IT-Enabled Business Innovation: A Missing Link?


Power Information technology is enabling business innovation through new types of product and service, transformed business models and improved lives for customers, consumers, shareholders, employees and citizens.

For example, when Sam Walton famously recognized the competitive advantage Walmart could gain by ‘turning inventory to information’ he was experiencing (and then acting upon) an insight that would innovate supply chain management for big box retailers and, ultimately, for retailing in general. When Max Hopper‘s team at American Airlines recognized (and then acted upon) the power of yield management as a means of dynamically pricing airline seats based upon supply and demand, he created a competitive advantage that put promising low-cost airlines such as People Express out of business. When Jeff Bezos recognized (and then acted upon) the opportunities in reinventing online retailing for an exceptional customer experience, he created a new buiness that today captures $75 Billion per year of retail business and continues to innovate products and services.

These are examples of “big” IT-enabled innovation, but smaller examples appear all the time. Domino’s Pizza reversed its slumping performance in large part by making online ordering a cornerstone of its business through its web-based tools such as voice ordering, Pizza Tracker, 3-D Pizza Builder, and Pizza Hero tools.

Stories such as this appear frequently — though not as frequently as one might hope!

What Limits IT-Enabled Innovation?

With the emergence of all sorts of innovation enablers, such as the “Internet of Things“, inexpensive ways to identify and locate objects, people and places, powerful analytical capabilities, wearable technology, agile methods, smart phone apps, and so on, why does it seem that most businesses, government agencies and organizations of all sorts are stuck in the last century? Why does IT-enabled innovation always seem to refer to “over there?”

I’ve been fortunate in my career to be involved in IT Management research and learn from many talented academics and practitioners. One multi-company research study into IT-enabled innovation about ten years ago highlighted three key success factors:

  1. A clear and compelling ‘innovation intent.’
  2. An effective channel and structures that bring together business need/opportunities with IT capability/possibilities.
  3. An effective process for filtering, refining, testing and deploying innovation opportunities.

Business Relationship Management — A Missing Link for IT-Enabled Innovation?

The skilled and properly positioned Business Relationship Manager (BRM) can help inject the success factors identified above.  For example:

  1. As ‘demand shapers’ the BRM helps stimulate the business appetite for innovation. The skilled BRM uses techniques such as Value Network Analysis, Scenario Planning, Appreciative Inquiry, Competitive Intelligence, Bibliometric Analysis, and Capability Gap Analysis to help establish innovation intent.
  2. As ‘demand surfacers’ the BRM discovers innovation opportunities using techniques such as Design Thinking, Brainstorming, Knowledge Café, Synectics, Why-Why Diagrams, Behavioral Prototyping, Mind Mapping and Storyboarding.
  3. With their focus on business transition and value realization, the BRM helps deploy innovation opportunities using techniques such as Design Structure Matrix, Force Field Analysis, How-How Diagrams, Stakeholder Mapping and Analysis, Organizational Change Management, Business Experiments, Rapid Prototyping and Agile Development.

So, if you are in a BRM role, become knowledgeable in Design Thinking (see my 3-part post on Design Thinking here, here and here) and the disciplines and techniques of business innovation. Understand how innovation can create business value in your context. Of course, this means truly understanding your business partner’s business model, business processes, marketplace, competitive strategies, and market forces. It also means knowing the key stakeholders and influence leaders — where is innovation thinking taking place in your organization? How well connected are you with the innovation thought leaders? How are you learning about innovation in your industry? How are you keeping up with IT-enabled innovation?

So much to do — so little time — no time to waste!

 

Image courtesy of Business 2 Community

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How Do You Optimize IT Capabilities for Business Value?


Value Disciplines

In their groundbreaking book, The Discipline of Market Leaders, published in 1997, co-authors Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema argued that companies that have taken leadership positions in their industries have typically done so by focusing their strategy on one of three value disciplines, and optimizing their business operating models accordingly. They don’t ignore the other two value disciplines — they must meet industry standards in all three disciplines. But they lead in, and optimize for one value discipline, be it operational excellence, customer intimacy, or product leadership.

If we think of an internal IT organization in business terms, it becomes clear that IT infrastructure and operations are optimized for Operational Excellence, and that enterprise architecture and solutions delivery should be optimized for Product Leadership. This begs the question, what of Customer Intimacy?

How Can an IT Organization Achieve Customer Intimacy?

Many years ago (and even today in some companies) business leaders achieved Customer Intimacy with their IT capabilities by establishing their own, dedicated IT organizations. Over the years, as IT became an increasingly large chunk of business budgets, IT organizations transformed to gain advantages of scale by consolidating their IT capabilities into centralized shared service organizations. These tended to be optimized for Operational Excellence, consistent with the “lowest price and hassle-free service” promise associated with the business case for centralization.

For many such centralized, shared service IT capabilities, however, the Customer Intimacy value discipline was subsumed under the pressure to take out cost and be operationally excellent. The business customer of the IT organization could have anything they wanted, as long as it was consistent with the enterprise IT infrastructure and drew from the portfolio of standard enterprise solutions. In other words, as long as one size fits all! As business leaders stepped up to the competitive plate, trying to get ever closer to their customers, their IT organizations, in the name of defensible cost structures, were moving further away from their customers!

Enter the Business Relationship Manager!

In today’s leading IT organizations, the Customer Intimacy value discipline is being restored through the emerging role of Business Relationship Manager (BRM) — charged with driving business value from information and IT by getting close to their internal (and external) customers and, to paraphrase Treacy and Wiersema, by “delivering what specific customers want” and by “anticipating needs.”

All well and good — as long as IT infrastructure and operations live up to the Operational Excellence value discipline. When Operational Excellence is lacking, internal customers are typically reluctant to engage their BRMs in strategic exploration while basic operational issues (metaphorically, “lights on and training running on time”) are disrupting business operations. So, what is the BRM to do?

Plug the Holes, or Call for Improvement?

With many BRMs transitioning into their role from other IT disciplines, including Service Management and Project Management, there is often a strong temptation to step up to the plate and compensate for the deficiencies in Operational Excellence. There are several traps inherent in this strategy:

  1. When the BRM steps into an Operational Excellence role, they are taking time and energy away from their Customer Intimacy role — they tend to become part of the problem their role was established to address.
  2. When the business partner sees their BRM in an Operational Excellence role, the BRM may have a hard time either establishing or sustaining a relationship based upon strategic insight.
  3. By ‘masking’ the operational issues, the BRM is essentially ‘colluding with dysfunctional behavior’, potentially weakening the forces for operational improvement.

A Better BRM Approach for Addressing Operational Issues

Rather than falling into the ‘collusion’ trap, an effective BRM leverages their influence and persuasion skills and their competencies in organizational change management by stepping to the role of Change Agent for improved IT operations and infrastructure. They fearlessly call out process issues by:

  1. Gathering and presenting data that highlights process issues and their implications — always focused on the process, rather than the people.
  2. Offering to help fix the process issues — volunteering their business customer perspective, facilitation, process management, organizational change management, or whatever competencies they can bring to the table.
  3. Creating synergistic “foxholes” with their IT colleagues by establishing (or reinforcing) shared goals, common enemies (such as poor process, rework, dissatisfied business customers) and mutual dependencies.

Know and Lead With Your Customer Intimacy Value Discipline

When you get sucked into operational issues, you may find yourself in a role that is inconsistent with your main mission — it might feel good, heroic even — but it’s not what the BRM role is really about. Operational issues should be solved in those organizational entities that are optimized for Operational Excellence — IT infrastructure and operations.

 

Note: You can learn more about the techniques discussed here — and much more in my next on-line BRMP Certification course. This is being held across 3 Tuesdays—November 4, 11 and 18 . For details, please click here.

 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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