There is an old adage regarding how you eat an elephant…one bite at a time. This saying is true about many things in life that present us with significant challenges and can be especially true in the business world. Let me share with you one particular challenge that you may be facing – initiating a program of Information Management work across a huge business or multiple business units.
I have been fortunate or depending on your perspective, rather unfortunate to create and lead technology programs throughout my career, and I have learned a few things about how to launch IT programs. This article will help you understand the typical challenges that organizations face in initiating a program of work and will give you practical recommendations and approaches to overcoming those challenges. Although this article is focused on information management, you should be able to apply the findings to other IT domains.
As we talk about the many challenges that one faces when initiating an IM program, the biggest obstacle is the lack of maturity in the organization to execute a series of IT projects focused on specific objectives. There is a common saying that Rome was not built in a day, and the same can be said about creating a successful IM program.You have to “earn the right” to run a program within your organization by building up credibility that you can deliver true value; unfortunately, significant value typically does not come to the organization until a significant percentage of the program is complete. This is the typical chicken and egg conundrum.
As you can see from Figure 1, the maturity path to program success starts out with little or no action or success (typically in pilot mode) followed by one-off successes (individual, ad-hoc projects) and culminating into a decision to manage work in a program with the hopes of being extremely successful. The goal of the organization should be to accelerate through the maturity curve to realize the highest enterprise value as quickly as possible.
In fact, the ideal path forward would be to skip Bite 2 and go directly to Bite 3 from Bite 1. I have seen and read about organizations that have been successful in doing this. For example, while earning my Masters Degree at the W.P. Carey School of Business (Arizona State University), I had the opportunity to examine a case study about Cisco and its CIO, Peter Solvik, who did just that. When Solvik was hired by Cisco’s CEO John Chambers in 1993, he looked into Cisco’s business and IT environment and identified two major challenges:
- The IT Department was viewed as a cost center that reported through the Finance department
- The current systems could not support Cisco’s current value chain or projected business growth
To address the second challenge he proposed a $15 million ERP program focused on standardizing and driving flexibility within Cisco’s information systems. He chose to jump straight to Bite 3 (from Bite 1) and bet his career on the success of the ERP program. The program was a huge success. When Cisco later standardized and reorganized R&D and marketing from multiple business units to three lines of business, the ERP system allowed them to complete all reorganization changes in less than 60 days for a cost less than $1 million.
If you are fortunate enough to have the sponsorship, authority, and execution skills to jump straight to Bite 3 (like Solvik), then, by all means do so; otherwise, you will need to take an intermediate step (Bite 2). I’ll discuss each bite in a little more detail.
During the first bite, most company leaders are not concerned with, or have even thought of implementing a IT solution within a program framework. They are typically in fact-finding mode and wear the hat of “early adopter”.Their focus is on learning about a new technology or methodology, and conducting pilot projects looking to get that new edge in operations. Usually, there is not much focus by a centralized corporate IT standards group to assist with the effort. In fact, there may not even be a centralized corporate IT group assembled when leaders begin the journey. During this phase, leaders can be thought of as mad scientists trying to find a great new secret that is going to elevate the business to new heights. Think of it as going to the driving range and hitting balls with a new golf grip, just tinkering out the new grip on the range to see if you can hit the ball straight before thinking about using the new grip on the course.
If the pilot project(s) prove to be successful, company leaders will become evangelists within their organizations and look for additional opportunities to achieve similar success – this is Bite #2. This path to adoption is opportunistic at best and typically occurs in a reactive manner. In large organizations, adoption opportunities are often found in sister companies within the same product group or with other business units in the same region as the previous pilot project(s). There are many positives and negatives that leaders will encounter. On the positive side, value is generated within the enterprise with the successful deployment of each IM solution, and hopefully the result is increased end user efficiency and hard dollar savings. On the negative side, the adoption of stand-alone “one off” solutions drives up the total cost of ownership (TCO) in delivering and supporting the pointed solutions. Every solution implementation ends up being a different instance that drives up costs and reduces the overall benefit. Returning to our golf grip analogy, Bite 2 is taking the new grip on the course and using it sporadically – hitting some really great golf shots that set you up for birdie and then hitting some disastrous shots, setting yourself up for triple bogey.
At this point, leaders are faced with a crossroads. Do they continue in a one-off manner, or do they work to standardize to reduce TCO? Back to my golf analogy, do you use the golf grip for every shot and practice to make our shots more consistent or do you constantly change our grip for each shot and continue to spray the ball around the course?
The centralized corporate IT group often comes into the equation at this stage and starts to understand the new technology / method and decides how best to manage it within its current standards portfolio. This is a good thing, and you need to embrace the group and leverage them to help you with your upcoming challenges.
When taking Bite 3, some of the challenges you are going to need to address include: How do you address and manage a broad stakeholder community, scope of work, and unique set of business unit requirements within a single program? Can value truly be created by deploying a common IM solution across a multi-business organization? How do you deal with the unique business operations that provide significant competitive advantage? How do you deal with other business priorities that may be of similar or higher priority than your specific program? Also, how do you incorporate and align the previous and current “one-off” initiatives that were launched during Bite 2? Finally and perhaps most importantly, how do you kickoff the program and jump in with both feet…actually take Bite 3?
The first step in taking Bite 3 is to identify and assemble the steering committee that is going to help endorse and evangelize the effort to initiate the IM program. I like to call this team my “executive swat team of change agents”. They are the critical executives (and your closest advisers and hopefully friends) within each of the company’s business units. They have a vested interest in lowering TCO, increasing adoption rates, and increasing quality of current and future IM initiatives. Some of these trusted advisers may have already implemented solutions during the Bite 1 or Bite 2 phases and may even have scars from the previous implementation (we can use these scars to our advantage as you will see later).
You are probably asking yourself, “How can they spare time to actively participate in this program?” and “How do I know I’ve identified the right person(s)?” You must ask yourself whether each selected member is personally accountable for driving increased value by leveraging information management and whether the member is a great evangelist within his/her business unit. If you can answer yes to both of those questions, you have probably “found your huckleberry”. Now, how do you get them to invest time in establishing a program? You use their previous one-off successes, scars, and upcoming initiatives to convey the value proposition for their participation in the program. Point out the future opportunity to reduce TCO and improve user adoption within their business unit. As you are assembling the team, be sure you do so in a very efficient manner. You can bet your trusted advisors have many other priorities (or fires) in their purview so you must be extremely careful not to abuse their time. Hold timely, high impact, high value meetings or workshops to initiate the formation of the program.
Once you have assembled your steering committee the next step is to develop the program’s initial guiding principles and overarching objectives and gain a common understanding of the current state of each participating business unit’s IM program. Often the most efficient way of doing this is to hold an inaugural workshop introducing the steering committee members and then lead facilitated sessions to identify the program’s guiding principles and objectives. It is during this initial workshop that you want to focus on driving a high level of effectiveness with the steering committee – accelerating them through the typical group effectiveness stages and taking them through the forming, storming, and norming stages to a performing execution level. Finally, it is extremely important to allow time to identify the current IM priorities for each steering committee member and provide an opportunity for them to share their current IM roadmaps.
Following the establishment of the guiding principles and program objectives, your next focus should be to educate the steering committee on and gain their agreement for the target domain area of focus for the program. More than likely the steering committee members will have varying levels of maturity and knowledge of the target domain, so you may have to conduct education / orientation sessions to get the members to the same level of understanding. An effective way of doing this is to conduct demonstrations of the solutions that have already been built during Bite 2 (the “one-off” successes). This is a great way to get your steering committee engaged by having them lead the demonstrations! Additionally, lessons learned from the previous projects need to be highlighted during the demonstrations and incorporated into the program framework.
As you educate the steering committee on the domain area, the next move is to work with them to decide on the high level domain scope. For starters, look to leverage the recent one-off successes (pilots and quick wins) to accelerate the program scope identification. This may be 75 – 80% of the answer. From there, look at the upcoming IM priorities of the participating business units and derive the scope by integrating the two findings. It may be necessary to segment the scope into logical areas. If this is the case, try to segment into no more than 3-5 sub areas.
Once you have identified the program scope you are on your way to launching your program. The final two steps include establishing near-term achievement milestones for the program and developing a business case for funding approval. I like to structure the milestones around user adoption goals. Start out by developing a chart that spans 2-4 years along the horizontal axis and the scope down the vertical axis. Working with your steering committee, plot the IM program’s user adoption milestones on the graph and obtain approval from the members. This milestone chart will form the foundation of your program and will assist in scheduling projects within the program to achieve the desired objectives. A sample of a milestone chart is below.
Once all are in agreement on the key milestones for the IM program, you need to complete one final step prior to taking Bite 3 – getting approval on the business case. I have seen some really great business cases and some really poor business cases. In my opinion, the best ones have a few things in common. First they are simple: simple to read, simple to understand, and simple to get approval (because of the quality). Second, the business case must take care of the basic “blocking and tackling”. This includes a great value proposition, a financial analysis projecting a lower TCO (if you properly planned), and a plan for mitigating any risks you may have identified during this process. Third (and most importantly), the business case needs to focus on how you will ultimately enhance the end user’s work activities (and life) by delivering high value through the IM program. If you can’t foresee effective end user improvements with the IM program, it is not worth pursuing.
Finally, let’s take a look at how life will be for you as you gain approval on the business case and take Bite 3. The first change you will see is that your evangelistic activities will slightly diminish and your role will become more of a governor – overseeing and managing the IM program. Secondly, you will finally be “ahead of the train” instead of behind it running trying to chase it. Your projects will be proactively planned, managed, and well organized. Finally, if executed correctly, your organization will reap heaps of value and benefit that would not have been possible during Bite 1 and Bite 2.
So what is next? It is time to leverage the framework you’ve just learned and start taking down the elephant. Going back to our golf analogy, it is time to use your new golf grip for every single shot until it becomes natural. You may have a few misses as you navigate around course, but in the long run your golf game (and the value to your company) will significantly improve. Go get it…good luck on the course!