Don’t get scared when heading into uncharted water
One of the most difficult situations a technology executive can find himself or herself in is with a clear understanding that the current state of the organization isn’t sustainable but with no clear approach to moving forward. Their may be a myriad of reasons for this unclear picture from a lack of insight into ongoing operations, to poor data, to a lack of support for action from upper management. Any of these can create difficult environment in which to move forward and develop an efficient and effective technology organization from, however I believe that too much time spent analyzing where to start simply delays improvement and rarely ends with the organization getting to value faster than if they had started by simply acting.
I don’t mean to imply that doing anything is better than nothing or that simply doing something for the sake of doing something is a good plan of attack. I am saying that in the absence of a clear path forward every organization can benefit from taking the following steps and particularly those that are struggling with how to move forward but aren’t sure of the right approach or simply lack the information necessary to make an informed plan forward. With everything I am going to say next please keep one very simply concept in mind:
There is a “Thin Layer” of information that is important. Anything beyond what is necessary to support decision-making is superfluous and wasteful. Choose this information wisely. Choose only what you need to support ongoing decision-making. Anything else can be developed on an as needed basis. With that said here is the right approach to transforming any organization and developing an information set that will provide a springboard to efficiency and effectiveness.
- Figure out what you do: This seems pretty simply but seems to always get lost in the battle for detail. The first time you do this you should not be focused on developing a detailed model of everything you do so you can execute the business from it like a playbook. This is all about developing buckets to group the resources of the organization for analysis into portfolios. Consider this to be one of your first steps on the path to enterprise portfolio management. Also—remember that you can stand on the work of those that have come before you. There are many capability frameworks that have already been developed and are actively maintained.
- Figure our the decisions you need to make: In order to understand what information you need, you need to first figure out what decisions you are trying to support. Once you’ve decided what you do in step 1 it becomes much easier to understand the overall decisions landscape needed to support it. Create a decision register that defines the decision including RACI, informational inputs, analytic components and the benefit of the decision. This last part is critical because it enables you to value the decision and by proxy understand how much you should invest to gain more insight in order to improve decision-making.
- Figure out who your stakeholders are: I’ve separated this from the decision making step because I believe they are distinct and that mixing the two muddies the water, but in practice their will be a lot of overlap in these two activities and developing the working products associated with each should be done hand in hand. Tying the decisions to the people that make them as well as the people who help develop the information necessary to support decision-making is critical stuff. A great planning document can be developed by creating a decision matrix that maps to stakeholders and includes RACI information.
- Figure out the benefit landscape: I mentioned this in the discussion of the decision register, but I have pulled it out because I believe it is critical to being successful over time. Developing a benefits list makes you put a value to the effort of maintaining this planning information. One of the major complaints that I hear regarding planning and architecture efforts is that they either lack value or that the value is hard to understand. I believe that this is often because a great deal of information goes into maintaining information that is of low organizational value. Remember the Thin Layer and make sure that the information you manage and maintain has real benefit to the organization. Articulating this in a document, registry or report forces you to think through the value proposition of each decision and in turn the value of the information you will being managing.
- Figure out the exact information you need to support these decisions: We are very specific about what we collect when we enter an organization for two reasons. The first is we like to work within a time box in order to get to value quickly so being specific about what we ask enables us to keep our client side impact to a minimum. The second is that we know how hard it is to maintain good planning data and we know there is a cost to maintaining it. Asking for more than you need is wasteful. If you are optimizing around services or your application portfolio make sure you understand how the various information you are gathering supports the relevant decision-making.
- Figure out the analytic components: Once you’ve taken the trouble to figure out what decisions you need to make it is important to take the time necessary to design analytic components that specifically support those decisions. This may not be a one report to one decision type of process. Think about each decision as though it were a scenario. Often making decisions requires several analytic components in order to enable you to drive through the decisions scenario.
- Figure out your timelines: Time boxes work hand in hand with the Thin Layer concept to ensure that you are getting to value as rapidly as possible. I believe in 30, 60 and 90 day plans with very specific deliverables. In fact the first iteration through this list should take no more than 90 days. That isn’t to say that you will have everything perfect the first time through, but there should be some real value and insight gained in those first 90 days. After the second iteration you should be very close to having something that you can operate from and from there forward you should be able to run through this list on an annual basis in order to ensure that organizational change is being accounted for and that you aren’t spending resources to maintain informational inputs for a decision that is no longer of high value.
- Figure out what success looks like: You have to go into the project with a shared vision of success that is held by both those inside and outside the project. If the goal is some form of organizational transformation it is critical that you work to define some very specific metrics for both the short and the long term in order to understand if you are building value for the organization.
- Figure out your marketing plan: I’ve been told on many occasions that marketing really isn’t something their organization does because they are an internal service organization. Do not allow yourself to fall into this trap. Success breeds success. Every project should have a marketing plan even if you feel you have to call it a communications plan. Trumpet your success and how your success enables the success of the organization—it will help you be more successful and stay successful. You should always be searching for the ROI or benefit statement that accompanies your project and set aside dollars and resource time to do so. If you don’t you aren’t doing everything you can to succeed.
- Figure out your decision making processes: Understanding the decisions that need to be made, the informational inputs, decision making context, etc is just part of the story. To get maximum value you have to make sure that you plan your decision making process and plan it around your new informational environment. You are going to have a lot of new information and a lot of new insight. Don’t make the mistake of sticking to your old decision making process or you will have missed an enormous opportunity to capture more value from your efforts.