  • Get your facts straight. The retailer didn’t know who its customers were. It didn’t understand how much business its own employees provided. It didn’t understand how much the local economy depended on the 400. It had no idea what kind of challenge the move would pose to its staff.
  • Engage your stakeholders up front. The retailer needed to involve the other three pillars in its planning and execution from the start, to make the solution a collaborative effort with broad understanding and support. If they’re not part of the solution they’ll undoubtedly be part of the problem.
  • Always consider alternatives. Senior management was fixated on moving the administrative staff somewhere cheap to free up the expensive floor space for more retail revenue. They didn’t look at any other alternatives yet there were many other viable options.
  • Establish key metrics and report performance widely. There were no metrics established to track the performance of the change and no public reporting of progress. When resistance started to surface, senior management was not even remotely prepared to address the concerns. A tracking and reporting process would have helped position the organization to acknowledge the issues and respond appropriately.
  • Stage the rollout. One big bang implementation exposes the organization to substantial risk and gives no one the ability to gauge success and adjust tactics accordingly. In this case, a staged implementation, by department for example, would have been a meaningful approach to assess readiness and the effectiveness of the plan.
  • Do a post mortem and incorporate the lessons learned into your corporate change behaviour. In this case, the lesson learned was “if you screw up, you’ll get fired”. That’s not a terribly meaningful message if you’re trying to improve corporate change performance.

Thomas Kochan recently published a very relevant article, In Market Basket Protests, Three Lessons For Corporate America. Kochan is the George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management and co-director of the Institute for Work & Employment Research at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. In the article, he reports on the employee protests at the Market Basket supermarket chain. The employees banded together to protest the firing of their CEO and to register their outrage at a shift in corporate strategy that would benefit owners at the expense of a loyal workforce and the company they helped build.

Kochan concludes “Market Basket workers are sending a message to business schools across America that it is time to teach the next generation of managers how to lead companies in ways that better balance and integrate the interests of all stakeholders — owners and executives, middle managers who might someday lead the organization, front line employees who are the face of the company to customers, and customers and communities that support the business.”

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, identify and engage those four pillars right up front. Work with the key stakeholders to shape the change to address stakeholder needs and deliver the required outcomes. Finally, put these points on your checklist of things to do in future endeavours so you too can be a Great Leader. And remember to use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks right up front so you don’t overlook those key success factors.

In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll present it for others to learn from and comment on.

Thanks

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Best Practices Accelerate Value Delivery

In my last post, Reorganizing for Performance, we looked at the challenges one consultant faced trying to help a CEO manage eight different and growing companies with overlapping markets and skills. We’ll review the steps he took to position the CEO and his organizations for greater productivity and growth and the remarkable results they achieved together.

In this post, we’ll look at how the CIO of a relatively new government agency used a comprehensive best practise based framework to quickly deliver a decision support mechanism that would support the leadership team in their decision-making activities related to IT application and services investments.

Thanks to J.S. for the details on this case.

The Situation

This government agency had a veritable grab bag of technologies supporting its various business operations, from internally hosted mainframe applications to spreadsheet solutions to externally hosted applications. The technologies had been put in place one by one as business needs emerged with little over-riding guidance or architectural influence.
As the business grew and demand for and investments in new technology solutions increased, the new CIO recognized it was time to put some structure in place to guide the organization’s technology platform and hosting decisions. The agency did not have a centralized, consistent, transparent and repeatable approach for assessing applications and services. This resulted in ad hoc procedures for submitting, assessing, authorizing and monitoring application and service provisioning initiatives. With maturing platform/hosting advancements in the industry (e.g. Cloud, SaaS, and Managed Services), the agency needed a mechanism to look at more efficient and cost effective provisioning options.

In 2012, the CIO engaged The Manta Group to design and assist with the roll-out of an end-to-end Decision Support Framework (DSF) process that would support the leadership team in their decision-making activities related to IT application and services investments. The Manta Group is a professional services firm with disciplines in management consulting, workflow automation and talent management. Manta has developed its Best Practice Ecosystem (BPe) based on implementing various best practice frameworks and methodologies, including Project Pre-Check, in large complex organizations.

The initial scope of the project was limited to corporate IT investments. Manta was charged to leverage best practices from the Project Pre-Check framework, which is itself built upon guidance from numerous well-established and recognized industry frameworks and methodologies (e.g. ITIL, Cobit, PMBoK, SEI, ValIT, Gartner, etc.).

Full disclosure here – as you know, I developed the Project Pre-Check practice referred to in this case and, in fact, all my other cases. I have also worked as a Manta consultant over the years and was involved at the start of this engagement in an oversight capacity. However, the project was carried out by other Manta staff to its successful conclusion, much to my delight and the delight of our clients.

The Goal

The objectives of the DSF process were three-fold:

  1. Provide a consistent and repeatable approach for capturing required information for effective management decision-making
  2. Develop a DSF model to assist with decisions on proposed IT expenditures.
  3. Develop and deliver an operating solution within three months.

The Project

Initially the CIO asked the Manta consultants to work with his own managers within IT. The consultants urged him to go beyond IT, to engage with the other executives and make them a vital part of the development effort. After all, the decisions the DSF would be facilitating would underpin the organization’s core applications and involve changes throughout the agency, not just IT.

Not quite convinced, the CIO agreed to a trial with one executive, a trusted colleague. The executive’s response and feedback would determine the approach going forward. The executive was taken through an introduction and interview exercise in which he was asked to identify which of the 125 Project Pre-Check decision areas (specific questions that needed to be assessed) were relevant to platform and application hosting decision making. The meeting took fifty minutes. He chose 62 decision areas. Most importantly, the executive was thrilled to have participated in the process and looked forward to ongoing involvement.

Based on those results, the CIO asked the consultants to ensure the DSF was proactively socialized with all impacted stakeholder groups to solicit buy-in and support, as well as identify any stakeholder concerns before investment dollars were spent
The first phase of the project took approximately 1.5 months and included requirements gathering, a review of existing practices, followed by design and development of the process. Process design activities encompassed the identification of decision areas required for decision-making, integration with other agency process/procedure models, governing policies/principles and process roles and responsibilities definition.

From the 125 decision areas included in the Project Pre-Check framework, 66 were identified as relevant across all the stakeholder groups. An additional two decision areas unique to the agency’s needs were added to the list. A worksheet based prototype of the model was developed to back test existing applications and services, and included a DSF Request Form that captured initiative information for input to the model. Reporting included several views based on agency groups (e.g. compliance, security) with graphical representation of platform options.

The first phase also developed a six stage model that placed the DSF process in the context of the overall strategic planning, solution development, implementation and monitoring cycle. It provided an end-to-end view to ensure initiatives were assessed objectively, launched right, and delivered the targeted value quickly and effectively. Of the 68 Decision areas identified for the DSF, 8 related to the development of IT strategy, 20 related to the assessment of platform alternatives, 25 related to the assessment of providers and 15 related to change readiness, implementation and monitoring.

The second phase of the project, development of the process, guide book and final model took approximately 1 month. This was accomplished through design workshops and a few test and tweaked iterations to tune the model.

This stage encompassed:

  • Process awareness and education activities through workshops.
  • Consensus on decision areas and the key characteristics for application and service scoring.
  • Testing and tuning the model with existing corporate IT applications as cases.
  • Process “tweaking” and developing additional process support materials.
  • Development of two corporate IT iterations based on submitted initiatives.

A key element of the DSF model/process was the ability to report on existing and proposed corporate initiatives. These reports provided the agency leadership team with a view of initiatives by benefit, as well as impact (compliance, technology, privacy, and security). In addition, a number of other views were produced to provide insight into decision areas by agency group.

The Results

The DSF process provided the following benefits to the agency:

  • Proactive socialization of the initiative helped with gaining support and resource commitments from peers prior to submission for executive consideration.
  • Ensured initiatives were assessed in a more efficient and effective manner through the application of a consistent, repeatable and scalable process based on best practice.
  • Provided an objective way of addressing multiple initiatives and created the framework for appropriate communication among agency executives.
  • Provided centralized coordination, management and oversight of technology spend on continuous improvement initiatives.
  • Minimized waste and/or duplication of effort by monitoring and managing initiative viability from the point of conception.

After just 10 weeks, the agency had a robust and standardized approach for assessing, authorizing and managing internal continuous improvement opportunities that were aligned to corporate and department strategies.

How a Great Leader Achieved Success

The CIO succeeded with this initiative for a number of reasons:

  • He recognized the advantages a best practice based platform would provide for his organization in terms of comprehensiveness, objectivity and responsiveness and chose Project Pre-Check as the base framework.
  • He engaged a consulting firm with expertise in the use of Project Pre-Check and decision frameworks.
  • He set a short three month target from start to finish to accelerate value delivery and reduce risks.
  • He initially tried out the fact finding process on a trusted and willing executive to get the executive’s reaction. It turned out the executive in question was thrilled to be involved and fully supportive of the process.
  • He worked with the other executives to understand the challenges and opportunities, participate in the development of the DSF and contribute to the ongoing assessment of application and hosting options. They were all willing and eager participants.
  • He encouraged the consultants to test the DSF on existing applications and platforms as well as planned initiatives to confirm the process was delivering decisionable and actionable results.

After just 10 weeks, the CIO had delivered to the agency a standard application and hosting assessment practice that the executive group helped develop and were fully committed to going forward. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, leverage all those practices you know have been proven and add value. Engage the affected stakeholders right up front. Do things quickly, in four to six week intervals. And measure and report how you’ve done. Finally, put these points on your checklist of things to do in future endeavours so you too can be a Great Leader. And remember to use Project Pre-

Check’s three building blocks right up front so you don’t overlook those key success factors.

In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll present it for others to learn from and comment on. Thanks

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Reorganizing for Performance

In my last post, Maximizing Value, Optimizing Capacity, we looked at the challenges one organization faced in dealing with competing and conflicting demands across their various lines of business. The actions it took ensured the tactical plans fully supported the company’s strategic plans and priorities and optimized business and IT capacity in support of those goals.

In this post, we’ll look at the challenges one consultant faced trying to help a CEO manage eight different and growing companies with overlapping markets and skills. We’ll review the steps he took to position the CEO and his organizations for greater productivity and growth and the remarkable results they achieved together.

Thanks to R.B. for the details on this case.

The Situation

This CEO, a serial innovator, had developed eight different companies over the course of time to take advantage of synergistic opportunities that arose from customer comments and requests and ongoing business operations. He started out with a creative design organization, which opened up opportunities for on-line obituaries, recollections and wishes, which lead to self-written video obituaries (before death of course), and into funeral plans and services, floral orders and arrangements, online learning videos for a wide and growing range of skills and more. All the businesses were housed in their own spaces in a business park with a common cafeteria and food court, employing about 90 staff in total. However, the businesses were run as distinct entities. There was no sharing of common skills and services. There was no collaboration among the firms on common challenges and opportunities.

The CEO was concerned about the incremental costs he was incurring from running independent businesses, the demands on his time and the risks involved in using the same model, spawning more independent businesses, to tackle new opportunities. So he contacted a management consultant with a proven track record helping small and growing businesses like his implement organization and management structures to improve operating performance. A lengthy phone call and some reference checks convinced the CEO that he had found the right man for the job. Shortly after, the two met for a day at the client’s office, reviewing the current structures and key players. The CEO took the consultant on a tour, introduced him to management and staff and asked for the consultant’s thoughts and recommendations. The CEO bought the consultant’s recommendations which were then wrapped up into a contract.

The Goal

Implement a new organization and management structure that improves operating performance, increases overall staff productivity, reduces CEO time spent on operational matters and provides a platform for managing future innovations and opportunities. Any excess staff made available by the reorganization would be assigned as needed to deal with expected business growth. There would be no layoffs. Time frame – six weeks to design and implement.

The Project

The consultant proceeded to talk to everyone in the eight companies. Most discussions took about 30 minutes. The senior managers and key staff got an hour or more. He focused on five key factors:

  1. The core operating processes, inputs and outputs
  2. The major roles involved and the primary skills required for each role
  3. Current skills and capabilities of each incumbent
  4. Current likes, dislikes and opportunities for performance improvement
  5. Readiness for change as indicated by satisfaction levels and aspirations.

The consultant had a conference room dedicated exclusively to the project. At the end of each day, with the assistance of a senior administrative assistant assigned to him for the duration of the project, he would retire to the conference room to map the day’s discoveries. He used Post-It-Notes on a wall full of white boards to reflect the process flows, the current organization, and current staff with their roles and skills. Lots of lines connecting processes, the current organization and staff along with notes, asterisks, exclamation points and question markets littered the available white space. At the end of the day and occasionally during the creation process, he would video the white boards’ contents to track the day to day evolution of his findings and observations. He would also invite senior managers to drop in to review progress and provide feedback. The CEO was welcome to visit any time.

Once he had a reasonable understanding of the current environment and a consensus from the CEO and senior managers that his diagrams represented an accurate picture of the current state, he returned to his office 600 kilometers removed from his client’s location. There he began deliberations on the future structure that would satisfy the project’s goals. He reviewed his video story board again and started to develop alternative solutions based on a number of criteria:

  • Grouping similar activities
  • Grouping similar skills
  • Differentiating by product or process maturity
  • Differentiating by skill availability

The consultant identified two alternatives that would satisfy the goals: a consolidated organization that would bring together all product lines in one corporate structure, group common functions and services together and place the unique elements under separate product managers and; combine all common functions and services in one company and leave what was unique to each product line as separate business entities. He then rated and ranked each alternative against the goals. The consolidated alternative achieved a significantly higher score. Returning to his client’s office, he reviewed the alternatives, thought process and findings with the CEO, then with the senior managers. After lots of discussion and a few changes to his findings and recommendations, the consultant had full agreement on his recommended alternative.

He then proceeded to fill the organization with actual people, create draft personal development plans for each manager position and develop communication and implementation plans for the rollout.

The Results

The consultant’s final report was presented five weeks after the start of his contract. It confirmed what had already been agreed to by the CEO and senior managers over the course of the project. It presented the recommended structure and the recommended placement of managers and staff relative to the core operating processes.

The new organization was implemented by the CEO and his senior management in one big bang seven weeks after the consultant began his assignment. The reorganization included the new structure, new roles and responsibilities and new reporting relationships for many of the staff. Overall, the CEO and his managers were pleased with the way the change happened and with the way the organization was functioning. There was a slight drop in some of the key performance metrics, as had been predicted by the consultant, but the numbers improved within six weeks and were 15% to 30% above plan after six months. The hiring needed to fill the identified vacancies took place expeditiously. The CEO was able to devote a much greater amount of his time to tactical and strategic matters and explore other innovations and opportunities. And perhaps the most telling indicator of success – the consultant received a large bonus.

How a Great Leader Facilitated a Successful Reorganization

The consultant succeeded because he employed a number of essential practices during the contract:

  • His client was the CEO. The consultant made sure everyone he dealt with across the companies knew he was the CEO’s man. He leveraged the CEO’s passion for the undertaking and his willingness to explain and boost it to advantage. All the staff knew what was expected. They knew cooperation with the consultant was part of that.
  • He made great use of the client’s physical plant. The centrally located food court became update central. It was the soapbox the consultant used with the CEO to keep staff engaged.
  • The consultant used simple, informative tools to keep the management team involved and on side. He used post-it notes, story boards and the companies own online learning video technology. It was comfortable, non-intimidating media that enabled rapid change.
  • He shared the journey with his stakeholders on a weekly basis, taking them through the thought process and interim conclusions and building their ownership of the findings and recommendations.
  • Because the consultant’s office was in another city he used the senior admin staff as his eyes, ears and mouthpiece on the ground. In essence, he was ever present even though he was 600 kilometers away.
  • He kept the engagement short. If he had added a month or three to the contract, he could have added more detail to the report, more consultation with the CEO and his management team, supervised the transition in person. But he made it known early on that his role was one of facilitation. The changed belonged to the CEO and his management. They needed to run with it as their own. And they did!

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, leverage all those practices you know have been proven and add value. Engage the affected stakeholders right up front. Do things quickly, in four to six week intervals. And measure and report how you’ve done. Finally, put these points on your checklist of things to do in future endeavours so you too can be a Great Leader. And remember to use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks right up front so you don’t overlook those key success factors.

In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll present it for others to learn from and comment on.

Thanks

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – Maximizing Value, Optimizing Capacity

In my last post, If At First You Don’t Succeed, we looked at the opportunities one project manager had to guide the same project on three different occasions, with two aborted attempts and a final, successful implementation. We also reviewed the lessons he learned and applied along the way that made all the difference to the final outcome.

In this post, we’ll look at the challenges one organization faced in dealing with competing and conflicting demands across their various lines of business. The actions it took ensured the tactical plans fully supported the company’s strategic plans and priorities and optimized business and IT capacity in support of those goals.

Thanks to R.D. for the details on this case.

The Situation

This mid-size financial services organization had a rough and ready approach to funding business and IT initiatives – convince the CEO and you’d get the dough. Of course, there were a few problems with this approach. The CEO didn’t have a systematic method for assessing the proposals and deciding which should go ahead and when. There was no guarantee that the initiatives approved by the CEO supported the organization’s strategic plans and priorities. Nor was there any assurance that the approved projects represented an appropriate mix of strategic, tactical and operational. Sometimes the CEO considered these things, sometimes he didn’t. Often the other affected departments didn’t know that a project was approved until after the CEO had made his decision, which usually wreaked havoc with the affected departments’ internal plans and priorities. There was very little understanding of the cumulative financial and resource impact as initiatives were approved over the course of the year. The CEO charged the VP of Finance with managing the financial side but he had little information and even less co-operation from the other VP’s. IT faced varying levels of demand with little warning and little control over expected timing and costs. Needless to say, project on-time, on-budget performance was abysmal. In the eyes of the CEO and the other VP’s, that was IT’s issue.

So the CIO decided that she needed to take control of the situation, at least from an IT perspective. She wanted to implement some kind of gate that would give IT the opportunity to control what projects they took on, what other projects they were packaged and released with, when they were scheduled, how costs were estimated and controlled, how resources were planned and allocated and how project performance would be measured. She reviewed her concerns and plans with the CEO and, to her surprise, found a very receptive audience. It turned out the CEO had been unhappy with the project approval process for some time but hadn’t had the opportunity to consider alternative approaches. Together, the CEO and CIO mapped out an approach that would address the challenges they faced.

The Goal

The CEO and CIO agreed to develop a tactical planning process that would :

  • Ensure support for the company’s strategies and priorities,
  • Provide an appropriate mix of strategic, tactical and operational investment,
  • Provide an open and transparent process built on a foundation of quantitative assessment,
  • Manage overall demand to optimize capacity and maximize value delivered,
  • Engage all senior managers in the process so there would be broad understanding and buy-in on the results.
  • Develop and deliver a process to achieve the goals within six weeks.

The Project

With the CEO’s backing, the CIO presented the plan to the company’s executives. There was lots of grumbling about added bureaucracy, impediments to individual department’s ability to respond quickly to opportunities, loss of control, etc. The CIO, and the CEO, countered that the plan would ensure that the company’s priority initiatives would be launched and resourced more effectively and delivered more successfully. They did concede that some projects that might get funding under the old regime wouldn’t get support under the new plan. But that was an acceptable cost to ensure strategic alignment. With somewhat grudging acquiescence, the executives approved the plan.

The CIO assigned responsibility for developing the process to the PMO Director. With an aggressive target of six weeks to deliver recommendations to manage the demand in support of corporate strategy and make the most effective use of on tap capacity, he charged his managers with a research project: discover the relevant best practices for collective review. Time frame: one week. He called it Maximizing Value, Optimizing Capacity – MVOC for short. At the end of the week, the PMO Director and his managers met to review what they had uncovered and assess suitability to the task at hand. They had accumulated a collective wealth of best practices, including material from the Office of Government Commerce, ISACA, the Project Management Institute, from leading academic institutions and change management practitioners, a number of books on strategic execution as well as countless articles on executing strategy successfully.

The managers presented their discoveries one by one, explaining why they believed their material supported the organization’s goals and should be incorporated into the final MVOC process. The group discussed the relevance of each of the recommendations presented and made collective decisions to retain or drop from further discussion. They then reviewed each of the retained recommendations against their ability to illuminate the following aspects of a proposed initiative:

  1. Opportunity – the rationale for undertaking an initiative
  2. Strategic alignment – the number one driver for a proposed initiative and the most significant test of its value
  3. Competitive environment – the impact of a proposed initiative on the external environment
  4. Benefit – the expected operating benefit
  5. Payback period – the life expectancy and thus the required payback period for a proposed initiative
  6. Stakeholders – the key decision makers whose involvement would be essential for success
  7. Organizational impact – the number of organizational units impacted, both internally and externally
  8. Organizational risk – the aggregate risk for the organization associated with a proposed initiative
  9. Capacity – the skills, capabilities, resources and services necessary to deliver

The group selected nine different recommendations that addressed most of the above factors to form the core of the MVOC process. They then developed a plan to create the first MVOC draft for review with the CIO. The plan included three activities: develop the initiative workbook that would be used to capture the necessary information about an initiative; develop the quantitative assessment framework that would be used to arrive at a numeric score for each initiative; and develop the process guide, including background, process goals and objectives, the process model and roles and responsibilities.

The managers divided the responsibilities for the activities among themselves and went to work. When the PMO Director and his managers met with the CIO to review progress, the drafts for the initiative workbook, the quantitative assessment guide and the process guide were well formed. After a few tweaks, the CIO was sufficiently pleased that she booked a review meeting with the executives to approve the package and initiate rollout. The proof would be in the application. The executives agreed to the rollout.

The PMO managers introduced the MVOC to business unit directors and managers with the VP in attendance and in support. Business Analysts then worked with the business units over a six week period to complete a workbook and apply the assessment framework on all current and planned initiatives. At the end of the six weeks, 145 new initiatives had been documented and assessed in addition to the 65 that were already in progress. The results for each department were reviewed and approved by the responsible VP.

The Results

The PMO managers took the assessment results and put them together to reflect ratings and rankings, organizational demand and impact, risks and rewards. From that they prepared two scenarios – one maximizing strategic value but posing significant risk and capacity challenges and one that included the top strategic initiatives but included a greater allocation to strategically aligned tactical initiatives to lower the risk and capacity concerns. The scenario maximizing strategic value included only eight initiatives. The second, more tactically focused scenario included four strategic initiatives, twenty tactical undertakings and six operational allocations. They also looked at the 65 in-progress projects and concluded that eleven should be cancelled outright for lack of strategic alignment.

They reviewed the findings with the CIO who took the results to the executives largely unchanged. The VP’s received the full package of assessments a week before the meeting and were given an opportunity to discuss the results with a PMO representative. Two of the eight executives took advantage of the offer and only four minor adjustments were made to the package. None the less, the executive review was a tense affair, pitting departmental interests against strategic value. At the end of the meeting, the second scenario was approved with the addition of three more tactical initiatives. The executives agreed to cancel six of the eleven recommended projects to resource the three additions. Incremental hiring was approved to offset the remaining five projects that would not be cancelled.

A month after the executive review meeting, at the request of the CIO, the PMO Director sent out a short assessment to the executives to get their feedback on the effectiveness of the MVOC process. The results:

MVOC Goals Rating:
1 – did not meet expectations to
5 – exceeded expectations
  • Ensure support for the company’s strategies and priorities,
4.5
  • Provide an appropriate mix of strategic, tactical and operational investment
4.3
  • Provide an open and transparent process built on a foundation of quantitative assessment,
4.6
  • Manage overall demand to optimize capacity and maximize value delivered,
4.8
  • Engage all senior managers in the process so there would be broad understanding and buy-in on the results.
4.3
  • Develop and deliver a process to achieve the goals within six weeks.
4.5

Not bad for a quick six week effort! Also, in an interesting follow-up one year later, the CIO assessed executive satisfaction with project performance. Prior to the implementation of MVOC only 30% had rated project performance as “Met Expectations”. A year after MVOC, slightly over 80% were at the “Met Expectations” level or higher. For this company at least, it definitely paid to manage value and optimize capacity.

How a Great Leader Delivered an Effective Corporate Practice

The CIO did a number of things right to deliver the results.

  • She tackled, head on, an issue that was causing her grief and costing the organization through poor project performance and wasted capacity. In the process of getting support from the CEO, she discovered that she wasn’t the only one bothered by the existing practice. It pays to talk!
  • She established a few key goals for MVOC and got buy-in to those goals from the stakeholders that mattered most.
  • She set a very short time horizon to deliver results. She achieved the six week target with time to spare and ensured that the executives would retain the information presented at the start to facilitate the review and decision-making process later on.
  • She engaged the PMO Director, and through him his managers, right up front. It got them involved and on-side early and enabled the rapid development of the MVOC process. They were also fully up to speed when they received the go ahead to roll out MVOC.
  • She was willing to work with her peers to shape and mold MVOC to meet their collective needs. She welcomed changes in the process itself and in the final results. That helped reduce resistance from the other executives.
  • She measured the executives’ satisfaction with the process and followed up with the measurement on project performance. Of course she shared those results with the rest of the organization. That helped her peers to feel even more positive about MVOC and the follow-on project results.

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, leverage all those practices you know have been proven and add value. Marshall the insights and support of your colleagues. Involve the affected stakeholders right up front. Do things quickly, in four to six week intervals. And measure and report how you’ve done. Finally, put these points on your checklist of things to do in future endeavours so you too can be a Great Leader. And remember to use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks right up front so you don’t overlook those key success factors.

In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll present it for others to learn from and comment on. Thanks

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

From the Sponsor’s Desk – If at First You Don’t Succeed

In my last post, Seven Rules for Successful Outsourcing, we looked at the steps one organization took to reduce its operating expenses by outsourcing key human resource functions and the consequences it reaped by focusing only on the financial outcomes. We also considered the steps it could have taken to yield a very different result.

In this post, we’ll look at how one project manager had the opportunity to guide the same project on three different occasions, with two aborted attempts and a final, successful implementation. We’ll also discover the lessons he learned and applied along the way that made all the difference to the final outcome.

Thanks to M.A. for the details on this case.

The Situation

This mid-size manufacturing organization had pursued a growth through acquisition strategy over the previous ten years. The strategy had worked. It had tripled revenue and grown the bottom line. But it hadn’t taken the opportunity to rationalize the acquisitions’ operating practices and technology infrastructures and that was creating a drag on profits. It had multiple financial systems, human resources offerings, ERP solutions, customer management processes and technologies and lots of organizational duplications and gaps. The CEO decided the time was ripe to fix the problem, cut the duplication and waste and start directing more of that growing revenue stream to the bottom line.

The CEO charged the CIO with fixing the problem. Both the CEO and CIO viewed the problem as a technology challenge that required an assessment of each of the technology offerings available, a decision on the preferred solution and conversion of all operating units to that preferred solution. With that frame of reference, they developed a list of candidates to lead the project and selected an engineer who had several years of experience with the parent organization and had distinguished himself on a number of occasions with innovative solutions to operational challenges. They reassigned the selected engineer to the project and gave him a mandate to do what was necessary to eliminate infrastructure duplications and improve operating efficiency.

The Goal

To standardize operating technologies and processes across all operating units within three years at a target budget of $3.6 million. The budget was arrived at by counting the six operating companies, assuming six core processes in each and assigning a $100,000 per process conversion cost.

The Project

As I indicated in the introduction, there were three attempts to deliver this project successfully. The first two failed. The third time’s the charm.

Iteration #1

The newly assigned project manager, let’s call him Steve, jumped at the challenge. He contacted colleagues in all the operating units, explained his mandate and asked for their help. Where he had no previous relationships, he looked for guidance from the CIO and used his recommendations to establish contact. He identified eleven participants in all, people he believed had the knowledge and influence to help him achieve his goal. Everyone he talked to was supportive of the need to streamline operations. So, feeling very confidant, Steve developed a five step plan:

  1. Identify all the core operating processes
  2. Catalogue the various technologies used to support those operating processes in each organization
  3. Develop assessment criteria to evaluate each technology on an objective basis
  4. Assess each technology using the established criteria
  5. Select and recommend one technology for each operating process

As Steve contacted his eleven contributors to get the ball rolling, he found their availability was a challenge. While they all insisted they believed in his project, they claimed lack of time to contribute because of other priorities. He’d call meetings. Six would accept. Three would actually show up. He’d book appointments. Some wouldn’t respond at all and many that did would cancel the day of the meeting. He’d send out draft documents for comment and typically receive feedback from less than half the recipients, many with just cursory or general remarks.

Steve reported to the CIO on a periodic basis. Every meeting focused on the difficulty of getting time and attention from his contributors. The CIO just urged him to keep plugging along but made no other suggestions to improve the effectiveness of the exercise.

Steve had allowed himself nine weeks to complete the five step plan. To his horror, it took him eight weeks to get through the first two steps and even then he wasn’t convinced that he had everyone’s agreement. Things got even worse when he started contacting the vendors who supported the technologies operating in the various business units. Most of the vendors didn’t seem interested in dealing with him. They all had their own contacts and relationships with his company and suggested that if he needed information, he should go through those channels. That added four more names to Steve’s list of contributors and meant that he had to backtrack to bring the new players up to speed on his project and what had been completed to date.

Developing the assessment criteria took seven weeks, not the two weeks he had planned. While he had hoped to develop a generic checklist for use on all the technologies, the contributors wanted process specifics so he had to create purpose-built checklists for each core process. Again, he kept the CIO appraised of the challenges he was facing but the CIO offered very little in the way of assistance to accelerate progress and gain back some of the lost schedule.

By the time Steve started step 4, assessing each of the technologies, his project was eleven weeks behind with no idea how to address the core issues – this change would involve massive business process change and he lacked committed contributors and the ability to influence enterprise priorities to get that commitment. To compound the challenges, the vendors of the various technologies used in the operating units now knew that something was afoot. They recognized the risks and the opportunities and so they started to exert pressure on their customers to use their offerings across the enterprise. Political pressure would make an objective assessment of the technologies even more difficult. On top of that, the CIO was getting hounded by all of the vendors. They wanted a say.

So the CIO met with the CEO to discuss the problem. Between the two of them, they decided to change the approach Steve had been taking. They would ask all the involved vendors to submit bids on becoming the enterprise vendor for one or more of the core processes. They would also go outside the existing vendor list to solicit bids from companies that offered SaaS and other cloud solutions. The CIO informed Steve of the change in direction and asked him to prepare the Request for Proposals (RFP’s) and get them out to the vendors. Steve was royally pissed. He should have been involved in the meeting with the CEO. He knew the challenges the project was facing and could have contributed to the discussion and the chosen outcome. He felt the RFP approach would run into the same issues he was already facing. He told the CIO what he thought. The CIO essentially ignored Steve’s concerns and in effect said “There, there Steve, everything will be OK. Just trust us.” Would you?

Iteration #2

So Steve decided to give the RFP approach a try even though he had grave concerns. At least if he could narrow down the vendors, he could start working with his contributors to build a viable implementation plan. The work Steve and his contributors had completed on steps 1 through 3 did come in handy. He was able to put together a comprehensive set of business specific RFP’s that could be used by all vendors for all core processes. However, when he approached his now fifteen contributors with an update on the direction of the project and request for feedback on his draft RFP’s, he ran into a load of turbulence. By and large, the contributors did not like the new approach. They felt that they had little say in the decision-making process and little control over the final outcome. A couple of the contributors actually told Steve that they would no longer be involved in the process. A number of the contributors, who were mostly at the middle management level, went to their bosses with their concerns.

Steve brought the feedback to the CIO and this time included the CEO in the loop. Their response: “Just keep going. Everything will be fine.” So he did. He sent out the RFP’s with a submit-by date four weeks in the future. He offered optional sessions so each vendor could meet with the key stakeholders (the CEO and CIO) to discuss the requirements and opportunities. A number of vendors opted for the meeting so Steve proceeded to set them up. Unfortunately, the CEO and CIO were usually unavailable so Steve became the point man.

While Steve was working with the vendors to get the RFP’s in and assessed, two other critical activities were taking place that Steve was not privy to. Senior executives in the operating units were being made aware of the project, how it was being conducted and the concerns their staffs had about the impact on their organizations. And, vendors were lobbying and politicking at the most senior levels of the organization, including the board of directors, to ensure their offerings were selected.

As Steve was getting set to recommend specific vendors for the core processes, with whatever input he could get from the contributors who were still involved, the CEO resigned. It seems the board had concerns about the CEO’s performance and his direction of the infrastructure rationalization project was the last straw. The project was suspended. Steve returned to his old job.

Iteration #3

The new CEO, a senior executive from one of the operation units, took three months to settle in before relaunching the infrastructure rationalization initiative. He met with the CIO to gather some insight and the CIO brought in Steve to provide the details on what went wrong and what needed to happen to make the project successful.

Steve hadn’t been idle since the project was cancelled. He had done his own post mortem. He had done some reading and research. He had chatted at length with a friend who had become a very successful project manager. Here’s the substance he shared with the new CEO and CIO:

The Problems:

  • This is a business project with significant impact on business operations. It has a large technology component but it’s not a technology project.
  • It didn’t have the enterprise priority it needed to be successful. In most of the operating units, it wasn’t even on their radar as something that needed their attention.
  • It didn’t have the commitment of the key business unit decision makers it needed to progress effectively and deliver successfully.
  • It was woefully under-resourced in terms of dedicated business process and project management knowledge and skills.

The Recommendations:

  • Establish the priority for the initiative across the enterprise and ensure everyone acted accordingly.
  • Identify and engage the key stakeholders – the business and technology decision- makers whose active participation would be essential for a successful outcome.
  • Clearly articulate stakeholder roles and responsibilities through the use of a RACI chart or similar tool.
  • Complete a business case that focused on the business issues, the expected business outcomes and the associated impact on business operations.
  • Complete a project charter that includes a description of the undertaking, the goals and objectives, functional and non-functional requirements in and out of scope, assumptions, constraints, risks, resources and facilities, etc.
  • Prioritize the core processes included in the project and plan for a phased and staged implementation. The organization did not have the capacity or capability to accommodate the updating of all core processes concurrently.
  • Ensure a highly experienced and successful project manager is in place to guide the undertaking.

The new CEO liked Steve’s recommendations and asked him if he’d like to be involved again and in what capacity. Steve responded that he’d love to be involved and would like to be given the project manager role, but with one proviso – that he be provided with a PM mentor who would guide and direct Steve and provide regular feedback on the project, and Steve’s, performance. The new CEO had Steve present his findings and recommendations to the executive committee and asked for their approval to proceed as recommended. They agreed. Steve had his third chance.

The Results

With his mentor in place, the key decision-makers backing him, the priority established and communicated and a new action plan to guide him, he facilitated the prioritization process for the core processes. Financial management and reporting was selected as the most pressing challenge and so he and his team focused exclusively on that as phase 1. The process and infrastructure rationalization was completed under budget but about three months late. That enabled a clean, staged rollout, business unit by business unit. The stakeholders were fully involved in the undertaking and endorsed the late delivery to ensure a pristine implementation. And it was!

The other core processes followed, one by one, with similar staged implementations and similar, highly successful results. The 8th and final phase was completed four years after the start of the third iteration. The whole organization had been involved and they had gotten very good at this. Steve was promoted to Director, Enterprise Project and Change Management about two years into the undertaking in recognition of his stellar leadership and the superb results achieved. Return on Investment: over 60%.

How a Great Leader Learned and Changed the Outcome

Steve started on this journey with no formal project management training or experience. Fortunately he possessed an inquiring mind, good problem solving skills, an ability to think outside the box, tenacity and well developed communication skills. He recognized early on that he had two insurmountable challenges – lack of committed contributors and zero control over enterprise priorities. He also recognized that while he reported to the CIO and looked to him for advice and guidance, the CEO seemed to be calling the shots.

He responded by discovering and applying the best practices outlined under Iteration #3 above. So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, leverage all those practices you know have been proven and add value. Marshall the insights and support of your colleagues. Involve the affected stakeholders right up front. Always consider alternatives, both business and technology, regardless of the edict. Finally, put these points on your checklist of things to do in future endeavours so you too can be a Great Leader. And remember to use Project Pre-Check’s three building blocks right up front so you don’t overlook those key success factors.

In the interim, if you have a project experience, either good or bad, past or present, that you’d like to have examined through the Project Pre-Check lens and published in this blog, send me the details and we’ll present it for others to learn from and comment on. Thanks

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.