Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? “Slow and steady wins the race”? Econ 101 lectures about economies of scale? Business truisms like “Nobody ever got fired for buying…” (insert any large, established vendor name here)?
Such nuggets of business wisdom seem to no longer apply. Today, in the words of author Jason Jennings, “It’s not the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow.” Competitive advantage comes from reworking business processes and service delivery models to improve speed not by 10% or even 100%, but by multiples. Consider:
According to a recent Financial Times story by Lisa Pollack, “A Berlin company, founded in 2013, built an online service that allows new customers to open a bank account in under eight minutes…The company, Number26, has signed up more than 30,000 customers after launching what it deems ‘Europe’s most modern bank account’ in January.”
Project glitches—and sometimes even outright failures—are unfortunately common. But they are by no means inevitable.
According to CIO Insight, “45 percent of large IT projects go over budget, while delivering 56 percent less value than promised.” Yet many of the frequent causes of project setbacks are well understand and can be avoided with proper planning and execution.
Based on research compiled by Dennis McCafferty, here are 10 common sources of project management problems, along with guidance on how to avoid each, illustrated with the example of implementing an enterprise request management (ERM) strategy.
The tsunami of change washing over the landscape for CIOs can perhaps best be summed up by the phrase “digital enterprise”—a catchall term encompassing the fundamental redesign of business processes to adapt to big data, the Internet of Things, the consumerization of IT, cloud computing, and other developments.
The movement is nearly universal: in a recent Altimeter Group survey, 88 percent of “digital strategy executives interviewed said their organizations are undergoing formal digital transformation efforts this year.”
And there is no shortage of opinion about how this is reshaping and expanding the responsibilities of CIOs: a Google search for “CIO role digital enterprise” yields more than 920,000 results.
Traditionally, the challenge in waterfall-style development processes was ” trying to come up with every requirement a product might possibly need to meet before starting to build it,” according to CIO magazine’s Sharon Florentine in How to Use Agile Development to Avoid Project Failures.
Because it’s difficult for people to identify and articulate every feature they may need in advance, additions and changes to specifications were nearly inevitable, leading to scope creep, which caused most projects to be delivered late and over budget.
Given the accelerating pace of change, the concern today isn’t so much that users can’t predefine all needed features (though they still can’t), but that even if they could, the list would be obsolete well before the project was finished. Possibly even before the list was finished. Business requirements today simply change too quickly. And “It’s…depressing for developers (to) see that the product they’re working on doesn’t meet the objectives (business or consumer) while they’re writing them,” per Florentine.
As noted in both the CIO article and here previously, the answer is to utilize an agile approach to development, combined with collaborative teams: “You’ve got (to get) business and IT working together, collaborating, and that’s what will make the difference…At first, everyone feels like they’re ‘forced’ to work together, but once it becomes apparent that the goal for both teams is continual improvement, that’s when you start to see the value.”
Even more powerful than having IT develop a product that iteratively meets an expanded range of user needs is for IT to create an environment where users can do it themselves. Graphical workflow process automation tools enable business process owners to map out their own business processes, starting with simple tasks and building in complexity over time.
One example is an HR manager automating a simple task (such as ordering business cards for a new employee), then building upon that over time to automate a much more complex process (like employee onboarding). Taking an agile approach enables business process owners to achieve “quick wins” by automating simple tasks, then building the confidence and trust to expand the parameters for automation.
With the right tools, processes can be tested and tweaked before activation. And since processes can be easily rolled back if needed, and the workflow process design happens at the system of engagement level with no modifications to core enterprise applications code, there is virtually no risk that user-designed processes will “break” any mission-critical functions. Mature workflow automation tools will provide this agility while still giving the IT organization ongoing management and monitoring of these processes.
Collaboration and agility are vital components of project success for IT and the business. By empowering business process owners to easily design their own customer-facing services and automated workflow IT groups can better align their goals address a critical issue raised in the CIO article, that “what the business side and IT side want to deliver don’t sync.”
Does your IT group suffer from a bad reputation? Many corporate and public sector IT departments do (and high-profile miscues like the recent Heathcare.gov rollout don’t help).
Speaking at the Interop New York tech conference in October, William Murphy, CTO of the investment firm Blackstone Group, described the perception of IT departments as “at best adequate — a cost center and a back-office necessity at many companies. Worst case…people who say ‘No’ first and ask questions later,” reported InformationWeek. Murphy went on to say that IT is “too often considered defensive, late, overpriced, uninformed and unhelpful.”
Yet, Murphy continued, as bad as IT’s reputation (sometimes) is, “colleagues know that it’s also central to creating business change, new products, efficiency of their current workloads, really the future of the company.” He then outlined four “operational pillars” core to fixing the brand image of IT so it’s “seen by other business departments as a problem solver.”
Taking an enterprise request management (ERM) approach–in which users can enter and track requests for virtually any type of service from a single intuitive web-based portal which connects to a software orchestration engine that automates scheduling, approval, fulfillment, costing and reporting tasks–addresses all four of the operational pillars identified by Murphy.
1. An Open Design process, driven by technology.
IT and business leaders need to work together to solve the “top priority problems” first, whether those be the most common, the most painful, or based on some other criteria. Users are often articulate and vocal about what these problems are, and what end result they would like to see. Business and IT leaders then need to design processes and apply technology to solve those problems. Users generally don’t care what happens “behind the curtain” and shouldn’t need to know.
Task automation software (such as Kinetic Task) enables business function managers, with minimal IT assistance, to map out task workflow processes in order to meet a need or solve a problem. The software then communicates between enterprise applications (ERP, HRMS, ITSM, etc.) to manage approvals, scheduling and fulfillment tasks.
2. An iterative release model.
A key tenet of ERM is agile service development. Though the ultimate objective in ERM is to enable employees to order any type of service or product through a single intuitive interface, ERM projects are best started by mapping and automating a few particularly common or painful processes, then building out from there.
Because service items are defined in a request management portal, without any need to modify core code in underlying enterprise or departmental systems of record, it’s easy to create, test, tweak and deploy new processes, then clone and modify these processes to iteratively define and add new service items.
3. A transparent cost and decision process.
As noted in a previous post here on the consumerization of IT, “The ERM approach provides three key capabilities with regard to costing. First, it enables accurate costing by measuring actual time required for completing all tasks. Second, it automatically charges costs back to the requesting department. And third, it makes it easy to present costs to users, to enable them to make better, more informed ‘purchase’ decisions for requested services from IT or other departments.”
To improve their reputations, Murphy advises IT groups to ” Be efficient and clear on how you communicate project plans and costs.” By automating back-end processes, capturing accurate cost information, and presenting it to users as an element in the request management interface, ERM enables just such efficiency and clarity.
4. A simple, honest feedback process.
ERM is designed to include both automated measurement (e.g., elapsed time to complete specific tasks, SLA performance) and human feedback. By automatically sending each service requester a context-specific survey after fulfillment, with these results included in ERM reporting and analytics.
Incorporating both automated and human feedback assures that ERM implementations meet their primary objectives, which are to reduce service delivery costs and delight customers. Both types of feedback also support continual process improvement, and even more fundamentally, fixing any elements of a process that may be broken.
As IT departments work to improve their reputations, implementing ERM can play a highly visible and productive role, as well as making the organization more competitive.