It was always going to be a challenging project. The end users had the attention span of a gnat. The delivery was to change their way of working significantly. We knew we were looking at an uphill battle of acceptance, agreement and adoption. But it was a transformational project and had benefits beyond the front line use (CRM).
My key sponsor knew how to play this landscape and knew how to navigate the culture and habitat of the business. As such he drove an extremely hard line on the project team and maintained a level of focus and engagement that ensured that we did the “right things”, not always “did things right”.
As the project manager this approach often conflicted with the fundamental way minds work in an engineering project discipline. It clearly did not sit well with the project team. “Where is the best practice?” rang in each team meeting, “this doesn’t work with the deliver dependencies in the plan!” Somehow we needed to find common ground and understanding with the business and agreed demarcation of decision making and domain respect.
I was accountable for the delivery of the solution. It had to meet the business needs but also needed to be sustainable and workable across the wider solutions and process platforms. It also must protect the long term ROI by the manner in which we engineered the solutions for several international areas of the business.
Some environments can tolerated the “do the right thing” v’s “doing things right” approach and other will push back. The birth of Agile PM as an example has been bastardised from it pure efficiency gains into a delivery expectation paradigm which is wrong, wrong, wrong. It places business, projects and outcomes at risk by setting expectation that do not align to a design and puts avoidable pressure on all sides of the project. Some things we build need foundations; it isn’t just painting and decorating!
However, in this instance my sponsor had the positioning bang on and influenced the way I priorities and multitasked the project into what would “curry” favour with key stakeholders, answers their concerns and keep the project from by flushed down the loo! The key was to make an early deliverable to the end user communities and make an immediate and important win whilst building solid reputation and greater tolerance of the project for doing thing right going forward.
I must confess, at the beginning of this journey this approach created some degree of challenge for me and great anxiety for the team. It went against all my experience and best practice as a PM. I was tasked with managing a delivery whilst my sponsor was tasked with delivering an outcome. I have since come to realise that these in essence are one and the same.
So over too many drinks one night this miss-alignment resulted in a heated debate (constructive and open) between us. My sponsor resolved it by setting me a test. This proved his point and influenced how I would assess delivery forevermore.
“You have been out all night drinking copious amounts of beer. You’re hungry and in desperate need of a toilet. You grab a microwave curry on the way back to your flat. Keys in the door into the hallway and you see that you have some messages on your answerphone (those were the days). So you’re hungry, desperate for the toilet and there are messages waiting for you. What do you do first?”
I’ll leave you to work out what is the correct answer and please let me know by leaving your comment below,
Suffice to say this approach has continued to influence my thoughts and approach in engagements and project management. Where there is a clear need for “quick wins” that conflicts with “best practice” it is important to find a way forward that allows leveraging greater stakeholder tolerance of the wider delivery and a more pragmatic direct focus on doing the “right things” by the team in order to do things right.
As a leader of the project team my task is to gain buy-in from all parties to identifying why a “doing the right thing” by your business stakeholders is the first deliver that any project needs to make.
I once participated in a large team completion to develop a vision of a future concept soon to be a reality for most businesses (going Social). It was intense, 14 teams of 7 and 4 nights to develop a vision to capture the imagination whilst completing mandatory boot camp exercises and training sessions during the day.
It was a team effort but I was convinced that the tag line “The Art of the Possible” that I suggested for the future state resonated with the judges and moved our presentation into the winning position. It was fun, it was reality TV at its worst in a professional working space. And it was confirmation of a business practice of believing its own bullshit beyond an acceptable level IMHO. Apologies if the profanity offends.
What works and what pleases by design? Sadly I am writing this whilst on holiday in the lovely sunshine looking out on some of Mother Nature’s best, which speaks volume for the art of the possible but by design. It is that which inspired this blog post.
I like the resort and the hotel isn’t half bad, no complaints really it is just that after 5 days and as a closet engineer (my grandfather was a specialist in weights and measures making top secret instrument in WW2) I can’t help looking at some areas and services and thinking “by design really?”
What do I mean by that? Well it doing things on purpose, because it was well thought out, it had been considered, it is stress tested, it has been consulted, and it is thoughtful and sympathetic to those who will use it. It worked, it works. It delivers a good satisfying experience.
These are important key success identifies for anything – product, solution, user adoption, RoI, sustainability, usability and on and on . . . .
Some of the resort blends with the wonders of the natural world around or delivers the experience through the environment one expects. Whereas some part of the resort was missing the target enough to make you feel “dis-satisfied”; the exposed poorly finished concrete onto the beach, the level of the buildings in relation to each other or horizon, the closed stairway into the grand wide open spaces . . . . It just hadn’t been thought out, designed.
So how does this relate to the world I experience as a cloud solution practitioner? Cloud computing and the click not code philosophy propels the belief of agility and speed as a huge benefit. And it is.
But by design the principle of deep thought, consideration and that devil’s detail is what will provide the ROI ultimately in any cloud investment. So no change there from the last 30 years of computing I hear you shout.
Well yes frankly. By design and the pain, investment, deliberation, hard slog, stakeholder managements, engagement consideration of end-users, and the need to understand the end operating environment are all required as essential to the art of the possible. The possible but by design.
So I end this blog whilst looking at the luscious landscape and coast line, the blue sky blending into the green of the forest covered hill tops and the sea lapping at the shore. I have to say by design over the art of the possible gets my vote, even if that design takes time to create the fit for purpose experience that delivers the satisfaction of the art possibility.
Awhile ago I was asked this question as part of a coaching session “Can you think of a specific time you have been influenced to change your mind and how?”
It took awhile to think about my response and with my smartphone in hand and the world of social media and apps readily and persistently available I kept pressing myself to think of a Cloud/Social Media example. You see, so much is given to this great wonderful, and it is wonderful, new frontier of connections and influence that one automatically relates ones life to this. That, or I need to get a life! I have had some great experiences and influences through the widen reach of social media but these have often been from a one-way learning view point. I am sure this will change as the world and our working life becomes increasingly dependent on who we can reach and where we can cultivate influence and advice. But as it stands for me it was people engagement that influenced me most.
I put down my smartphone, logged out of the various social media sites and recalled the moment. In an attempt to introduce customer segmentation to an institutionalised trade organisation it was key to not only provide the facts (statics) but also embrace the emotional decision making process of the board that would sanction its adoption.
This board was made up of the very people who would be impacted by a segmented engagement with the institution – turkey voting for Christmas scenario. There were clear power pockets among this group with influence that extended beyond the institution and into trade bodies and key customers. This could impact the outcome I was looking to achieve. Having done my analytical homework, proven the 80/20 rule and showed how cross subsidisation was supporting the masses of under contributors as the driver for improved customer retention I was set to deliver what I felt could only be a fait accompli. After all the facts speak for themselves!
A senior member of the committee agreeing with the segmentation strategy took me to one side; “You need to get the board to own the decision and then you need to support their decision through your analysis to validate it. Without this you will be seen as challenging rather than supporting the organisation.” This was a good point and a key consideration in what was a political and emotional arena. It led to a change in tactic and a more refined stakeholder management approach. Perversely I segmented the stakeholders and looked at each through the lens of “Voice and Sphere of Influence Profile”. This shaped how I would approach each member of the board and how to gauge their position on the strategy
The advice given and my experience in taking heed influenced my approach. I worked more one-to-one with board members, especially those that were identified as carrying the weight to see the recommendation through or best placed to champion the strategy to the very community it would impact. It is people that make decisions on strategy not statistic and this experience changed how I approached such matters going forward.
It is also, we hope, people at the end of the posts, feeds and links. But it isn’t the same as a hand on your shoulder and a quiet, yet influential word in your ear.
The order of the day was a complex in an international institutionalised practice desperate to move into “best practice” methods of doing business. Now surely “best practice” can only be defined in context of the performance of the individual organisation. You’re only as good as your last . . . . .
They had worked hard, tirelessly to assimilate all the requirements and categories them, align them, group them and dissect them. Good job clearly a momentous effort.
The list was extensive, each statement hanging in the breeze like leafs on a branch, connected and bound by their precarious stems waiting to detach at any moment under the stress of the changing breeze of business. They twist and turn on the branch, and not easily translate to the canvas of colour and texture that defines . . . . . . .
It was going to take a big effort from the team to pull this into shape. The countless workshops and PowerPoints, papers and examples given, received, digested, regurgitated and pondered only added to the strength of the breeze blowing the leafs and stressing the branches. The task stared us in the face, the cutting wind of Requirements Definitions. Were we able to see the wood for the trees?
But what is a statement of requirements as the first stage of a project life cycle? If we stopped to ask what is it we are trying to achieve and what part of a process we looking to complete or why do we need to do this, we may rethink an approach and weighting of this stage. For sure the business will change during the life time of the project and therefore our requirements may become irrelevant or just plain different.
We want to ensure that sufficient understanding of the domain space has been transferred into a project artefact and that the project is able to articulate what the project must deliver and for what outcome or benefit; “The solution should allow . . . . to do this to achieve the following outcome.“
There are several tools to help describe definition such as flow charts, Unified Modelling Language (UML) Use Case, Swim Lanes, User Story, State Transition Diagram etc . . . . However, we want to be able to communicate to a non-technical, non-engineering audience, typically business Subject Mater Experts (SME) and key stakeholders. These participants often work from the repetitive, process driven lens or day-to-day operation. Not the engineering lens looking to dissect and rebuild. Making conceptual requirements difficult to relate to the now of the everyday operation.
Assume in existence is a strategy statement, a vision, a mission statement and all that good stuff, something to hang your hat and scarf on in the stiff breeze of requirements gathering. Assume there is visibility of a value proposition and quantifiable KPIs. I guess if you cannot substantiate these assumptions you should STOP now.
The project is being set up for failure without clarity on this. Speaking to my previous blog (SoO) these should be listed and counter signed as part of the outcome partnering proposition between organisations.
For the purpose of this blog post let’s assume all that good stuff is in place. Otherwise I should stop writing now.
A requirements definition could then reflect the following:
- A reference number – Always useful and unique
- A short title – Representing the gist of the need
- A fuller description – Of the “What” – not how and should be singular in nature, one statement for one need
- Business Alignment – The “Why” this is needed and how it fits into the business operation and/or practice
- Strategy Alignment – A short statement on how this support the business strategy
- KPI – How the requirements will be quantifiably measured against the business outcome as business value (take it that Strategy Alignment could be qualitative measure)
- Audit/Knowledge Custodians – Who, when, SME, version, date etc
Yes there is a ton of other stuff but let’s not boil the ocean here. It should not include design and implementation matter or commitment to user experience and/or solution design. We are after all trying to relate business needs to a set of deliverable to form the exercise of design, not design as a seed to requirements. Reminds me of the saying “a good invention waiting for a purpose.”
Language, texture and tone. We need acceptance, buy-in and most importantly agreement and alignment to take these to a formal approval sign off. So this document has to be non-technical and speak a business language and not an implementation and/or technical one. It must bind leafs blowing in the wind into a coherent sway of changing winds.
As such it must be a collaborative effort and individuals on both sides of the table must approach this with a view of making this work. It must speak a common language and it must engage and satisfy many masters.
A by product: This exercise is a great asset to any organisation as a by-product often establishes the missing corporate procedure manual that can go a long way in managing the overall alignment and effectiveness of the enterprise.
So the next time a requirements gathering phase is initiated it may be worth looking at your template, tool kit and definition of this task and asking: “What is it that we are trying to achieve through this effort?”
But how does that translate into a company culture? And how does that get realised in the execution of service? And how does that define the customer relationship?
The expansive and exhaustive clauses in the Master Service Agreements (MSA) and Statement of Work (SoW) used to level set engagements have been laboured over, positioned and postulated to the nth degree to protect “all” parties.
The ink is hardly dry when the next signing is due! Change Orders, Change Control and the endless negotiation on definition of accountability the ruin of many a good customer relationship. The cost and effort in tracking scope and reporting effort adds to burning up precious resource, budget and time. Is there an alternative?
Today the SoW and MSA are the established rule. But how does this fit with the social collaborative, agile method that we all profess to embrace in this Cloud/SaaS day and age? Is this the “outcome” based generation of delivery professionals or are we still entrenched in the “push me pull me” relationship of the last century?
Businesses can execute projects on a strategically optimistic level and become painfully compromised by this. Due diligence can cripple innovation. Hope and vision is an important human emotion that provides motivation, focus and leadership. A clear steer is needed in often uncharted waters. The SoW should be the wind in the ships (project) sails but often becomes a storm rather than a guiding wind as knowledge and learning unfolds.
Ask yourself this; “did the last SoW you delivered against really reflect the effort and journey that was originally set out in it?”, “was what was delivered anywhere close to what you discovered you actually needed?”.
Experience has shown that conflict of interests, and at times crises of principle, between the persona of a Partner and the execution of a Supplier can create the worse in customer relationship; waste, inefficiencies, missed opportunities and lost success, all trapped within the framework that is the Time and Materials (T&M) SoW of the last century.
I have experienced both sides of the customer and supplier relationship. I have felt the pains from both. The supplier that wants to act as a partner and finds the SoW culture aligns to acting as a supplier. And as the customer frustrated by the supplier who fails to grasp the bigger picture to step up to acting like a partner.
I am not saying that accountability, definition, financial management, penalty and control should be abandoned. I am saying that what SoW measures in this day and age are probably not fit for purpose and need to look at delivery and reward from a new set of metrics.
When I think back on being on the receiving side (the customer) I recall that success came from suppliers that worked jointly with me to overcome a challenge. This created the support relationship to bring an engagement to a mutually successful position – an outcome and a partnership. In this position at times it was necessary to deliver bad news to stakeholders and align with the supplier. But this was in preservation of the bigger picture. I commend those suppliers who went the extra mile finding the guts to invest in the relationship. You know who you are.
Those suppliers that took up a ridged and tightly formed scope approach chasing the margin suffered a cautious relationship with the stakeholder community. In fact most of the suppliers I worked with who took that approach are not in business today. Whereas most that partnered and invested in joint risk and challenge are.
In a recent Cloud/SaaS engagement it became clear that the needs of the customer could not be met by the existing arrangement and agreement. Both sides had a learning curve of industry and product that was steeper than first thought. Significant business change challenges and clear knowledge gaps existed that exacerbated the situation. Product capability and readiness impacted the shaping of the solution. The Customer’s ability to provide need support and definition lacking. It was clear that the duration between pre-sales, SOW agreement and actual project execution highlighted the rapid change of business in this day and age. Our SoW was out of date before we started the project!
This further encouraged my thinking that the SoW should focus on mutual recognition of risk, creativity of mitigation and contingency of clear measurable business outcomes; reduced cost through efficiencies, increased revenue through business intelligence, reputational outcome through tracking CSAT, retention of staff, retention of customers and business, bigger slice of the pie.
How about a collaborative transparent approach across all players in the project with joint investment/ownership and reward written into an agreed Statement of Outcome (SoO)? We all have some form of performance management scheme in our job roles and are familiar with these so why not make projects based upon the same SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) measures. Anything but scope, time and budget. All of which we rarely are really in control of as time elapses, scope changes and budget diminishes and more importantly, Business Changes, before the end is in sight.
So when I find the conversation focuses on a SoW and the tightly bound scope and engagement framework I ask myself “are we looking at the customer as a lifelong engagements?” or do we see them as a “revenue target for a fixed event?”
I argue that in this Cloud/SaaS subscription economy the latter does not hold weight. We need to rethink the terms of the SoW and look to embrace shared outcome for the longevity of a subscription through outcome based engagements (SoO) when it come to the implementing the solution and long term strategic revenue flows in a SaaS model.
Now you won’t get the girl and this won’t “show you the money”. But for me it is the starting point of acting on the impulse to Blog! I have to confess I like the film. It speaks to me on many levels; my romantic inner sense of crusading, challenge the norm, conflict of conforming and doing the right thing. That aside Magic Bus is a great Who track. That definitely speaks to the drummer in me. In fact the Who Live at Leads must be one of my favourite albums.
So when we blog do we pour open to the world our wider and/or deeper thoughts and should we give consideration to consequence, personal and/or professional, or is it just a yearning to be out there and be heard?
I enjoy reading blogs when I get the chance. Always busy, always more to do. I believe it is a crucial part of life’s learning in this modem digital and social media age and forms part of a great deal of self-therapy and confirmation in our diverse and ever changing society. Let alone a truly magnificent information gold mine as a professional blog- opedia.
For me my venture into this space is scary and also renewing. Yes we all have things to say and yes I want to be understood and contribute to the greater good of self-realisation. But what I write about and how I say it and the values I put out in the blogosphere may fundamentally conflict with my circumstance and current position. “Do as I say don’t do as I do” type scenario.
Will my statements resonate as intended from a black and white browser based delivery into the emotion, passion, belief and empathy that is intended by this blogging?
I guess life’s lesson tells you to follow your instincts and better to live on your feet than die on your knees. So give me the bag with the gold fish. Let me take on the challenging clients and let me bring these together to get the girl and show me the money.
I hope that by following my blog and commenting on this you the reader will help unravel the mystery of being out there and making a stand for doing thing differently. As the film shows, doing things the same way gets the same result. Doing things differently however. . . . Enjoy!