Turning around failing projects

It is not uncommon for companies to struggle with implementing technology projects. Even with good vendors, sprawling and complicated technology projects are difficult to execute. Many go off-track at some point and of those, many are brought back to achieve some level of success in production.

If you have a project go off course, how should you handle it? How do you avoid it in the first place? From someone who has done this several times, here are a few tips that I've found work very well:

Turning it around

  1. Bring in an unbiased perspectiveSomeone who does not have a stake in the history of the project should assess the process of the project and the status of the project. Have them provide input on the three main areas: governance, management, and execution. If the issues seem to be more with the design or architecture issues, then assess those as well. Maybe this person can turn their findings over to the management team or maybe they need to stay involved longer-term to ensure their advice is executed, but either way it's critical to take blame out of the assessment itself.
  2. Re-set the goal-line: There are always timing and budget considerations, but when a project goes off the rails you need to make sure to take a balanced view of your priorities. If the timeline is the most important thing, then evaluate how to reduce scope or add resources. If a business result is most important, be flexible with your timeline and consider adding resources to key areas. If it's a tricky design issue, allocate additional budget to bring in a specialist. It all depends on the project and the business priorities now - not necessarily the expectations that were established at the beginning of the project.
  3. Move to an exception-based project management methodMeetings will not fix a floundering project. Keep the PMO lean and predictable. Have a well-established and well-communicated project plan that is updated on the same schedule every week. Keep an issues and risks log which your people update as needed and the PMO reviews every week. None of this is hard in and of itself, but being disciplined about it often is.
  4. Repair the relationships: If PMs are fighting or distrustful of one another, they need to get on the same page. They cannot fight for the rest of the project and expect to be successful. If they can't get on the same page, one or both of them need to be replaced. Not doing so will sow discord and mistrust among the project team, people will take sides, and their decision-making will lean more towards self-preservation than successful delivery.

Avoiding failure in the first place

  1. Establish a steering committee: This should be comprised of senior stakeholders and at least one outside expert. They monitor the project on a regular basis and have decision-making authority and budgetary control over the project. They are ultimately accountable for the results.
  2. Don't skimp on project management: A lot of projects try to save cost by running a lean PMO. Lean PMOs are, in general, a good thing but many project go too far. On difficult projects your lead project manager needs as much hands-on management time as possible. Add a PMO analyst to manage the project plan and put together status reports, add the part time resource to manage the issues database, delegate go-live planning to another experienced PM. Don't make the lead PM be engulfed in day-to-day administrative work - they need to turn the ship around first and foremost. And don't make them a "working" project manager - big projects needed a dedicated PM.
  3. Periodic project QA by an outside entity: Do at least a quarterly review with an outside, unbiased expert. They shouldn't get too close to the team, but it should be same person throughout the project. They should report to the project sponsor and their written assessments should be shared with the steering committee.
  4. Avoid the blame game: Most projects go off the rails because one or more issues get hidden for too long. They aren't raised high enough fast enough and ultimately become either the long pole in the tent or introduce a great deal of uncertainty to other workstreams. Creating a project environment where someone who raises an issue isn't worried about taking a hit, and where workers are comfortable disagreeing (constructively) in meetings is a critical and often overlooked aspect of creating a constructive project environment.

With a steady hand and a disciplined project manager, most struggling projects can be turned around. When in doubt, bring in help. The cost of getting things on track quickly will be dwarfed by either Day 0 turmoil or a disastrous delivery.

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Focusing on Risk: Client Stories

If you're truly taking a holistic view of a company's risk portfolio, you will quickly get beyond financial controls and insurance. In fact, for many industries, employee safety is among the first areas that you will address.

Many middle market companies have not substantially invested in employee training on safety or in the processes and procedures required for a safe workplace. Failure to address safety can lead to expensive and unexpected consequences and can easily kill an exit deal or, at the very least, discourage a pool of buyers from bidding. In fact, the sheer optics of obvious safety issues, can make the difference between creating the perception of a well-run, disciplined company and a mom-and-pop style, high-risk business.

The potential human costs to employees for not adequately addressing workplace safety are substantial and obvious. Workplace injuries can cause great harm to employees and their families including long-term health issues, economic hardship, and family challenges.

The hard costs to the business are also substantial. In addition to opportunity cost and lost capacity, litigation can be expensive and lengthy, government compliance will include fines and expose issues in the rest of the business, and if you're looking at an exit or financing the internal and potentially external exposure will create massive unknowns that will quickly disengage many buyers and investors.

With one of my clients, a manufacturer, recently undertook the first of a multi-stage process to improve employee safety. Today we held the first training session with Field Safety Corporation on hazard communications. This is the first installment in a multi-step process to get them up-to-speed and, so far, is dramatically transforming not only the safety of the plant but the culture.

Successful safety programs are easy to implement, relevant for the employees, and are rolled out in an organized, controlled fashion. They are also an appropriate scale for the enterprise.

Unsuccessful programs are boilerplate, hard to relate to, and only intended to mitigate the risk of fines. Massive, sprawling, complex programs are also impossible to sustain over time. When US Steel was a client of mine, we would have meetings where the first item on the agenda was the proper use of a stapler or how to sit down in a chair safely. This is not a joke - these actually happened. I do not recommend this level of detail in a safety program - it needs to fit your business.

Key areas to be aware of:

  • Which are the key areas that your business needs to address first? Chemical safety? Machine guarding? Fall protection? Each business has unique needs - customize the program and roll-out to fit yours.
  • How much time can you dedicate? Many mid-sized business are time-constrained and can barely meet capacity. If that means you need a slower rollout, that's fine - but plan all of the safety program components up-front and be disciplined at implementing over time.
  • Do you have the right managers and do they have the right skill-sets/mindset to sustain a successful safety program?

When Ronan Consulting Group teams perform a risk assessment, we look at all aspects of risk. Certainly we need to guard against the risk of fraud or financial impropriety as well as cybersecurity, but we also look at any area that could create an unexpected event for an investor and lingering consequences for a company. Safety is often at the top of that list.

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Focusing on Risk

For whatever reason, my conversations during the first month of 2017 have focused disproportionately on risk - quantifying it, understanding it, controlling it, or avoiding it altogether. I don't know if it's the prevailing social and political winds or just a random sequence of discussions, but risk seems to be on the mind of all of my clients, prospects, and partners.

Here are two highlights from my risk-laden January:

Middle Market Risk

I presented to the Exit Planning Exchange this month on how operations can be used to increase the value of a business prior to an exit. The case study we worked through, which was based on a real business, involved a lower middle-market company that couldn't drum up any interest from 30+ strategic buyers, and only a little low-value interest from 120+ PE firms.

The company certainly had some value drivers to explore, but my judgement was that to increase the pool of potential buyers, the main thing they needed to do was decrease the risk of acquisition.

I explored the three main areas I felt were the likely reasons for this lack of interest:

 

1. Key Man Risk

Where you see it: Most middle-market companies have key-man risk in spades. As they grow, and especially as they grow towards a majority investment or exit, that key man risk becomes more and more costly

Control it by: 1) Building a professional management team; 2) developing management disciplines like project planning, portfolio management, implementing smart performance management frameworks; and 3) understanding KPIs and start holding managers accountable for them

Pay particular attention to: 1) Sales organization - if most sales are relationship-based, those cannot be replaced just with business processes. Reducing risk will involve warm intros to other salespeople - either up or down the chain; 2) Operations - if only one or two people know all the ins and outs of your production process, that means everyone else is operating in a silo. Use small improvement projects, technology projects, and promotions to expose other people to and create accountability for end-to-end business processes

2. Geographic Risk

Where you see it: Most lower middle market companies. It's far easier for founders and owners to manage people who are physically close to them. Any company outside of the high tech sector that has grown from an SMB to a larger business is susceptible to this risk

Control it by: Build disciplined core business processes, implement easy-to-use cloud-based enterprise systems, roll out management KPIs, and then hire great people

Pay particular attention to: It may be tempting to hire the most technical, specialized people you need for a new region first. In reality, you also need to know how to manage them. A slightly larger upfront cost structure to an expansion may result in faster, more sustainable results.

3. Vendor / Customer Risk

Where you see it: Companies that have a concentration in a small number of products or who serve industries that are dominated by a few large companies

Control it by: For vendors, diversify the portfolio a little bit. For customers...well you're going to need to sell more. Nothing overly complicated there.

Pay particular attention to: For vendors pay attention to quality. If you need to, institute stringent quality thresholds before adding new vendors to the portfolio - at least for critical goods. For customers, build some relationship walls around existing customers and be very strategic about how to/whether to sell to their direct competitors.

Cybersecurity

It seems that not a month goes by without being exposed to some new information about the prevalence and cost of cybercrime. Middle market companies are especially vulnerable.

At a January conference organized by Staffleader, several people spoke about the trends and costs of these intrusions to the community. I had three key takeaways from the event which apply to nearly every organization I interact with:

  1. You are vulnerable and, if you haven't been compromised yet, will at some point
  2. If your business is compromised it will be expensive to fix, even if the only cost is figuring out who you are legally obligated to report to. If customer data is compromised, the cost will be exponentially higher.
  3. Malware is a pain, ransomware is a pain, and viruses are a pain. But if you have good IT infrastructure and a well-designed (and tested!) backup system these risks are largely mitigated. Data breaches are much worse, and most of them will occur because of human error from people who work for you.
    • Staff training is key and something you can start now
    • Spending a little money on prevention and a good data breach response plan now can save you a lot of money and significant reputational damage later
    • Your current insurance probably does not include breach insurance. If you don't have a cyber policy, it's worth pricing one out. From the numbers I've heard here and elsewhere they are not terribly expensive 

Thanks to Michael Menapace from Wiggin and Dana, Jeff Welsch from Fairfield County Bank Insurance, and Frank Ballatore from NECG for their presentations.

In Summary

Value is always the most fun thing to think about, but when choosing where to invest don't forget about risk. Some risks need to be controlled for now, others can wait for later, but either way they should be included in your roadmap.

Value investments will compound over time, risk will not, so pick your value investments for the most long-term potential and your risk investments for when they will most need to be controlled.

It will just take a few poorly controlled risks and one piece of bad luck to unravel years of great results from value-focused investments.

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Using Operations to Create Value for an Exit

Steve had the pleasure of presenting to the Exit Planning Exchange of Connecticut last week on how to use operations and digital transformation to create value in businesses pursuing an exit.

The deck is available here 

If you have clients with aggressive valuation targets over the next 3-7 years, RCG can help plan and execute the projects required to meet them.

 

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In defense of knowing things

I frequently advocate for generalists here and in other forums. I think generalists are incredibly important to every team. I think great generalists should often be hired over great specialists to run large teams, complex projects, or sprawling, fast-evolving organizations. I think they are undervalued in this hyper-specialized economy we accidentally built. This is my opinion. It is both well-informed and open to honest debate.

At the same time, I recognize we are at a period in history where, somehow, knowing things isn't taken as seriously as it used to be. It has become clear that certain people don't know the things they should know if they are to do the things they want to do. And many of these people don't think it matters - that real management is about hiring great people, facilitating the flow of ideas, communicating a message.

It's a problem. It isn't true. It's getting conflated with a real, legitimate debate about the skills and knowledge of people who lead and people who manage.

Do not confuse this problem with the generalist vs. specialist question. They are entirely different discussions. Generalists knows lots of things. Specialists know lots of things. They are different things, but they are still things.

Great generalists know things. They know a lot of things. They know things about what they are about to be doing. They do not know every detail, but they know the basics and are reasonably deep in a few key areas.

They know a lot about things that are only vaguely related to what they are doing. This gives them a large pool of experience and metaphors to draw from. They understand cultural dynamics in different situations with lots of different people. They care about those dynamics. They have seen enough to be able to extract and understand nuance from most situations. They can handle diversity. They can handle and navigate through disagreement.

This is because they know things.

Some people don't know that many things. They are not generalists or specialists. They cannot pretend to be great managers. Great managers still know things. Many things. Enough things.

People who don't know things are just unqualified.

So what's my point? Regardless of what you want to do, know things. This current phase will not last and the world will once again belong to those with knowledge. Know a lot of things about a lot of areas. Know a lot of things about one or two areas. But know things. 

As Clay Shirky once said - age + paying attention = knows lots of things. Grow old and grow smart. Don't let someone with a pulpit who knows nothing change this.

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Your Digital Resolution for 2017

Is your company ready to absorb what you're going to throw at it this year - more customers, higher sales, lofty revenue targets, and elevated customer service expectations?

Embracing a "digital" mindset will not only help through the tools it brings - better analytics, big data, mobile, and cX (customer experience) tools - but can transform an entire company's culture to be more customer-centric and better able to execute quickly and accurately.

Middle market companies want to understand how to evolve into this new paradigm and avoid the cost, disruption, and risk of jumping in all at once. To that end, here are three simple things you can do in 2017 to get your team ready for digital transformation:

1. Focus on creating a culture of execution

Why

A organisational culture that is not built for speed or set up for continuous improvement will impede the successful delivery of digital projects,
— Kapil Bagga, GROW-Strategy.com

Digital is all about execution - constantly improving how you serve your external and internal customers and constantly innovating, implementing, and iterating. Achieving small execution victories will build a culture that prioritizes action and will serve as an example for long-time employees about the value this mindset brings.

Just as importantly, an execution culture knows how to fail small and move on. This is difficult for historically risk-averse environments and takes strong leadership to change.

How

  • Execute a project in Q1. Pick a project, a small project. Assign it to someone. Ask them to create a plan. Assign a team. Meet for status weekly. Make sure it's adopted by the business. Simple!
  • Do at least one technology project. No matter what industry you are in, software will be a major driver of your capacity to execute over the long-haul. Bring in the right people to help decide on the project, choose how to do it, and manage it through to execution.
    • Simpler projects can include reorganizing your inventory, improving how people are quoting, or rolling out a new sales tool to your staff.
    • If the business is ready, extend yourselves by touching a large system and more people - inventory control, time and expense tracking, order management, or even a full-blown ERP or CRM project.
  • The goal should be to get someone in your company to plan and execute a project, to improve one very specific area or solve a specific problem, and to prove to your people that not only can changes make things better for them, they can be done with little disruption and be led by people you have.

2. Start a mentoring program

Why

Digital requires collaboration towards the goal of total company achievement. Succeed together on small things that mean something big for the company. This means everyone in your organization needs to support each other and be vested in one another's success. Mentoring relationships send a strong message about how you intend to grow people internally, allow them to develop over time, and how your most experienced people need to invest in the next generation. The best encourage open and honest dialogue without fear of retribution. They also serve as arguably the strongest way to retain and grow young talent.

(C) 2016 Ronan Consulting Group, LLC

How

  • Start small - assign one or two junior staff members to experienced staff who have the mentality of a mentor
  • Create a simple list of topics you expect them to work on (avoid developing a complex framework of expectations). Examples could include career counseling, identifying key skills to develop, helping them network within the company, or exposing them to more of the marketplace. They could even include 360-degree elements with the younger staff member expected to teach the experienced staff member something specific.
  • Set aside budget for them to go to lunch occasionally 
  • Meet with both every 6 months to see how it's going. Don't ask for a formal report - just make sure they are talking about important topics for both the company and the junior staff personally. Contrary to popular theory, I do NOT advocate measuring the program off the bat. Evaluate it qualitatively first, then move towards a more structured program later on.

3. Start planning your digital IT function

Why

Effective digital tools require a number of foundational capabilities - a strong ERP/CRM and enterprise systems platform; a level of consistency with your business processes, and baseline technology skills throughout the organization. The odds are, you have some deferred maintenance in these areas. You may not be able to dive in right now, but you can plan the specific steps to prepare your organization to get there over the next 12-18 months.

For example, a central piece of your analytics strategy will be analytics. In their 2016 Tech Trends report, Deloitte called out "information acquisition and curation" and "information delivery" as two key elements of an analytics program. These items require strong underlying enterprise systems, disciplined processes, and well-established integration between your systems. These are all items you can work on now before you make the investment to dive into the latest and greatest analytics tools.

How

  • Create a roadmap to get to the digital future you want. The right consultant will ensure the roadmap is aligned with your overall strategy and contains the foundational elements required to quickly evolve into a digital model.
  • In the little projects we discussed in point 1, make your people accountable not just for implementing, but for monitoring success and improving the systems once they are being used by the business; and second, focus on agile development - constantly rolling out small improvements that add up to something substantial over time
  • Start vetting vendors who may offer long-term relationships to help build your digital capabilities. Make sure they are selected in a way that aligns with your roadmap long-term 

Even if you are just starting to think about digital, that's still a huge step in the right direction. Commit to spending the next year setting the stage for digital and beginning to evolve the organization in that direction.

Tolerate small failures, learn as a team, and generate lots of new ideas. Learn the digital marketplace - webinars, conferences, vendor demos are all great, easy ways to do this.

And have fun. Digital capabilities are exciting - enjoy the journey!

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Things I Know Now #TIKN

In my first full calendar year of running a consulting business, I've learned a ton...mostly because of mistakes. I'm going to tweet one a day for the rest of 2016.

You can follow them on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/stepheneronan

I will curate all of them on Storify in January.

Feel free to tweet what you've learned with the #TIKN hashtag and I will add the best to my Storify.

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Four Easy Ways to Make Remote Employees Work

I had a discussion yesterday with a client about hiring an out of territory sales rep. The company has never done it before and is skeptical a salesperson could be effective in this role.

In the current state, that may be true for them, but continued growth - particularly in niche industries - is eventually going to demand it. Being able to do so earlier will open a wider and more skilled talent pool to the company.

Here are four things that can make it easier and more likely to be successful:

Upgrade Core Technology

This does not need to be expensive. The odds are you already own most of these things, you're just not using them. The following tools are critical:

  1. VOIP Telephony: The phone system should have the ability to have a phone with an internal extension anywhere with internet access and should have a mobile app that allows 
  2. Cloud Apps: Ideally these are web-based, but if you have a Citrix environment or a terminal server, that's just fine. The point is, people should be able to access all of your core applications from the field at any time.
  3. Instant Messenger: You already own this, your employees probably just aren't using it yet.

And the following tools are nice to have:

  1. CRM: If you aren't using it yet you should be anyway - no matter how many salespeople you have. If you are onboarding remote salespeople, CRM will be critical to making them successful - particularly if there are backoffice or internal sales and service folks they will be working on the same customers with.
  2. Collaboration tool like Slack which is a great way to organize subject or project-specific internal conversations
  3. Video Conferencing: You may already own something that offers this as well (Google Hangouts, Microsoft Skype) but it takes some heavy management to get people to use it regularly. Video can really shrink the distance between a central team and remote workers.

Organize Your Content

Odds are your information is fragmented across the company. Using a tool like Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint, or even Box or Dropbox, organize the information that the prospective employees will need to do their jobs. Your employees should get away from storing things in their own hierarchies and on their own devices anyways.

This exercise will also force you and your employees to rationalize what's really important and identify clear gaps in your documentation. Work to fill these gaps over time as you on-board new employees and get them up to speed.

Institute Management Reporting

"Management by walking around" is a great discipline but in the modern work environment it needs to be paired with some level of regular reporting and data-based analysis.

Work with management to develop the core, key management report - both activity-based and output based - that gives them an understanding of what's happening in their department at a macro level. Ideally, generate these from a centralized system (e.g. CRM, order management, production management) rather than asking people to compile them manually.

Once again, this is just a good management discipline. Regardless of whether you're adding remote workers you should be doing this; but in order to be able to manage remote workers this is absolutely critical.

Hire Millennials

That's right. Seek out and hire millennials.

They will challenge you in some ways - they'll ask for more flexible schedules, they will want more feedback from their managers, and they will want a collaborative and fun work environment. Embrace it.

They will also show you how they can be effective under these alternative arrangements. You will need to work with them to find the balance between flexible and traditional.

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How do we decide whether to keep, replace, or enhance our systems?

Great systems can add tremendous value to your business. They make processes more efficient, control risk, deliver a better customer experience, and produce superior data and insight. Poor systems are inconvenient and sometimes devastating – demoralizing employees with red tape, offering a difficult and frustrating user experience, leaving data fragmented and inaccurate, and creating confusion with customers.

If your systems aren't adding the value they should, what should you, as a leader, consider when making decisions to keep, replace, and enhance your systems that maximize the possibility of success?

Systems are a lot more than just technology and business processes. They are behavior patterns, incentives for collaboration, institutionalized cultural norms, and tacit expectations for how your people should be efficient and effective. Successful systems account for:

  • Psychology - why do people think this way?
  • Sociology - how are groups of people behaving?
  • Tools - what do we use to do things better?
  • Management science - how do we measure what's happening?

They are of course also rooted in business science, mathematics, and core technology.  They amplify both desirable and undesirable behaviors and, in turn, either accelerate or hold back your business growth.

The success of your business systems will be determined by three main factors:

  1. How well the technology and processes fit your business strategy
  2. The quality and capabilities of the technology
  3. How well your users adopt

Understanding where your business stands with each of these will help you choose the best path forward.

For purposes of this article, “systems” refers to both the business processes and the technology used to support them.

Fit to the business

The basic question is: did you choose a reasonable solution up front? There are few legitimately bad software packages and also few that will exactly fit your business processes without modification. The question is not “Is the system perfect?” but rather “Did we make the right trade-offs and decide to change the right processes when we selected (or designed) the software?”

To be clear – if a system failure is because of a major deficiency in this area, you will probably need to replace it. If the deficiency is minor, see section 2 for a few ways to address it.

How do you ensure business fit?

A rigorous system selection will force your team to collaboratively decide on the most important requirements up-front and agree on major process changes. Systems projects are a litany of trade-offs – what needs to be perfect, what areas can you change your process to fit the system, and what processes are worth spending more effort and money on (e.g. customizing the system or purchasing a separate bolt-in). The thoughtfulness of these trade-offs are what will set the implementation up for success.

Do not skimp on the selection process. Some of the most expensive implementations are the result of the cheapest selections. Analyst reports will tell you general quality and focus of products, but not how appropriate they are for your business. You need to get inside your business, uncover its operating priorities and biggest value drivers, and match them with the systems you are considering. This takes a little bit of money and a lot of time from your best people – but it’s worth it.

Technology and Functionality

The base technology is usually fine – if it doesn’t “work” it can usually be fixed with some professional help. Custom software can be more challenging or more expensive, but these systems can be fixed as well. The good news is that in the new world of enterprise technology, there are many more options than those offered by your primary vendor to support your most valuable areas, mitigate major risks, or make a challenging system more palatable for your users.

Example: ERP

ERP systems are sprawling technologies that do a lot and ask a lot of their users. The accepted approach to ERP used to be to standardize business processes to the functionality of the package, adjusting only when absolutely necessary. This maximized the vendor’s ability to support the solution and tried to concentrate investment in the most important areas.

This isn’t necessarily the case anymore. There are more niche solutions, software is easier to build, and most platforms play nicely with each other. It’s more important to choose the right ecosystem of technologies that give your business flexibility and in the aggregate add the most value than it is to standardize on a specific package.

If your platform is mostly successful but failing in a small number of critical areas, is it possible to simply plug those holes with secondary applications? This is often easier, less disruptive, less expensive, and more effective. Odds are good that you can avoid a wholescale replacement.

In these cases, you should perform selection processes for add-ons where the base system doesn’t fit the business. This can include features like subscription billing, customer support, portals, analytics and reporting, or workflow applications. Not all packages do these things well, but there are many third-party products that will play nicely with your other systems and dramatically improve these areas.

User Adoption

Your users will ultimately determine the success of the solution. Assuming you made acceptable trade-offs, made reasonable assumptions, and have a fundamentally sound, supportable ecosystem, your users are responsible for the consistency, efficiency, and innovation the new systems drive.

If you don’t think your current systems are adding value, ask yourself: How much is due to poor technology and how much is due to employees resisting using it correctly?

Fixing user behavior is challenging. Most of it is set in motion during the implementation itself. When a system has been deemed a failure, it can be hard to recover. Good project managers will help manage these user expectations in the immediate aftermath of an implementation but this can only last for so long. If things spiral in the months following a go-live, sometimes this can be a lost cause.

So what do you do?

It depends on how bad it is. Sometimes a few loud user groups end up coloring the organization’s perception of the entire system. You need to put a laser-focus on these groups, solve their problems while giving them ownership, and slowly bring them back into the fold. At the same time you need to roll-out incremental improvements demonstrate momentum to improve the business.

If the system isn’t being adopted because people don’t understand it, this can be easier. Start with aggressively pursuing stakeholder buy-in from senior leadership. They need to re-inforce with their staff how important it is to use the system as intended and to identify additional training requirements. This needs to be combined with a rigorous enhancement process that uses stakeholder feedback to improve the system.

If this is the core problem, have an independent professional work with your users on assessing the source of the system’s weaknesses. They will cut through the noise and the politics and be able to tell you the heart of the problem. This is very difficult for anyone who had a stake in the original process.

And remember that the users’ complaints may be right: Maybe the system was the wrong choice or was not implemented well. Given that they have the most detailed view of the solution, they may have valid points in this area. In these cases, the details matter. Understand the specific issues instead of the broad complaints and have someone help you understand if they can be resolved or not.

Remember: it doesn’t matter what the users should be doing, it matters what they are doing. Blaming users doesn’t accomplish anything while giving them resources, listening to them constructively, and supporting them accomplishes a great deal.

In Summary

If you feel your business needs technology changes, look at your systems holistically. Understand the processes, the system possibilities, and the cultural needs of your users. Ensuring all of these elements directly support your growth strategy will greatly improve your business and ensure you can be successful as you grow over the long-term.

Most of all, get an independent opinion. It may end up saving you a lot of money and aggravation, and will certainly help confirm your best path forward.

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Don't Buy Complicated Software

In my career implementing enterprise software for companies, there is one constant in every project and with every client:

Simple solutions are adopted faster, used more accurately, and yield better long-term results.

Complicated systems may support complex businesses, but they are also error prone, have very long maturity curves, require an immense amount of training (which has to be repeated whenever you on-board new people), and ultimately have a lower probability of success.

This is even truer for small and mid-sized companies because they don't have personnel to dedicate to a system full-time. This means that you need to choose software that does its job well, takes virtually no training, and requires little maintenance.

And that's why I started Lygato.

Our first product, Compsy solves a problem faced by mid-sized property managers and real estate developers: 

  1. Manual market surveys are ultimately required to price your projects to the market
  2. These surveys are usually stored in Excel, the reporting is difficult to use, and the data can be unreliable
  3. Existing solutions offer a lot of power but are complex, expensive, and provide more information that necessary to make good pricing decisions

Enter Compsy. 

Compsy offers a simple, consistent, standard interface for entering market surveys. It stores all of the data in the same structure, organized in the same way, without anyone needing to think about it or enforce it.

We have easy-to-read screens to store information about fees, amenities, management data, and basic building information.

We combine this information into reports that give you exact comparisons for your vacant and soon-to-be vacant units. Worried about comparing 3rd floor studio pricing to 17th floor 1 bed pricing? We control for that. Need to compare your 1 bedroom units to a building that only offers studios? We can do that. Just the right amount of information, easy to read, and never outdated or irrelevant.

Finally, we take that data that your people are entering on your competitors or are importing on your buildings, and turn this into meaningful charts to compare units over time. Analytics should focus on insight, not unlimited options. We offer charts and visualizations that anyone can understand quickly and use to make a decision.

Compsy is not the most powerful pricing analysis solution out there. We don't have the most data or the most features. We have the right data, the easiest-to-use interface, and provide targeted information and capabilities that are appropriate for mid-sized companies.

Our goal is to make your business easier to run and enable better decisions.

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How to hire top talent as a mid-sized business

Ronan Consulting Group has being doing a lot of recruiting work recently. Though we don't focus on selling recruiting services, when there are roles our clients need to fill in order for our initiatives to be successful we will source those roles in many cases.

We consistently need to answer the question: How does a smaller company compete with larger companies for top talent? Over time, I think we've found a few good answers.

There are a few more complicated ways to find good people I'll cover in a later post. Today we will look at how to fill senior-mid-manager and senior positions by hiring people from larger companies. 

Things to do now

1. (easy) Ignore every article you see about millenials. They are all wrong. Recruiting high-value millenials isn't that different than recruiting any high-talent person. The term "millenials in the workplace" is, 9 times out of 10, a thinly veiled complaint about how things aren't what they used to be. In reality, employee expectations have shifted across the board. This is going to feel strange for a lot of SMB CEOs. But it is what it is and, ultimately, if you want to be able to hire the best people you'll need to make some adjustments to be able to compete for them.

2. (easy) Have someone independently look at titles in you organization and re-align them to the norms of the industry. Titles carry more weight in larger organizations and will matter to new people you bring in. It will also communicate seniority more accurately and help avoid miscommunication about responsibility down the road

3. (hard) Start to realign current HR policies that deal with flexibility. It is likely new employees are going to negotiate more for flexibility than for pay. The problem is that giving one person more flexibility than others in is much more visible than paying them more and it is more likely to cause consternation with current staff. Save yourself the headache and begin implementing low-cost, low-impact flexibility standards to everyone ahead of time. Examples can include more forgiving work-from-home policies, reducing the years of service required for more vacation time, and liberalizing part-time work arrangements like 3 or 4 days per week.

Things to do during the search

1. (medium) Really think about the type of work the new person needs to do and make parallels to other industries and lines of work. A good search is going to need to be broad. Locking yourself into narrow industries or roles is unlikely to yield the most qualified pool of candidates. As an example, for a high-end hardware manufacturer, we looked to design-heavy industries like jewelry, fashion, and luxury automotive. We found a great candidate who would not have been on our radar if we had stayed in construction, architecture, or manufacturing - all of which appear to be more directly related.

2. (harder than it sounds) Use a rigorous, consistent interview process. We start every applicant with a short phone screen. This is the airport test and to make sure their experience is likely a good fit. The next step is a thorough in-person interview that gives us insight into how the person thinks, works, and interacts with peers. This should contain at least one "case study"-like discussion. I will cover my thoughts on this in a separate post. They are extensive.

3. (easy) Ideally find at least three good candidates to interview but don't make this too much of a constraint. If you find the perfect person, they crush the interview process, and you think you can make the role attractive enough for them to accept, don't play around. The right person can and does come around on the first try sometimes. Trust your instinct when it happens. If you're not sure, then have at least three candidates to compare against each other. But don't feel like you need to hire one of them. If your perception of the role evolves or none of the candidates seem like they fit, keep looking. Making the wrong hire is bad for everyone and is painful to recover from - it's better to just extend the recruiting process.

4. (medium) Be open about the company and encourage your people to be very transparent about what it's like to work there. If most people come in at 7:30 and leave at 8, tell them. If the role has turned over a lot, tell them. If they are going to need to shoestring some tools together where they probably have very sophisticated tools at their current job, tell them. There's no sense in getting a great person and having the role and company not match what you told them during the interview process. That always ends badly.

 

If you do these things you are guaranteed to find the right person and keep them forever.*

 

*This does not represent a guarantee. There is no substitute for good judgement.

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When "Accountability" Doesn't Really Accomplish Much

I've long believed that "accountability" - or at least the way we talk about it - is over-rated. When someone says there is "accountability" for a decision, it typically means that there is a negative consequence if that decision doesn't work out. This is, and always has been, a politically motivated attempt to protect certain people in the organization from poor outcomes.

The best, most concise explanation of why this doesn't work came from an unlikely source this morning - a baseball blog. Craig Calcaterra (who is an excellent baseball writer, btw) posted a short piece that links to a longer piece in The Globe (paywallm 1st 5 articles per month are free) on former Red Sox GM/now Columbia Executive-in-Residence Ben Cherrington who was, probably unfairly, blamed for a bunch of bad baseball decisions during his time in Boston. And then he was fired. Of course. Because someone had to be "accountable" for all of those losing seasons.

 Calcaterra correctly points out why this is a bad organizational policy.

Where ideas start and where they end up in organizations involve a lot of weird passive-aggressive dancing, with power being exercised in some cases and merely anticipated in others, causing people to do things in such a way that blame is a nebulous matter.
— Craig Calcaterra

That's exactly right. 

I'm not arguing he should have been fired. I'm just saying that poor outcomes that inevitably lead to dismissing an employee should be handled with more nuance. Accountability shouldn't be about knowing who to pin bad decisions on; it should be about knowing who to turn to when a negative outcome needs to be fixed.

Big (and publicly traded) organizations have certain political realities to deal with, but smaller organizations with more centralized control, should not model "accountability" after sports franchises or political offices. Accountability is about being future-looking - about creating ownership to make the right decisions, take the appropriate risks, and fixing problems that arise either as a result of these decisions or external to them.

When a problem occurs, the question to ask should be "who is best positioned to fix this." When analyzed without bias or anger, this is often the person who created the problem in the first place. Because many decisions we make are hard and, frankly are a game of statistics. There is rarely a path that will yield the correct result 100% of the time - in the best case, there is probably a 70% or 80% chance of success. In the worst cases, there may be a smaller chance of success - perhaps 10%, but the leadership team recognizes that there is limited downside or decides that the downside risk is far outweighed by the potential benefit.

And then there is the question of how the success or failure of a decision is measured. Do you decide whether something it successful right away? After one series of tweaks? After three tweaks? After one overhaul? After a pivot?

Sometimes staffing changes are necessary but basing them on one or two poor outcomes is usually short-sighted. If people with the right judgement are put in positions of influence, there is an open dialogue with them about when to make big bets or small bets, and the organization supports them in fixing issues that arise rather than blaming them, the chances of long-term success are much greater. And only when it is determined that level of judgement or diligence is not present should staffing changes be pursued.

Re-framing what accountability means to your organization is necessary for building a sustainable, forward-looking team, and recognizing the dynamics that accountability creates is critical to building the right staff to bring the organization to the next level.

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Hiring an NFL Head Coach for Your Company

@JennyVrentas has an interesting MMQB piece up with a behind-the-scenes look at the hiring process for NFL head coaches. It's a great read for hiring managers and candidates seeking an executive-level or leadership job.

I just tweeted out a mini-essay on my takeaways, but here they are for posterity:

Takeaway #1: As hire As, Bs hire Cs. Evaluate potential leaders on how they build their teams, not just what they have done

The longest block of time in most interviews is spent going over the candidate’s prospective staff. Coaching positions are in flux at this time of year, and you’re not always able to get the assistant you want, so candidates have to present a depth chart—three or four deep—of their top choices at every position from the coordinators to the position coaches. Be prepared to defend your choices if the team doesn’t like them. One owner, for example, vetoed a candidate’s third choice for a coordinator during their first interview.

Discussing specific people isn't practical for most jobs, but talking about profiles and people you have hired - or wanted to hire - is. Hiring managers and candidates should spend time talking about how they will build a great team and what they will do when it isn't working. If you hire a specialist for a leadership position based solely on what they specialize in you're probably going to end up with the wrong person.

Takeaway #2: Have a plan + flexibility to adapt. Cannot apply a system or template rigidly-must account for ability to execute

But what is the coach’s plan for making it work with players the team is committed to financially, such as a disgruntled star who’s earning more than the coach, or a regressing quarterback? Adam Gase won over the Dolphins by explaining his philosophy that coaching a quarterback can’t be one-size-fits all, backed by his experience blending different offensive systems and styles to best suit the spectrum of QBs he’s coached: Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and now Ryan Tannehill.

Having a discussion about "best practices" can be valuable both for understanding the depth at which a candidate understands what they have done in the past AND how those best/leading practices should be applied or disposed of. If someone has always done something the same way and it's worked every time that still doesn't mean it will work for your company. Make sure they will give careful consideration to how to appropriately adjust their favorite methods and processes to match your strategy and, most importantly, your culture. 

Takeaway #3: #changemanagement is an integral part of every job. You need to hire well and then get them to work well together

Here’s how one candidate answered the adversity question: He cited a time when his team traded for a player whom he soon realized had trouble learning, to the point where it had affected his playing time with his previous team. The coach spent $600 an hour to meet with a sports and performance psychologist, learning how to become a better teacher to a slow learner. The player went on to have a career-best season under his new coach.

Change management isn't a formula - it's a sensibility. If a candidate has a good sense for how to manage change in the organization in both directions, the odds are they will be able to execute.

Takeaway #4: Ask for input. Somebody has been in a similiar position somewhere before. Their advice isn't available on Google

Charley Casserly is frequently hired as a consultant for coaching searches. Implied in he article is how many candidates are hired, fired, and interviewed every year. You can't look up what happens in those rooms and, thought you can read articles like this to give you a flavor, it doesn't replace the nuance a smart person in the room will be able to articulate.

Hiring managers should talk to people who have made similar hires and learn the most valuable pieces of information they have pulled out of interviews. Bring in a consultant if you don't have a lot of this experience or if you feel you need a different point of view. 

Candidates should talk to people who have been on these types of interviews and have landed these jobs. Talk about the process; talk about the conversation.

Hiring is hard. Making big career changes is hard. A good hiring process is a good conversation. And unlike the NFL, if you don't find the right person you can just keep looking.

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Reset

Well I ran into a good problem which was I started to get too busy with my clients to blog. This is obvious to anyone who has visited this page in the last...6 months.

Although the primary reason I stopped was I didn't have time there is a second, equally important issue: what I was blogging on and what mid-size companies care about were not at all the same.

This was a valuable lesson and so, along with the new messaging throughout the website and newer focus on a target market, I'm going to "relaunch" the blog with a new focus, new content, and shorter posts.

Thanks for reading, hope to have a new post up for you soon.

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[Breathe] Presence [Breathe]

When I was in big consulting, we were taught how "presence" is critical to providing excellent client service. There were big picture ideas like "make the person know you're listening and want to learn learn more" to tips like "put your phone face down," "take handwritten notes," and "look the presenter in the eye."

As I have worked to get my business up and running over the past four months, I have discovered a subtler, more pervasive element of "presence." It's the presence that builds a community of supporters around you in every facet of your life. When there are other obligations; when you can't figure out how you will catch-up, you still need to "come up for air", so-to-speak - breathe, relax, and remove distractions for a little time to offer your presence to the people around you.

I attended an event recently where there were four sponsoring entities. I know for a fact that two of the entities are struggling - one reputationally and one financially. The other two are doing quite well - strong growth, good brand, community support, etc. Two entities had senior leaders show up to the event, two didn't. Guess who was who.

I'm sure if you spoke with the two who didn't attend they would offer good reasons - I won't even call them excuses, because it's really the judgement they made on tradeoffs of attending or not. No doubt there were other pressing matters they needed to attend to and the individuals may even have made a decision I would agree with if I knew all the details.

But to the people at an event, appearance is binary. They didn't need to be there to have a meaningful discussion or present a new cutting edge viewpoint. They needed to say "hi, thanks for coming", and shake a few hands. They needed to be recognized by a few other attendees. That would have made it feel like they were part of it. Their printed logo on a flyer did not.

The way I have internalized this is to participate in the community as much as possible. Go to events without the intent of selling yourself. Be seen. Say hi. Follow-up with emails or tweets. And don't do it once - go to events where you will see the same people 3, 4, 5 times. Become a known entity. Care about the people you meet.

It takes time but people gradually begin to trust you; to know that you are grateful to get to know them and their interests in the community. Two months ago I doubted I was spending my time in the right places. But as I get further into this journey, I realize that even if I don't make a new connection; even if I only see someone I saw two weeks ago and shake hands and talk for 30 seconds, it is usually worth it.

This will get more complex as things get busier, no doubt. I will choose (and have chosen) family and work events over another breakfast or cocktail hour and I will continue to do so. But when figuring out how to balance work and life, I will save time to just be places; to relax, breathe, and show up smiling and excited to see friends and acquaintances and to meet new people.

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Quick Take: Salesforce.com acquisition and market impact

it's probably Oracle

As someone who has done a lot of Oracle work over the years, I have a very specific opinion on who is likely to buy Salesforce. It's Oracle.

I've long thought Marc Benioff is the only likely candidate to succeed Larry Ellison as the king of the enterprise software world. 

It's well known that Larry Ellison has long-since turned his attention to passion projects - sailing, Hawaii, real estate and art collecting, etc. He's worked hard to make sure the people at the top of the Oracle pyramid - Catz and Hurd - reflect his values and approach to growth.

But the path forward for Oracle likely does not lie in its history. The industry is much different than when they launched their first database, their first version of their ERP software, or even when they bought PeopleSoft. The monolithic approach to software is crumbling and a platform-driven ecosystem is emerging. Oracle's future success is unlikely to be purely apps and much more likely to be a combination of apps and the platform that bring their software together with the rest of the marketplace.

At the same time, Oracle's cloud approach is not as robust as they portray. Salesforce would significantly improve both their platform and the talent pool that develops the platform. I think it's possible Oracle sees this as a way to buy themselves into a leadership position in cloud - which they currently do not have.

Product integration would be a cinch. Salesforce is basically built on Oracle components already. Oracle's CRM offerings aren't very good right now and they already have a large customer base that run both Salesforce and Oracle ERP apps.

Benioff would also be able to fix the operational issues that plague Oracle - a chaotic sales approach with multiple reps going after the same clients, uncoordinated; confusing and frustrating licensing structures, a slow product development organization, and not enough focus on shifting customer norms.

They both have apps issues. They both have platform issues. Neither company offers a perfect product, but together and with the best leader in enterprise software today, they are better positioned to improve both over the long-term.

The other players

Microsoft 

After Oracle they are the second most likely buyer, but I'm not sure they want to play in the enterprise space that much. They have Dynamics which has received relatively limited investment but still has a solid installed-base. Dynamics is strong in the mid-market and its CRM solution competes against Salesforce. It wouldn't be a huge platform play for them - they already have something mature and well-established. 

IBM 

There's lots of buzz about IBM right now, but I don't see how Salesforce would fit in with their cloud investments. I don't see apps as a big play for them as it seems they are moving towards platform plays and they already own a "cloud" platform. I would read a Salesforce acquisition as a little bit of a hail mary from a panicking company

Google

I don't know if they have actually been mentioned by credible sources, but their name has come up on Twitter. This is not happening and should not happen. There is no reason for Google to own Salesforce.

Cisco

Same comment as Google, but I don't see this at all. Cisco doesn't know how to run a big software company and Benioff doesn't want to run Cisco. There is little compatibility here.

The Secret Bidder

It's unlikely they exist. Salesforce is really expensive and it only makes sense as both a platform buy AND an application buy. You wouldn't pay this price for one or the other. There are only a handful of large companies for whom this acquisition makes sense and they are named above. SAP? No. Infor? Also no. I don't see any other real candidates.

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The state of modern finance systems

The state of modern finance systems

The tools available to finance departments have improved dramatically in recent years. New and old vendors alike offer more efficient delivery models, better control of risk and governance, more intuitive user interfaces, and more functionality.

The changing landscape offers an opportunity for finance leaders and CIOs to evaluate how they are managing these ecosystems and for how they decide to invest in new technologies.

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How to get your executives to buy into innovative IT projects | CIO

How to get your executives to buy into innovative IT projects | CIO

CIOs and technology leaders are usually enthusiastic about the newest, trendiest technologies. Think about the buzz regarding iOT, cloud, analytics, and mobile over the past four years. But CIOs can't fund enterprise tech initiatives just with enthusiasm - they also need buy-in from their executive counterparts. 

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Intelligent Growth: How Much Process is Too Much Process?

This entry is for organizations at the beginning of their process journey. We will address more of the complex aspects of process transformation in a future post.

Because I spend a lot of time talking about operationalizing businesses it may seem I think there is always a process or technology fix for a company’s challenges but this is not the case. For smaller organizations in particular, over-designing operations can be just as damaging as letting things run as they are. It is important, therefore, to take a balanced approach to building your business processes and supporting tools.

Operating discipline is one of the first items companies need to address as they grow.

Discipline is a combination of the business processes, technology that automates and controls these processes, and the talent profiles and structure of the people responsible for executing the processes. You also need the management capabilities required to measure and lead a process-focused organization.

The goal of business processes is to create consistency in how your business runs and to make it more efficient and effective, more controllable, and more transparent.

The simplistic way people talk about this sometimes would lead you to believe that processes are only good if they make your business more efficient. This isn’t always the case. Good processes can slow things down to make them more predictable or more controllable. Bad processes can be quick and predictable but lack transparency. You need to weigh these factors differently based on your business, your scaling goals, and the specific processes at hand.

The challenge is figuring out how far to go now and what to save for laterHere are three key factors to consider when determining how far to go with your process transformation:

1. Efficiency and Effectiveness

Business processes should be designed to be as efficient as possible, but this only applies to entire process strings. You can design wonderful processes on a one-off basis that don’t work well together and lead to inefficiencies in the entire string. Efficiency needs to be looked at holistically, within an entire business process area. This means optimizing the processes independently first and then analyzing upstream and downstream impacts.

Build It

The process of creating a new customer and entering their first order may be spectacularly efficient but if it often results in incorrect products being shipped or incorrect shipping addresses, it’s inefficient and ineffective as a process string.

When you make processes more effective, you open up more automation possibilities. Good processes mean less rework and fewer iterations for a single execution. If you know the product on an order is going to be right by the time it hits fulfillment, then you can automate that fulfillment. If a person still needs to review it because 2 out of every 20 orders will need to be adjusted, you can’t automate it.

In this example, well defined processes make the order-to-fulfillment processes more efficient and more effective.

Keep It Lean

The way hotels react to customer complaints is highly variable and needs to be nimble. If a hotel staff is not empowered to react in real time to requests or complaints it substantially impacts the quality of service. Creating extensive processes around how to comp food, award extra points, or switch rooms would detract from the ability of the business to operate effectively.

In this example, efficiency and effectiveness is the absence of process, not presence of it.

2. Control

Like efficiency, control needs vary greatly from process to process. Some processes should have a high level of control – tax calculation and billing, for instance – and some shouldn't – like new product engineering. If a business process is a core management function, odds are it should be controlled. Processes linked to governmental compliance requirements will need a high level of definition and control. If there is a high level of human interaction or iterative work that is required, less control may be appropriate.

Build It

Journal entry approval always needs to be a highly controlled process. Ideally you have systems in place to automate a high percentage of your journal entries, but any manual entries will need a well-defined approval workflow and clear documentation requirements. At the end of the month, you can’t risk not understanding entries with significant financial impact that weren’t approved and have no evidence.

In this example, more control means more integrity in your financial reporting.

Keep It Lean

During product development, engineers will often need to buy a number of non-standard materials. Implementing formal approval processes for everything they need to purchase would slow the development process down. Creating broad levels of latitude to allow them to buy whatever they need, within reason, on-demand and without approval will lead to better, faster development.

In this example, less control leads to better (and faster) engineering results.

3. Transparency

For a process to be managed it needs to be transparent. Process management has become increasingly important for many organizations and is critical to companies that use methods like lean/six-sigma to constantly improve their operations. Key business processes should be decomposed and executed to a level so you can track and measure them in detail and manage them over time. Software to enable these processes will be required to produce meaningful reporting and analytics.

Build It

Manufacturing companies have important requirements about transparency because so much of their cost is directly related to production. Manufacturers should have processes decomposed to the point of being able to measure the effectiveness and timing of each step of the production process. This allows them to constantly lower the cost of their operations and understand which levers in the production process correlate most to product quality. More definition leads to more transparency that allows management to make decisions of substantial benefit to the business.

In this example, process definition also has wide-ranging impacts on product consistency, cost of quality, employee training, production capacity, etc.

Keep It Lean

I have come across several organizations that enforce too much process on how their sales reps interact with prospects. Understanding sales success at some logical milestones may have management value, but too much process limits the ability of reps to react to customer needs. You don’t want processes to intrude into the customer experience to the point where they turn sales reps – your human face to the customer – into automatons that have difficulty gaining trust. This is especially true when the transparency management gains only leads them towards decisions they would have difficulty executing anyway.

In this example, a reasonable level of detail in sales processes is appropriate but you should guard against over-engineering them.

Strive for Balance

There is no single answer for how much process is right for your business. The answer will change as you grow in employees, customers, transactions, and revenue. At RCG, we recommend sitting down with someone who can help you structure your roadmap to process transformation. This person can help you make your process discipline appropriate for your current size and also for where you hope to be in 2, 3, or 5 years. They can also help prepare your organization for the day-to-day impact they will feel with increased process definition.

 

 

 

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Table Stakes: Operational Keys to Success for the Strategic Advisor

This post originally appeared on my blog at CIO.com here

I recently had a conversation with a friend about my post on using big projects to become a strategic advisor in the C-suite. While he agreed with the post he talked about a recent large enterprise software project he ran and how the CIO damaged his opportunity to become a strategic advisor. It wasn’t because of inadequate attention to the strategic aspects of the project, but rather because of poor operating practices.

Many of us spend our time articulating how the CIO and other executives need to strategically plan and invest in technology-based solutions. What we talk less about are the core operating responsibilities of the CIO and how they need to use operational successes to bolster their position as a strategic advisor.

Big enterprise software projects are really hard. Panoramaestimates ERP projects fail around 72% of the time. McKinsey has found that IT projects that cost over $15M run over budget 45% of the time and deliver 56% less functionality than originally anticipated.

While these are scary numbers for the sponsoring executive, they don’t mean it’s impossible to do big visionary things and make a strategic difference for the company. What they do mean is the CIO needs to be able to balance being an operator and being a strategist to build and hold onto credibility in both areas. The trains need to run on time before you have the influence to build an airport.

With that, I will offer four keys to success for any sponsoring executive of a big enterprise transformation projects.

1. Achieve radical transparency

Do not hide problems. Openly report on risks, major issues, and how you plan to overcome them to the steering committee and the team from the start of the project. If there is an issue or risk that threatens to sink the whole project, you need to ask for help from the other executives – it’s their business too. If it looks like you may go over budget (fortunately you planned enough contingency), report it quickly with alternatives for how you will accommodate it. If you don’t have a solution yet, tell them and provide a date when you will.

 This sounds like motherhood-and-apple-pie kind of stuff, but it is incredibly important and frequently disregarded. If you are suspected of being a political player – hiding things that make you look bad and promoting things that look great – people are unlikely to trust your strategic recommendations. And if you don’t get the support the project needs from the other executives the project will almost certainly fail.

2. Make sure the technology works

Ultimately, ownership of the technology itself is squarely on the shoulders of IT. This includes the custom development, mechanics of the software itself, and infrastructure. Whether it’s an on-premise solution, managed services model, or in the cloud, IT needs to make sure the technology and its vendors are successful on Day 1. To ensure this, they need to be successful by Day “30.”

Do not underestimate what it will take to make it work well, get your people the training they need, bring in great people in key areas, and test it early and often. At the very latest, you should test your production infrastructure during user acceptance testing (UAT), which means you will need to complete performance testing even earlier than that.

Here’s the main thing: the technology is capable of working. It always is. If you hit your design and build deadlines, the technology will work. The technology may not work if you miss those deadlines. So push the business and your vendors to hit their deadlines and retain credibility by making sure the technology works when they do.

3. Keep track of the finances

Nothing damages credibility more than appearing fiscally irresponsible or, worse, indifferent. Project actuals and forecasts should be updated on a bi-weekly basis and shared with your project leadership (including your vendors’ project managers) and summarized and shared with the steering committee. I like explicitly showing the “change order” or “over budget” number and maintaining backup detail on the causes of this number in every leadership deck.

If vendors forecast budget overruns, proactively work with them to realign the budget. Be sensitive to the fact that if you only approach this by pushing for free time and deeper discounts, this will filter back to the team and likely hurt the project. Make sure all parties are working together to alleviate budget issues and nobody is taking the brunt of the impact.

4. Empower your team; monitor results

The only way you will have time to focus on the steering-committee, board-level, strategic aspects of your job will be to appoint strong project managers to lead each piece of the project and allow them to make decisions (and some mistakes). Good project management discipline includes robust status reporting, enforcing hard deadlines, and open and honest reporting of risks. Make sure these PMs don’t feel they will be penalized or shamed for every mistake they make, but rather when things go wrong they will have your support and the support of the project leaders to get back on track.

Finally, recognize that great solution people are often not the same as great project managers. Do not confuse the two skillsets when assigning your leadership team. Good project management discipline is what keeps big, complex enterprise software projects on track and is capable of fixing mistakes in solution architecture. Good solution architecture cannot and will not keep a project on its timeline. Keep your architects in positions of influence on the team, but make sure you still have good management around them.

CIOs are often in the best position of any executive to turn an abstract business strategy into real implementation. Make sure that once your strategic recommendations are adopted by the C-suite you have the ability to execute and retain their trust.

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