Driving Business-IT Convergence – The Evolving Role of the Business Relationship Manager (Part 2 of 2)


cloudIn Part 1 of this 2-part series I defined the BRM role – with the caveat that it is by no means standardized.  In fact, as far as IT Service Management standards such as ITIL® and ISO/IEC 20000 are formalizing the existence of the Business Relationship Manager (BRM) role and corresponding process as a new best practice, they are selling the role short in terms of its potential strategic impact to business.  I went on to describe the typical BRM in terms of their purposes, goals, responsibilities and accountabilities.  To the title of this post, I introduced the shift from business-IT Alignment to Convergence and why this is so important as every aspect of business strategy and operations is increasingly dependent upon information and IT.   Today, the BRM operates at the leading edge of the convergence movement – a movement being accelerated by the ‘consumerization of IT‘, digitization of everything, and by the “Internet of Things.”

In part 2 of this 2-part series, I’d like to discuss needed BRM competencies, how the BRM role changes over time with increasing maturity (of both the BRM and her business partner) and how the way that the BRM engages with the business partner shifts the nature of the relationship from one of order taker to that of strategic partner.

Typical Competencies Required of the BRM

Drives Value Realization

This might be the most important competency for a BRM.  It includes knowing how to surface, clarify and promote the best value-delivering opportunities for IT investments and assets, and how to ensure that these actually deliver on their promised value – delivered in ways that are felt and seen.  This requires skills in Program Management (with implied Project Management skills), Portfolio Management, influence, persuasion, communication, finance and organizational change.

Understands Business Environment

Driving value realization also requires a great understanding of the business, its ecosystem and its competitive landscape.  Successful BRMs have a keen sense of the top strategic business and IT issues – both short and long term, and how these issues relate to initiatives in their industry.  In short, they understand the “business of the business.”  They are viewed by business leaders as a proactive partner in finding the right solutions to business needs and not as a mere “order takers” for IT services.

Aligns IT with the Business

First, let me say that some readers will fume at the subheading.  “IT and the Business are one and the same!” they shout.  While this may reflect a laudable perspective (and one that will gradually materialize as IT-business convergence takes place) it is rarely, if ever, the case today.  Unless your business is information technology, then “business” is where profits are generated, and IT organizations work in support of that.

With that digression out of the way, alignment can be a tricky concept, and in some respects sounds inconsistent with my argument for business-IT convergence.  But alignment represents the necessary table stakes – business leaders and IT leaders need to be ‘on the same page’ in terms of mission, vision, values and goals for both IT and the business – and how these relate to each other.  Mismatches in any of these can spell disaster to the ability to build and sustain value-producing business-IT relationships, let alone converge business and IT capabilities.

Successful BRMs work closely with business leaders to predict demand for IT services and to manage that demand.  They take the lead in highlighting competing objectives.  They are effective at managing the flow of demand through negotiations and seek to iron out demand/supply disconnects between IT and business leaders.  Most important, they constantly seek ways to foster convergence – empowering business leaders – teaching them to fish, as it were, rather than always fish for them!

Manages Relationships

Any role with the word “relationship” in the title has to imply a high level of competence at creating, sustaining and developing strong relationships among stakeholders – especially between business units and the IT groups that support them.  Relationship skills do not come naturally, and are not easily developed in some people.  Effective BRMs are able to build and maintain relationships with senior IT and business leaders.  They are seen as a value-added participant in strategic business-level discussions (i.e., worthy of a “seat at the table”).  Successful BRMs are not shy in speaking up when the demand for IT services outpaces supply ability or capacity.

Manages Organizational Change

Another tough set of skills and behaviors to master!  This requires deep understanding of the organizational levers for making change (people, process, and technology) and how IT and business strategies translate into practical plans of action for change.

The successful facilitator of change engages in discussion with IT and business leaders on the intended and unintended consequences of change, and is willing to confront senior executive sponsors if they are not “walking the talk” and proactively leading the change themselves.  They understand the total cost – both technical and human – of end-to-end implementation.  They can surface the hidden costs and potential obstacles that could derail the change.

They have the ability to identify key stakeholders at the outset of a project, to assign decision-making roles, and ultimately hold leaders accountable for results.  They think and act in terms of outcomes, not deliverables.

Manages Projects and Programs

Successful BRMs typically have several years of project and, ideally, program management experience under their belts.  They have demonstrated competency in project management fundamentals and in the complexities of program management. They demonstrate the ability to get things done through others, even though they may lack ultimate authority.

Effective Communication

Successful BRMs are recognized for their ability to listen, speak, write and communicate clearly and effectively. They demonstrate the ability to negotiate win-win, or at least buy-in, in situations where there are opposing viewpoints.  They are effective at influencing those that they hold no real power over.  They have the ability to recognize and surface disconnects between IT and business leaders and are able to resolve problems through difficult confrontations.

Financial Savvy

Successful BRMs have good knowledge of finance and accounting – they know their ROIs from their NPVs and know how to build a business case that is compelling.  They understand Portfolio Management and have at least basic knowledge of Options theory.  They understand the financial drivers of the business and the drivers of the industry within which the company operates.

The BRM Maturity Journey

BRM Maturity - The Merlyn Group

The graphic above shows how the quality of the Business Partner experience grows and the BRMs maturity increases.

Ad Hoc Relationship

At the lowest maturity level, the BRM role has typically not been formalized.  As such it is being handled in an ad hoc way – the ‘squeaky wheel’ Business Partner gets the most attention.  Or, in some cases, the least demanding Business Partner, regardless of their potential to use IT for high value purposes get the most attention.

Order Taker Relationship

I see this most frequently. Typically, IT supply has been badly broken and the business-IT relationship is hostile, so the BRM role is introduced to “patch things up!”  The BRM, in her ignorance, believes the best way to improve the relationship is to say “yes” to any and all business demands.  This is nearly always a losing proposition.  IT can’t meet the demand, and if they did, there’s little to no business value to be gained.

Advisor

This is a more constructive and productive relationship, where the Business Partner sees the BRM as an advisor.  By this time, there has usually been some formalization of the BRM role and its rules of engagement.  There’s also been some level of training for the BRM – or at least some thought put into the selection of people for the role.

Strategic Partner

The ‘Holy Grail’ of BRM implementations.  This should be the clear ambition – one that is understood and shared by the BRM and her Business Partner – with the recognition that you aren’t a Strategic Partner because you say you are, or because you want to be.  You reach that elevated position because you’ve earned it – and because your Business Partner sees you that way.

IT Matures as the BRM Role Matures

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the BRM role does not act in isolation.  It is inextricably linked to IT supply.  If IT supply is broken, the BRM role will be limited, and might not even make it to Order Taker.  This, from my experience, is a common situation.  Things are bad, so the BRM role is introduced.  Unless supply improves, the BRM is doomed to failure – and may actually make things worse.  Promises are made and expectations set that cannot be kept.  On top of lousy supply, the BRM is seen by the business partner as ‘overhead’ – yet more evidence that the IT team is clueless, always adding cost without demonstrating value!

To reach the Holy Grail of Strategic Partner, IT supply has to be excellent – both with steady state services (networks, email, help desk, etc.) and with solution delivery (projects and programs).  The “strategic” BRM needs IT supply to work flawlessly.  IT supply needs the BRM to suppress low value demand while stimulating demand that delivers real business value.  That way, everyone is happy and a virtuous cycle is sustained.

Image courtesy of TradeArabia

Enhanced by Zemanta
About these ads

Is IT Organizational Confusion Exacerbated by the Role of Business Relationship Manager?


I received a question from a reader about the role of a Business Relationship Manager (BRM).  I decided to bring the question and my response to this blog.

His question, and the context for it was:

When the BRM role was introduced at our organization, the Head of IT did not convey a clear vision or direction for how the new role would fit into the existing IT organization structure.  We did not have clarity on how to deal with the issues that are brought to surface by the BRM, or how the BRM should work with Business Analysts, Project Managers and other key roles.  Please share practical examples of how a typical BRM should operate on a day-to-day basis.  What impact should a BRM expect to have made in 3, 6, 12 months and who should see/feel the impact- is it for the IT department and its behavior or how business begins to engage with BRM?”

His email went on to say:

I feel that a lack of clarity and appropriate structure and governance of how a BRM is to operate within an existing IT organizational structure will result in a muddle and confusion for IT colleagues and ultimately fractured relations with the business/customers.”

New Organizational Roles Disrupt the Status Quo

My first observation is that you could substitute any major new role for the specific BRM issue above and have the same potential for organizational confusion.  I’ve seen this with the introduction of Business and IT architects, Program Managers, Service Managers, Product Managers, and so on.  Sometimes the new role gets introduced with limited clarity as to its purpose – rather it feels like “the thing to do”.  Often, the catalyst for the new role is something like:

  • Someone in an influential position has read about or came from an organization where this role reputedly worked miracles – “We should try this here!”
  • There are recurring pain points (e.g., a ‘noisy’ or dissatisfied business customer) – “Let’s put Jill into a role to face off with this customer and see if she can reduce the noise!”
  • Something doesn’t feel right about the current organization structure – “Let’s introduce a new role and see if that improves things!”  This is akin to the proverbial moving of deck chairs aboard the Titanic!

Implications of New Roles

Whatever the catalyst, there are a couple of important contextual characteristics to note here:

  1. Lack of clarity about the rationale for the new role – what problem(s) are we trying to solve and how will the new role solve them?
  2. Unclear expectations about what the outcomes of the new role should be (for example, picking up my readers question, “impact to have made in 3, 6, 12 months and who should see/feel the impact?”)
  3. Failure to fully consider changes that must be made to the IT operating model.  Presumably, the new role is taking over some Responsibility and/or Accountability from other roles, and that other roles need to be Consulted or Informed by the new role.  Note, the initials I’ve capitalized – RACI – the (hopefully) familiar tool for clarifying and assigning roles and responsibilities.

Unclear New Role + Unclear IT Operating Model = Total Confusion!

So, what we have here is a new role being introduced with a lack of clarity as to why, or how, into an organization that already has an unclear Operating Model.  In the past, we somehow managed to ‘get by’ with the unclear Operating Model because:

  1. We have bright, hard-working people who work at ‘smoothing out the bumps’ caused by lack of Operating Model clarity.
  2. They’ve been at this for a while, so unless there’s an unusual disruption to the status quo (such as a new role being introduced), we manage to limp along ok.

Answering the Tough Questions

My reader asked for “practical examples of how a typical BRM should operate on a day-to-day basis.”  With due respect to my reader, it’s the wrong question.  You can’t solve the problem by defining how a BRM operates.  The real question is, “How should the IT organization operate on a day-to-day basis with the introduction of this new role (the BRM)?” i.e., “What is our next-state IT Operating Model?”  I’ve posted many times on the components of an IT operating model, how to define one, how to implement one, and so on.  Enter IT Operating Model in the search box at the top – you’ll get about 40 posts on this topic representing 30 years of IT management consulting wisdom shared over 5 years of blogging!

My reader also asked, “What impact should a BRM expect to have made in 3, 6, 12 months and who should see/feel the impact- is it for the IT department and its behavior or how business begins to engage with BRM?”  The first part of this is totally dependent upon the organizational context – and especially on business and IT maturity.  But it is the right question, and the BRM should be working with the IT leadership team defining the hoped-for impact and how to track it.

It is also important to consider possible unintended consequences of a new role’s introduction.  For example, I worked with a global multi-billion dollar company who carefully introduced the BRM role.  They picked their “best and brightest” to fill the BRM position, and we developed a robust training program and toolkit for the BRMs.  Unfortunately, they were so effective at surfacing, stimulating and shaping business demand for IT, that they quickly exceeded supply capacity.  The BRM’s found themselves saying “no” to the same business executives they’d worked with to surface that demand.  If the expression “getting egg on your face” has any meaning, this was getting an entire chicken farm all over yourself, with lashings of excreted waste!

To the second part – who should see/feel the impact – I’d say that if there’s no positive impact to the business customer, then why bother with the BRM (or any new) role?  And inevitably, the IT department will feel impact – disruption initially, but over time, greater efficiency (“doing things right”) and effectiveness (“doing the right things”).

So, What To Do?

Again, this is a topic I’ve visited many times over the years on this blog – click on Organizational Change Management on the tag cloud to the right of this post for a collection of posts that more or less deal with this issue.

There’s no easy formula here – it’s about motivating change.  This is highly contingent on organizational context, relationships, and other factors specific to a given environment, but there are some common elements:

  1. Find ways to surface the pain of the status quo to those with the organizational power and authority to initiate the change – what the quality movement calls “the cost of quality”.  Use the process of surfacing this pain to build a guiding coalition of stakeholders who want and will benefit from the change.
  2. Find ways to clarify and sharpen the vision of the future state – the remedy to the pain of the status quo.  How will the introduction of a BRM role improve things?  What will this look like – after 3, 6, 12 months?  What will the implications be for our IT operating model?  Again, leverage the coalition – get their input and ensure their buy-in to the future state.  Help them understand what they must do to help the change happen and the future state become real.
  3. Find ways to clarify the transition from the status quo to the future state – what’s the transition plan?  Should we start with one BRM and conduct a pilot?  Should we pull together an “IT Operating Model Improvement Team” to do a fast cycle (no more than 60 days) analysis and provide recommendations to the IT leadership team?

Image courtesy of Awakening Business Solutions

Enhanced by Zemanta

Does Cloud+Consumerization Doom the Federated IT Operating Model?


The Federated IT Operating Model is Under Threat!

Today, most organizations employ some sort of Federated IT Operating Model.  Wikipedia defines a federation as:

…characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions united by a central (federal) government. In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states, as well as the division of power between them and the central government, are typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of the latter.”

Typically, enterprise-wide or common applications, initiatives and infrastructure are a centralized (federal) responsibility, while local applications and activities are under the control of business units or functions.  This “federal rights/states rights” model has infinite variations.  Definitions of “common,” “enterprise-wide” or “infrastructure” are subject to interpretation, and these tend to change over time, with changing business conditions, leadership, technology and other forces.  There’s also inevitably a “shadow IT” phenomenon – sometimes quite large – where much IT activity happens outside the realm of IT governance.

Just as in countries with a federal governance model, the competing forces between state and federal rights pull and push over time, leading to an ebb and flow of centralization and decentralization.  This can be healthy – like an accordion, making sweet music as the parts are squeezed together or pulled apart.  It’s never static, but constantly responding to the forces of change – just as all living systems “breathe” in some way or another, and have their seasonal variations.

But every now and again, new forces surface and combine together to disrupt the gentle ebb and flow – the so-called Arab Spring comes to mind.

The New Forces of Change

IT governance is undergoing such a confluence of new forces.  These include:

  • Cloud computing – it is easier, faster and cheaper (on the face of it) to leverage the cloud to host applications and provide IT services (e.g., storage, transaction processing, data analytics) rather than have your federal IT group provide these services.  Much of this activity takes place in the “Shadow IT” realm.
  • Mobile computing – more of us are doing more via smart phones and tablets.  This exposes us to mobile applications and the many “app stores” including Apple’s and Google.  Getting an app is as simple as clicking a button – and many apps are free, or cheap enough to add to your mobile phone bill without feeling any pain.
  • The shift in the personal computing operating system – from Windows, et al, which can be controlled by the central (federal) IT department, to technologies such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android which are much harder (perhaps impossible?) to control centrally.  The genie is already out of the bottle, and it’s not going back any time soon!
  • Economic climate – the economic climate facing most businesses, whether in the US or just about anywhere else is in the doldrums.  This keeps people scrutinizing costs, prepared to make short term economic moves, even if at the expense of the longer term, and trying just about anything to get “unstuck”!  Such a climate tends not to favor centralization and federal power (just ask President Obama’s campaign advisers!) but empowers local forces and factions.

Beware the Unintended Consequences

So, what to do about it?  Here’s three options:

  1. Take a laissez-faire approach – a path of least resistance.
  2. Push back, hunker down and reinforce the federal model with more controls and stronger sanctions for “shadow” behavior.
  3. Adopt a “mutual adjustment” approach that navigates the stormy waters to constantly find the optimal balance.

From my perspective and experience, Option 1 has potential (likely?) unintended consequences.  We saw this when many central IT groups were slow to respond to the emergence of the Personal Computer.  When they did respond, it was generally via Option 2 – they tried to constrain them.  That drove a lot of rogue and shadow behavior and set many companies IT efforts back several years.

For most of us, Option 3 is the practical and pragmatic solution.  Let’s face it, there are all sorts of unknowns in terms of how these forces will play out over time.  We need some form of centralized coordination of infrastructure. However, the terms “coordination” and “infrastructure” must be defined clearly and re-defined from time to time as we gain experience with cloud computing and consumerization of IT.  There is not a right and wrong here – but a critical need for organizational clarity so that you are setting the bounds of infrastructure clearly and in a way that is appropriate to the times and to your business context.

Seven Steps to a Mutually Adjusting IT Operating Model

I believe IT leaders must approach this in the same way they would approach any needed change:

  1. Create and “market” a compelling end state vision.
  2. Surface and “sell” the cost of status quo or of going down the wrong path.
  3. Define a credible and palatable path to the future.
  4. Enroll key stakeholders in joining together on that path.
  5. Engage selected key stakeholders in the governance model.
  6. Surface and celebrate successes along the way.
  7. Take action to discourage deviations from the path.

Image courtesy of Charles Ayoub

Enhanced by Zemanta

How Good are your IT Capabilities and How Good do they Need to Be? – Part 3


This is the 3rd in a series on assessing IT Capabilities.  (See Part 1 and Part 2)

A Quick Recap

Part 1 introduced some assessment principles I’ve found to be important.  Part 2 defined the term IT Capability, presented a potential landscape, or normative model, if you will, for IT Capabilities, and discussed ways to determine what IT Capabilities are needed.

In this part we will examine assessment dimensions, options and ratings.

Assessment Dimensions

Figure 1 – Capability Assessment Dimensions

Figure 1 shows a capability assessment approach that uses 4 top-level dimensions – Purpose, Commitment, Ability and Accountability. Each dimension is decomposed into lower (leaf) level dimensions.  Purpose, for example, is a function of how clearly and effectively the service(s) produced by a capability are defined, and how clearly the goals for that capability and principles by which the capability operates are defined.

Note, there is a hierarchy implied among the top-level dimensions.  It is unreasonable to expect management commitment to a given capability if the purpose and goals for that capability are unclear or inappropriate.  It is unlikely that appropriate ability is in place without the necessary management commitment.  It is unreasonable to expect clarity of accountability for a given capability if ability is lacking.   In practice, I don’t usually disclose this hierarchical relationship until the assessment is underway, when I do use it as a validation mechanism.  For example, if the assessment team is scoring Accountability as fully in place, when they’ve scored Purpose or Commitment or Ability as not in place or only partially in place, then I know I need to challenge the team, and probe for the inconsistency.

Assessment Options

The multi-level assessment dimensions provide several options for the assessment method:

  1. Assess a capability at the top-level, but use the leaf levels to clarify what is meant by the top-level.  For example, I can assess the degree to which the Purpose of a given capability is in place by thinking about the effectiveness and clarity of the Service Definition for that capability, and the quality of the Goals and Guiding Principles for that capability.
  2. Assess a capability at the leaf level dimensions.
  3. Mix and match between top-level and leaf level dimension based upon the needs (purpose and goals of the assessment) and feasibility (available time, available knowledge) of the assessment situation.

Assessment Ratings

For any capability, for each dimension, a rating can be assessed as follows – the capability dimension is:

  • Fully in place – this is our universal practice and will be found to be used consistently, with few, if any, exceptions.
  • Mostly in place – this is common practice, though is not universal or not consistent, or there are frequent exceptions.  We know how to do this well – but we need to get better in practice.
  • Partially in place – this is not common practice, though we have many of the necessary characteristics, but not all of them.  We have some work to do to strengthen the capability as it exists as common practice.
  • Not in place – we have few, if any, of the necessary characteristics.  We have a great deal of work to do to develop this capability.

Note, there is clearly room for interpretation in these ratings.  This is more art than science, and for most IT capabilities, we are not dealing with highly mature processes and statistical process control!  From my experience, that is ok, and is why in Part 1 of this series that I said that my preference is to use a facilitated self-assessment approach – pull together a team of practitioners, customers and subject matter experts and facilitate them through the assessment.  It is usually the dialog this generates that has the most value, and leads to the insight and commitment from the team to initiate and sustain improvement efforts.  More on this in Part 4.

Assessment Dimension Descriptions

Below are brief descriptions for each top-level and leaf level assessment dimension.

Purpose

Are purposes and goals for the capability clearly defined and well understood?

  • Service/Product Definition
    • Is there a clear definition of the business purpose served by the capability and how this service/product integrates or links with other services and products?
    • Is there a clear definition of business outcomes for the service?
    • Have the service providers been identified? (e.g., dedicated internal service providers, external service providers, project team responsibility)
  • Goals and Guiding Principles
    • Are the appropriate opportunities to use the capability defined?
    • Are the goals established for use of the capability and/or its service providers?

Commitment

Has organizational commitment been demonstrated in terms of senior sponsorship and management responsibilities?

  • Sponsorship
    • Is there adequate understanding, support and management commitment to sustain the use of the capabilities and/or services?
    • Is there commitment by example?
  • Delivery Management
    • Is qualified management in place to provide oversight and direction for delivering the capability or service?
    • Are mechanisms in place to ensure that service delivery will improve over time?
  • Change Management
    • Is a change management strategy and plan in place to overcome issues of organizational resistance?

Ability

Have the baseline processes, role requirements, enabling technologies and deployment capabilities been established?

  • Process Definition
    • Has a documented process been implemented to guide work activities?
  • Roles and Competencies
    • Are required competencies and specific areas of specialization defined?
    • Are appropriate service providers identified and trained?
    • Are training/skill development processes defined and provided?
  • Tools and Technologies
    • Are tools and technologies in place to enable effective execution of the work processes?
  • Deployment
    • Are the service providers organized, ready, and able to provide service?
    • Are charging and cost allocation mechanisms in place?

Accountability

Have criteria for success and related consequences been defined?

  • Performance Management
    • Have measurable criteria for individual and group performance been defined?
    • Have measurable criteria for evaluating business results been defined?
    • Have necessary measurement/assessment approaches been instituted?
  • Consequence Management
    • Has a program to ensure usage been established?
    • Are the rewards for success and penalties for failure defined, communicated and implemented?
    • Have individual roles been defined including their inter-dependencies and how performance contributes to overall success?

 

Please join me for the 4th and final part in this series!  And please do weigh in with your own experiences, observations or questions!

 

Graphic courtesy of Tarun Trikha.com

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Futility of Collaboration without Context


The term ‘collaboration’ gets thrown about as something inherently valuable and worthwhile – an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.  In reality, collaboration in of itself is:

a). Unlikely to happen
b). Unlikely to create anything of value

So Many Collaboration Platforms, So Little Collaboration!

Collaboration platforms are everywhere!  Most IT shops have at least one collaboration platform (usually SharePoint) and often several others.  And some people do participate.  The question is, with what result?  The answer often is little that is really worthwhile, and even less that can truly be called “collaboration.”

I used to wonder if there was something in our human nature that inherently resisted collaboration.  Of course, the opposite is true – human beings are both inherently gregarious and naturally collaborative – it’s in our instinct for survival.  The reason I was seeing so little collaboration on collaboration platforms was not that people did not want to collaborate – it’s that they did not understand (or believe in, or want) the purpose for collaboration.

The Collaboration Context

Alan Kay is credited with one of my favorite quotes, “Context is worth 80 IQ points!” In the case of collaboration, context not just the extra IQ points – it’s the whole enchilada of collaboration!

Several years ago, while I was an Executive Vice President at the The Concours Group – a management consulting, research and executive education firm, we were acquired by a company that had developed a collaboration platform.  Our new management was very keen for us to “eat our own dog food” and encouraged everyone in the company to get on the platform and ‘collaborate.’

I found this to be an interesting and enlightening experiment.  Most of us did indeed get on the platform.  Thoughts were posted and commented upon.  Interest groups popped up.  We had a ‘social reputation’ system, and I was proud the day my avatar suddenly listed me as a “Docent”, though I could not find out what that actually meant in this context!  After an early spike, usage dropped.

After a while, someone introduced Yammer into the firm.  A new groundswell of so-called “collaboration” surfaced, but after a while, that too dropped.  I observed that in spite of putting time and energy into “collaboration”, in reality, people were engaging in conversations that, while they may have been interesting, never went anywhere.  Conclusions were never drawn, deliverables were never created, insights never extracted, lessons never learned and applied.

The problem was not the tool – it was a lack of context.  There was no clear purpose or intent to the collaboration.

So, What’s Your Collaborative Intent?

  • Are you trying to engage people in problem solving?  For example, stakeholders and/or subject matter experts might be invited to review and expand upon a cause-effect analysis.
  • Are you trying to create a deliverable, such as a project proposal?  People might work together on creating the proposal, perhaps each working on their own section, but reviewing and commenting on others sections such that the whole is coherently structured and internally consistent.  Or you might wish to get everyone’s input to the whole proposal, rather than have people focus on their section.
  • Do you want a community of practice or interest to capture and evolve a body of knowledge – best practices, templates, examples of how to do something, such as charter a project?
  • Are you creating an ‘operating manual’ for an organization, with processes, roles, competencies, rules of engagement, and so on?  Perhaps people will be encouraged to not only create and/or refine the knowledge content, but will also rate the content based upon usability, clarity or how well the organization handles a given situation.
  • Are you encouraging people to share across organizational silos – looking for points of leverage or redundancy?

Each of these ‘collaborative intents’ implies a specific goal or set of goals.  And each goal, in turn, might lend itself to a different type of collaboration mechanism.  While content or document management systems might be great for managing ‘documents of record’, they might not be so effective at encouraging multiple authorship.  In fact, document-centric tools tend to deepen and strengthen the traditional document mindset, where a document is something you email around to people to get their input.

It’s all a question of context – what are you hoping to gain through collaboration?  Is the goal clear?  Do those that must participate understand and believe in the goal?

Graphic courtesy of diagoal

Enhanced by Zemanta

What Does Your Leadership Team Talk About?


I was talking to a senior IT leader at a global company this week, who said, “Our leadership team really needs to schedule some time to talk about strategic issues.  Our weekly IT Leadership Team meetings are consumed by tactical and operational stuff!”

This struck me as odd – and unfortunate!  “Tactical and operational stuff” should be on auto-pilot.  IT processes and management systems should take care of most things.  When I hear that an IT leadership team is consumed by the tactical and operational, my first reaction is that it is not a leadership team – it is a management team – a very different beast.

Leadership versus Management

Much has been written about the distinctions between leadership and management, so I won’t go far into this here.  For me, leadership is about influencing people, whether you have managerial authority over them or not.  Management is about exercising authority.  This basic distinction has important ramifications.  Leaders focus on the longer term and typically are concerned with achieving higher levels of performance for an organization.  Managers are more focused on the shorter term and on achieving agreed performance goals and objectives.

So, to recognize that “our leadership team doesn’t talk about strategic issues” is to recognize that it really isn’t a leadership team, it’s a management team.  That may be ok.  I worked with the CIO and his team at a major financial services company a while back.  They had been through a multi-year transformation under a new CIO.  The CIO and his team had been very ‘hands on’ and directive.  The results had been very positive, and the business clients of IT were impressed by the gains made from the transformation.  But, like many transformations I have seen, their performance improvement efforts had plateaued.  Managers and workers in the IT organization felt dis-empowered, so there was no real culture of continuous improvement.  The results of the annual engagement survey showed significantly lower employee engagement in IT than anywhere else in the company.

I raised the subject at an IT leadership team meeting, posing the question, “Are you a leadership team?  Or a management team?”  Consensus was quickly reached that they were a management team, with this finding justified by the sorry state of IT prior to the transformation, and the need for the top people in IT to drive change.

Which Do You Need – Leadership or Management?

I think that was a valid justification in their situation.  But the follow-up question, “What do you need to be now – a management or a leadership team?’ was much more contentious – especially as we drilled into what behavioral shifts would be implied if they did shift into a true leadership role.  For example, could they really trust their IT managers to manage?  If not, would they replace them with those they did trust to manage?

Dealing with this question and it’s implications became a major theme of my work with that team for the balance of the consulting engagement.  Great managers often have a hard time transitioning to a leadership role.  Great management teams have an even harder time transitioning to leadership teams – team members mutually reinforce each other’s instinct to be directive and in the details.

Have you fallen into the management trap?  How much time do you spend leading versus managing?

Graphic courtesy of Anthem Athletic Association

Enhanced by Zemanta

Do You Really Need an IT Transformation?


I’ve been part of many organizational transformations over 30 years of management consulting.  Most were with IT organizations, many were with HR organizations and some were transformations to global shared services.

I used to be excited by the idea of an organizational transformation.  When a client or prospective client used the word “transformation” I would salivate!  “Them’s fighting words!”

But nowadays, I generally shy away from the “t” word. Here’s why.

The Trouble With Transformation

There are several reasons why I don’t like the word “transformation”:

  • For most of the organization, it can feel demeaning, effectively sending the message, “You aren’t any good and you have to transform!”  That can be a bitter pill to swallow (and is almost always untrue – at least in part.)  Not the best way to enroll people in change!
  • From the perspective of 2012, most people have been part of at least one organizational “transformation,” – it was painful and ultimately failed to deliver on its promises.  Announcing yet another transformation typically elicits the response, “Here we go again!” Organizational transformations tend to promise too much and deliver too little.
  • Transformation implies a journey from current state to a future state by going through some kind of radical (transformational?) change.  Increasingly, organizations that are healthy, effective and growing in capability are in a state of constant change and adaption.  The current state → transformation → future state model no longer applies, so why delude ourselves and confuse everybody about having a transformation?
  • Transformations are highly disruptive. They are disruptive because they assume that someone (or group) knows what the future state will look like – “all we have to do is to transform into that future state from our current state!”

To this last point, the reality is that organizational behavior is way too complex for anyone to “know” what the future state will look like.  Perhaps, way back when, in the days of hierarchical, authoritarian organizations in the early industrial revolution, a determinist approach to operating model design was feasible – especially if you thought you were transforming into a future state that would then be ‘frozen.’  We may well know the characteristics we would like to see in the future state, and the kinds of behaviors we’d like to experience, but exactly how we will get there, and what our Operating Model (processes, roles, rules of engagement, governance, services, metrics, etc.) will look like is far less certain.

I think organizational and operating model design nowadays is more about emergence – point people in the right direction, then get out of their way!  To that end, we need to define that direction:

  1. Outcomes we’d like to see
  2. Capabilities we need to achieve those outcomes
  3. Processes, roles, competencies (i.e., knowledge, skills and behaviors) we need for those capabilities
  4. Management and governance systems

Then we need to:

  1. Over-communicate items 1 through 4 above – engage people in really understanding, co-developing and creating organizational clarity.
  2. Empower them to do what is necessary, make sure they have the right tools and infrastructure and get out of their way.
  3. Enable them with a meaningful way to participate in shaping their future – we have found that a semantic wiki can be a great vehicle to achieve this (see this post and the earlier posts (here and here) in the series).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Semantic Wiki – Driving IT Organizational Clarity and Performance: Part 3


Example of Semantic Structure for an IT Operating Model

This is the 3rd and final part of a 3-part post.  (See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)  This short series represents the culmination of 5+ years of work for my business partner, Roy Youngman, and me.

A Quick Recap

In Part 1, I discussed the frustration Roy and I felt with the state of management consulting, where the artifacts we’d leave behind (PowerPoint slides, Word documents, etc.) rarely became part of our client’s organizational fabric.  Also, the middle managers and the ‘troops’ who had to bring to life the strategies and operating models we were developing often did not get exposure to the work until relatively late in the day.  Because they had not been part of the work, they were slow to understand and embrace it.

I explained that we quickly recognized that the technologies and sensibilities of Web 2.0 and social media promised a better way to help our clients – a way that would engage broader and deeper participation by client staff at all levels, and would leave behind a ‘living, breathing’ IT strategy and/or IT operating model, captured as a set of wiki pages.  These pages were developed collaboratively with our clients, so the act of development and deployment essentially became concurrent – defining the IT operating model was part of deploying it, and vice versa.  We determined that a Semantic Wiki would be an ideal technology to support our consulting work – and more importantly, to provide a platform we could leave behind with our clients to empower their organizational collaboration and ongoing refinement and use of the IT strategy and operating model.

In Part 2, I went on to provide historical context for the wikis first introduction in 1995, and enumerated its strengths and weakness that were limiting IT organizations ability to collaborate effectively using traditional wikis. I went on to explain the concepts behind the Semantic Wiki and how these provided an ideal platform for enabling complex organizations such as IT, where multiple, different value propositions have to be supported.

Balancing Order and Chaos

IT organizations are surprisingly complex, supporting two fundamentally different value propositions:

  • Core capabilities comprising the critical processes, assets and structures that help run the day-to-day business
  • Edge capabilities where innovation, growth and change are cultivated

These distinct value propositions have Operating Model implications, requiring distinct forms of semantic wiki-enablement, as highlighted in Table 1 below.

Value Proposition

Example Capabilities

Needed Wiki Characteristics

Wiki Governance Model

Core
  • Operations
  • Service Management
  • Enterprise Solutions
  • Coherent integrated structure
  • Stable space
  • High integrity
  • Globally governed
  • Workflow controlled
  • Process Owner as key control point
Edge
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Product Management
  • Departmental Solutions
  • Project & Team Spaces
  • Business Relationship Management
  • Idea Generation
  • Consistent modular structure
  • Agile
  • Support divergent discussion & brainstorming
  • Content can migrate to Globally governed
  • Domain governed
  • Workflow optional
  • Domain Owner as key control point

Table 1 – Types of Wiki Space

Globally Governed Space for ‘Core’ Capabilities

Core capabilities such as data center operations, service management and enterprise solutions (e.g., ERP systems) depend upon processes that are standardized, tightly controlled and centrally planned.  Management systems for these types of capability must focus on integrated, reliable, efficient processes and compliance to norms.

A wiki that supports core capabilities must be highly ordered and globally governed.  For example, each process should have a ‘Process Owner,’ with clearly defined accountabilities for maintaining and continuously improving their processes.  They need defined workflow mechanisms, for example, to control the promotion of a material change to a process page from ‘draft’ to ‘pending approval’ to ‘approved’ to ‘operational.’

Domain Governed Space for ‘Edge’ Capabilities

Edge capabilities, on the other hand, depend upon structures that are loosely knit, with agile processes that can rapidly adjust to entrepreneurial initiatives and fast-shifting technologies.   Management systems and organizational culture must foster new product success and the experimentation needed to get there.  Whereas core capabilities epitomize highly ordered environments, the edge represents the place where chaos and order meet and creativity blossoms.

A wiki that facilitates edge capabilities works best with limited structure and control, where, to paraphrase China’s Chairman Mao Zedong, “one thousand flowers bloom”.  Here the underlying semantic model will be centered on problem areas and the process of ideation, with Business Relationship Managers, Product Managers and Architects as the natural choice for the wiki’s points of control.

Today’s wiki platforms are helpful here, but we expect them to evolve to better support techniques such as brainstorming, innovation jams, mind mapping, and provide integration with tools for simulation and modeling, prediction markets, sentiment analysis and ‘light weight’ collaborative project management.

One Space – Two Wiki Models

IT organizational needs can be comfortably addressed in a single Semantic Wiki, with each value proposition having its own underlying semantic model and associated governance structure.   Having both ‘core’ and ‘edge’ capabilities supported in the same wiki space affords important benefits.  For example, everything is discoverable and linkable across the models.  These characteristics are all but impossible to achieve in a traditional document-centric collaboration approach.

If the primary goal of the core is to ‘prevent bad change’, a tightly structured semantic wiki with a robust governance model is a powerful way to support this goal and the organizations that must deliver against it.  If the primary goal of the edge is to ‘create good change’, a loosely governed semantic wiki with ‘sandboxes’ to generate and test ideas is a great way to support this goal.  Today’s leading wiki platforms, with their semantic extensions offer a single, integrated solution that can help drive IT organizational clarity and improve performance.

An Empowered, Continuously Improving IT Organization

Roy and I have found that encapsulating IT strategies and operating models in a semantic wiki has tremendous benefits that are simply not available in the more traditional approach some call, “death by PowerPoint!”  For example:

  • A far broader group (and ultimately, the entire IT organization and their clients and partners) can be engaged in the process of strategy and IT operating model development and deployment.
  • All the artifacts of strategy and IT operating models (strategy on a a page, key themes, business outcomes, major programs, metrics, processes, and so on) are immediately available to the organization and its stakeholders – this enables continuous improvement and evolution.
  • Significant productivity increases result from having these artifacts available as shared wiki pages.  While the term “knowledge management” (KM) has fallen out of favor, the goals of KM continue to be highly relevant, and the end result of building a semantic wiki for the IT organization creates a very robust and powerful KM platform.
  • A semantic wiki dramatically decreases email traffic and, more importantly, decreases the time taken to find information and increases the confidence that the information found is the ‘single source of truth’
  • Adoption and organizational change management issues can be largely addressed by ensuring that use of the wiki is “in the natural flow of work.”  I will did further into this important concept in a future post!
Enhanced by Zemanta

The Semantic Wiki – Driving IT Organizational Clarity and Performance: Part 2


This is the 2nd in a 3-part post representing the culmination of 5+ years of work for my business partner, Roy Youngman and me.

A Quick Recap

Roy and I had become frustrated with the state of management consulting and the lack of “stickiness” with our consulting work.  In helping clients develop business-IT strategies and realign their IT operating models, the deliverables we would leave behind as the artifacts of the work (usually PowerPoint slides, Word documents, etc.) rarely became part of the client’s organizational fabric.  Another source of frustration was that we’d typically arrive at those deliverables through a series of workshops – usually with the CIO and IT leadership team.  Middle managers and the ‘troops’ who had to bring those strategies and operating models to life often did not get exposure to the work until relatively late in the day.  Because they had not been part of the work, they were slow to understand and embrace it.

As Web 2.0 and social media began to take hold, we started to see and experiment with better ways to help our clients – engaging broader and deeper participation by client staff, and leaving behind a ‘living, breathing’ IT strategy and/or IT operating model, captured as a set of wiki pages developed collaboratively with our clients.  As such, the act of development and deployment became more concurrent.  Defining the IT operating model was part of deploying it, and vice versa.

However, we’d found that IT organizational attempts to improve collaboration and support knowledge management typically met with limited success, and that collaboration tools and platforms deployed by IT were falling short.  While the power and simplicity of wikis were appealing, their ‘one size fits all’ approach was not well suited to supporting an IT operating model.  We closed Part 1 by summarizing the strengths of a wiki, and suggesting that these strengths also create vulnerabilities.

The Proverbial Double-Edged Sword!

A wikis strengths also create vulnerabilities.  For example, the ease with which users can create and edit pages can quickly lead to a chaotic free-for-all, as content becomes subject to the whims of authors and editors, and absent a meaningful underlying structure, pages proliferate.  The lack of review before modifications are accepted can limit the credibility of a given wiki page as a ‘source of truth.’  A process definition, for example, may have been last edited by someone that introduced a serious error – and that error can proliferate as people refer to and use the process with the assumption that the content on the page is valid.

Sites such as Wikipedia mitigate these vulnerabilities through a robust system of editorial administration, oversight and management – enhanced by the ‘law of large numbers.’  In this case, with a sufficiently large universe of editors, the content of any page quickly converges towards a mean, reflecting “the wisdom of the crowd”.  But with an internal wiki – say one used by an IT organization or other shared services function, the law of large numbers does not apply, so without other mechanisms to manage structure and content, the wiki degrades in quality and value over time.

SharePoint as a Common Culprit!

This degradation is commonplace in organizations using Microsoft SharePoint as their collaboration platform.  While typically deployed to support collaboration, the reality quickly scales back to “a place to store documents”, which, in the words of one of my clients, soon degenerates to, “a place to lose documents!”

The other problem with SharePoint is that its strength is also its weakness.  While it is a good document management system, documents in of themselves are rarely the proper end goal of collaboration.  Collaboration is largely about having multiple authors create, evolve and use content, and documents are a poor medium for developing, codifying, and sharing knowledge.  Wikis provide a far more valuable alternative approach.  As my colleague Roy Youngman noted in his blog:

The nonlinear nature of a Wiki enables well-factored content, thereby minimizing redundancies and preventing contradictions that confuse people. It also allows people to contribute to whatever area of expertise each person happens to have so everyone is drawn in, not just the elite few.  A Wiki approach enhances the discovery of knowledge and exposes the subject matter in the greatest need of improvement.  And the improvement is a constant theme – the very heart and soul of a Wiki.”

Semantic Wikis to the Rescue!

But all is not lost, as the world of Web 2.0 gives way to Web 3.0, tapping into the special properties of the Semantic Web, a term first coined by Tim Berners-Lee.  Tim was the inventor of the World Wide Web and is director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which oversees the development of proposed Semantic Web standards.

Berners-Lee defines the Semantic Web as, “a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines.”  A Semantic Web goes beyond the traditional web concept of hyperlinked, human-readable web pages by inserting machine-readable metadata about pages and how they are related to each other.  This enables automated agents to access the Web more intelligently and perform tasks on behalf of users.  As the W3C describes it:

In addition to the classic ‘Web of documents,’ W3C is helping to build a technology stack to support a ‘Web of data,’ the sort of data you find in databases. The ultimate goal of the Web of data is to enable computers to do more useful work and to develop systems that can support trusted interactions over the network.”

In some respects, the Semantic Web is designed to overcome the all too familiar limitations of today’s Web – a proliferation of untrustworthy content that can be hard to navigate and make sense of.  Building on the Semantic Web concept and standards, a Semantic Wiki has an underlying model of the knowledge described in its pages, thereby capturing the meaning of the data within the wiki.

While traditional wikis have structured text and hyperlinks, a Semantic Wiki captures and identifies information about the data within its pages, and the relationships between pages, in ways that can be queried or exported like a database.  While conventional wikis provide users a simple means of expressing data and metadata, typically through tagging, Semantic Wikis include additional ways to express semantic declarations.  They are therefore able to understand and display the relationships between pages or other data.   For example, you can declare the underlying semantic properties of an IT Operating Model, such as:

  • Processes require people taking on specific roles
  • Roles point to specific competencies people must have to fill them
  • Competencies comprise specific Knowledge, Skills and Behaviors
  • Metrics define process performance

Having these semantic properties explicitly defined enables wiki governance rules and workflows – for example, someone defining a new process will be prompted to define the associated competencies needed for that process, and an appropriate template can be automatically loaded for defining those competencies, thereby encouraging consistency and quality.  A simple query can highlight roles that are missing, or identify associates who are qualified to fill a given role.

The graphic below shows a partial example of the underlying semantic structure for an IT Operating Model.

Example Semantic Structure for an IT Operating Model

Several wiki platforms offer semantic extensions, including Semantic MediaWiki (which extends MediaWiki, the underlying open source platform that powers Wikipedia) and zAgile’s Wikidsmart extension to Atlassian’s popular and powerful Confluence platform.

In combination with other plug-ins and extensions, such as Page Rating, Social Reputation, Workflow and Task Management, a Semantic Wiki can enable real and meaningful collaboration for IT organizations (or any other environment where collaboration can improve service quality, speed of delivery and organizational clarity.)

I will pick up in the 3rd and final part of this series by discussing the two primary value propositions for an IT organization and how a semantic wiki can provide a single integrated space for enabling these differentiated needs.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Semantic Wiki – Driving IT Organizational Clarity and Performance


This will be Part 1 of a 3-part post.  This short series represents the culmination of 5+ years of work (on top of a 40 year career in IT!) for me and my business partner, Roy Youngman.  The series of posts also marks the formal announcement of The Merlyn Group, LLC, a business venture we actually started one year ago, but have been ‘flying below the radar’ while we worked with our initial clients and technology.

A Little Historical Context

Roy and I started working together at Ernst & Young back in the early 1990′s.  About 5 years ago, we both became very frustrated with the state of management consulting.  The main problem we saw was a lack of “stickiness” with our consulting work.

Most of our consulting work was either helping clients develop business-IT strategies, or helping them realign their IT operating models (processes, services, governance, organization, metrics, and so on), often in support of new Business-IT strategies.  Our deliverables typically comprised PowerPoint slides, Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.  While these all played an important part of informing and aligning our client teams, the artifacts we’d leave behind rarely became part of their organizational fabric.

This was exacerbated by the fact that we’d typically arrive at those deliverables through a series of workshops – usually with the CIO and IT leadership team.  Middle managers and the ‘troops’ who had to bring those strategies and operating models to life often did not get exposure to the work until relatively late in the day.  Because they had not been part of the work, they were slow to understand and embrace it.

A smaller, but no less important concern was the travel involved in all of this.  Post 9-11, travel costs typically added 20% to the cost of an engagement – good for the airlines and hotels, perhaps, but not good for the client and certainly not good for us.  Time lost commuting and the wear and tear on mind and body took their toll.

Enter “Consulting 2.0″…

As the technologies and sensibilities of Web 2.0 and social media began to take hold, Roy and I started to see a better way to help our clients – a way that would engage broader and deeper participation by client staff at all levels, and that would leave behind a ‘living, breathing’ IT strategy and/or IT operating model, captured as a set of wiki pages.  These pages were developed collaboratively with our clients, so the act of development and deployment essentially became concurrent.  Defining the IT operating model was part of deploying it, and vice versa.

This 3-part series of posts will explain how we did this, and highlight some of our key learnings along the way.

The Unmet Promise of Collaboration

We had observed that IT organizational attempts to improve collaboration, enable knowledge management and drive organizational clarity typically met with limited success.  In our research and consulting work, we’d found that limitations with collaboration tools and platforms deployed by IT were a key factor in these disappointing results and that a ‘one size fits all’ approach was all but doomed to failure.  Some aspects of IT require a highly structured and tightly governed approach to enabling collaboration – process management and continuous process improvement, for example.  Other aspects, such as enterprise architecture and business-IT relationship management work best with a looser and more emergent approach.

The Art and Science of Collaboration

The great news was that a new type of tool was emerging – the Semantic Wiki.  We recognized that a semantic wiki would easily accommodate the complexities inherent in IT Operating Models.  But first, let’s review how wikis came about – and how their strengths can create serious limitations for use in an IT organization.

1995 – The Wiki Is Born!

Wikis have been at the heart of collaboration since Ward Cunningham created the first Wiki, known as WikiWikiWeb in 1995.  Ward and co-author Bo Leuf, in their book The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web, described the essence of the wiki concept as follows:

  • A wiki invites all users to edit any page or to create new pages within the wiki Web site, using only a plain-vanilla Web browser without any extra add-ons.
  • A wiki promotes meaningful topic associations between different pages by making page link creation almost intuitively easy and showing whether an intended target page exists or not.
  • A wiki is not a carefully crafted site for casual visitors. Instead, it seeks to involve the visitor in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the Web site landscape.

According to Wikipedia, the world’s best-known and largest wiki:

A wiki enables communities to write documents collaboratively, using a simple markup language and a web browser.  A wiki is essentially a database for creating, browsing, and searching through information. A wiki allows for non-linear, evolving, complex and networked text, argument and interaction.  A defining characteristic of wiki technology is the ease with which pages can be created and updated. Generally, there is no review before modifications are accepted.”

The Wikis Strengths

The keys to a wiki are:

  1. The ease with which people can collaboratively create, access and edit documents.
  2. The fact that those documents can be hyperlinked to create complex and networked text that allows the reader to navigate both linearly (as with traditional text) and non-linearly (jumping from idea to idea).
  3. The ease with which documents can be searched – with the knowledge that you are always looking at the current and only version of the page.
  4. As an inherently web-based concept, wikis benefit from evolving Web standards and technologies such as browsers, mark-up languages and even the magical world of open source – enabling Wiki users and developers to participate easily in a rapidly growing ecosystem of plug-ins.

The Proverbial Double-Edged Sword!

But these strengths also create vulnerabilities. Join me for Part 2 of this series, where will will look at the weaknesses of a wiki as an enabler of IT collaboration, and how a semantic wiki overcomes those limitations.

Graphic courtesy of Semantic Wikipedia

Enhanced by Zemanta