When results matter
Disappointing results and failure to meet expectations are too often the outcome of ambitious business transformations. There are no silver bullets that guarantee that a programme will not go pear shaped but there are methods and techniques that can be applied when a business needs to move fast and the price of failure is high. This executive briefing looks at key issues that management might face in a business transformation that deploys well-
Why Business Transformation is Different
Ambitious results can rarely, if ever, be delivered by means of new IT alone, however important technology can be as an enabler. This is because organisations are made up of people who are more complex than the machines that form one part of the total system. Business transformation therefore depends on orchestrating the various means available and focusing effort on critical issues. It is true that there are well established, engineering like disciplines that are sometimes applied to "IT" projects. In contrast the tasks of influencing behaviour, designing reward systems, modifying management processes and organisation structure are less susceptible to engineering rigour. This will be evident in every manager's experience, in that it would be unusual to find investment analysis, formal project management discipline or benefits measurement regimes that are expected for "IT projects" applied to a new performance appraisal system, a management restructuring, new job descriptions, or changes to staff skills. Yet these elements can be more significant in terms of either resources expended or strategic impact. A business transformation presumes a holistic approach that may deploy software as a vehicle for the effective orchestration of these components. This is not to say that an organisation should abandon disciplined approaches which might be characteristic of a traditional IT project. Rather the organisation must apply mature business judgement and all the combined management experience it can muster. These aspects do not naturally lend themselves to precisely definable timetables and planning -
Capability to Undertake a Business Transformation Programme
The second critical point to bear in mind is that, most organisations are focused on day to day operations and simply do not have in house dedicated experience of straightforward application development, let alone holistic, large-
Frameworks, Methods, Techniques
These factors need to be recognised up front and inform the programme definition, risk management plan and planning. Well established, industry best practice techniques are can be used to guide all these aspects of programme management (e.g. the public domain PRINCE methodologies). However most available materials have a strong IT bias and largely neglect the other aspects of a business transformation. To supplement this other materials should also be consulted. (For example Process Innovation, Tom Davenport, HBR Press and Managing at the Speed of Change, Daryl Conner, Wiley).
Whatever guidance is used the programme management task is often perilously underestimated. A rule of thumb which has been proven in the field, organises the work into linked projects each of which has a full time project manager reporting to the (full-
The term "implementation waves" is used by some consultancies to describe something akin to what, in the public domain, has been known as (within the IT industry) an evolutionary approach. A business transformation will draw on IT methodologies with caution since these generally do not give sufficient attention to the behavioural and business process design tasks which are more challenging than the software design. Nonetheless the rationale underpinning the evolutionary model applies. The evolutionary model delivers at each stage an operational quality deliverable satisfying a subset of requirements. The order of delivery is determined by the value to the business of what is delivered. This approach is very well established and can be traced back to the 1980s in the context of IT. Business process redesign first became widely known in the early 1990s, which is when evolutionary methods were extended to process innovation.
Following an evolutionary approach, implementation of new software, business processes, organisational structures, jobs, reward and recognition systems and management processes are progressively built up to move toward the vision already articulated. Pragmatically the sequence in which this runs will depend on the value assigned to each piece of work and any natural dependencies (for example you cannot introduce new management or individual performance appraisal regimes without the management information systems to track the achievement of redesigned targets). A critical business input is therefore judgement regarding the ranking of propositions for the way in which the business transformation is taken forward framed in terms of the value expected from each proposal. This will be akin in format to a high-
Finally, it is worth pointing out that an evolutionary approach provides more opportunities to check that the progress and benefits can be made as anticipated and is therefore a safer investment strategy than a single big hit. In practice it is much safer, the business world is littered with grandiose schemes that failed and most organisations will have examples of this.
In selecting methods and approaches attention is not often given to the human factors that underpin successful change. This is now pretty much universally accepted best practice and a body of techniques and frameworks have been assembled for this purpose. In regard to business transformations the vital need to embrace this aspect is self-
Without active and sophisticated attention to change management any of these can become show stoppers. In this context change management techniques that an be deployed include, amongst others:
These factors and how they may be applied are more fully explained in the reference materials referred to above.
Some Key Techniques
Some of the key techniques that may not be familiar to an organisation but which will be potentially vital to a business transformation include:
The immense value of benchmarking is not to be underestimated. It provides a powerful mechanism that:
Timeboxing is a vital tool to maintain progress and focus for the work although it can cause considerable misunderstandings for individuals who have not been exposed to current software development techniques. (Timeboxing is not limited to software development but resistance is more likely form people who have had experience of earlier generations of software development methodologies). The technique deals with the overarching need to maintain a schedule and deliver on time, realistically recognising that a trade off exists between functionality and speed of delivery. It is more realistic than previous approaches that assume that design is wholly known in advance (see above). It provides a discipline for retaining control of the development process by rescheduling work in a planned way as appropriate recognising an 80/20 lore applies in development as elsewhere.
Rapid Application Development ("RAD")
Although many business transformations rely on implementing packaged software these increasingly include what can be thought of as akin to a simple (so-
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