Getting the mountain to Mohammed

The business dilemma

Few IT professionals have any grasp of the difficulty facing a business person who needs to stay abreast of tough competitors and try to win competitive advantage via IT without understanding how IT works sufficiently to make the right decisions. It’s a crapshoot where he/she can’t afford to lose.
Having learned the art of decision making the hard way and knowing the difficulty of staying ahead strategically in his business, it’s not surprising that he doesn’t want to hand these decisions over to someone who is seen to be obsessed with technological coolness,  incapable of making a decision without a debugger and bereft of business savvy .
Typically, the sales director at “abc software” wins more credibility and trust with the customer than his own IT experts because he at least demonstrates some business savvy and empathy. The corporate hospitality doesn’t hurt either.

The IT dilemma

Few people in business have any appreciation of exactly how complex and demanding a job it is to ask them what they want, give it to them and get a “thank you, that was great.”

Most professionals would argue that the patient should not be defining the solution, but describing the problem and I would go along with this, but we don’t generally have the luxury of making that decision.
Business managers on the whole are adverse to personal risk and their number one priority is someone to blame if it goes wrong. This can usually be traced to their boss, but that’s no consolation to the IT supplier.

Business people try to equate complex business systems to a car or machine that can be delivered and plugged in and they expect t to buy a tool without knowing what it does and all will be well.
Systems are endless boundless things with unlimited possibilities and similar complexities to the humans who design and use them. Ultimately they are little reflections of humans.
The majority of IT delivery people, be they IT directors, department heads or representatives of suppliers have adapted the approach of defining a product they are going to deliver in technical terms that are hard to refute, insisting on a signature before proceeding and in the case of suppliers, getting their pay loaded up front.  Then they deliver it and walk away guaranteed a cheque and a profit.
 If it doesn’t quite deliver then there’s a new document, a new purchase order and the exercise is repeated until success is finally achieved.
Public sector suppliers and increasingly in private quarters too are notorious for the re-negotiation strategy.
This is simply taking the aforementioned  failure a little further to the point of using  it as a strategy to win the business with a cheap bid and then re-negotiate midstream once the client is heavily committed and in no position to negotiate from strength.
In reality, it could be argued that Agile is nothing more than a recognition of this state of affairs and an attempt to bring some element  of structure and communication to the procedure as opposed to letting it run freely into a sort of adversarial mating dance. The problem is that agile applies only to development of software and is useless to the process of buying commercial systems off the shelf (COTS).

Challenges for the business

What is the problem I want solved and is there a reliable solution to it? What are the risks and can I accept them?
Will the solution give me competitive advantage, keep me up, or keep me up with the chasing pack, what choices do I have?
Who’s going to carry the can if it all goes wrong?
Is there really a do nothing option?
Who can I trust with these decisions?
How can I get the business knowledge and the IT knowledge to somehow meet in the middle and give me some realistic answers?

Challenges for the IT supplier

How can I keep the bills paid?
How can I prevent businesses dumping their risk onto my shoulders, I am just the technology vendor, I don’t run their business?
How can I compete with the rest of my industry?
How can I say Caveat emptor without having customers run a mile?
How can I win competitive tenders for projects that almost never complete anywhere close to agreed budgets?
How can I give best advice and still stay in business?

Challenges for the Project Manager or Business Analyst dropped in the middle of all this.

How can I keep the bills paid?
Does the client actually know what they want and what am I tasked with delivering, E.G. Technology, or success?  If it is success, what will that look like? Who will measure it? Am in control of that, or shouldering someone else’s risk?
Will they trust me with their project, or will they cosy up to the supplier over corporate entertainment events and discard my advice?
Will senior sponsors take the time to understand the problem, explore the proposed solutions, make decisions and stand by them?
Will they still remember what they asked for when the final product arrives and if they’ve changed their minds, will it be clear whether they asked for the wrong thing and got it? asked for the right thing and didn’t get it? Asked for the right thing, got it, but it didn’t solve the problem?
Will challenging the client be seen as professionalism or showing them up?

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IT guy and the balloonist

Five stages of an IT project

About the author

If you are in the business of brisging between business and IT delivery, maybe you’d like to join our bridger group and display the bridger badge.

Get a bridger badge and publish your link

Get your Bridger badge and get a link to your web site or profile.

Background to the bridger group.

Recent research has returned a unanimous demand for a bigger effort from IT professionals to communicate with businesses, to serve business need and to become more user friendly.
While there are rights and wrongs and more to this than meets the eye, we can all benefit ourselves direclty and via successful clients and employers by demonstrating our commitment to these ideals.
Only by making our clients successful will we prosper and only by convincing them that we can be trusted to put their interests first will we be chosen to work with them.

The first step in this journey is to demonstrate publicly your commitment to these worthy principals by displaying the badge and promoting the principal of bridging as a way to reassure clients and employers to trust us, hire us and follow our advice.

Why get backilinks?

Marketing professionals spend vast sums annually on text adverts (URL Links back to their web sites). The reason is simply to please Google into placing your web site or profile close tot he top of the list when someone searches for a business analyst, change manager, or project manager and related terms. Google judges you by the company you keep. Expensive text ads are cheating, but free links for friends and colleagues in the business are the fastest way up the ratings, so start getting links now and I will be sending you more introductions as suitable profiles are added to the list.

Why be a bridger?

The one thing an independent consultant or a professional lacks when t comes to convincing a potential client or employer to meet with you is a strong brand. They just don’t know what you stand for and are nervous about taking a risk with you, especially if they can call a well known firm or get a recommendation form a trusted adviser or recruiter.

By publicly demonstrating your commitment to the stated needs of your potential client and being seen in the company of many more like minded professionals, you can go a long way closer to alleviating this weakness.
The more of us that display the bridger badge and talk about our commitment to the principals of briding, the sooner we will have clients entering the word Bridger in Google when they have a new project to begin or need help with an old one.

How do I do it?

There’s only a few steps and I will make it as easy as I can.

1. Choose one of the badge styles from below and then copy the code supplied beneath it.
Pasting this code into your web site or blog will produce the badge you chose with the links back to the bridger.

2. Fill in the form at the bottom and submit it to me for attention. Within a few days I will add your profile to my new associate page with a link back to your web site, blog or profile and I will include any keywords you provide to catch the attention of the search engines.

3. Soon afterwards I will begin to send you more members who would like to exchange links with you.

Note: If you have difficulties with the form below, you can simply give me your LinkedIn profile and I will create a profile out of this.

Option one

Committed to bridging the gap between business and IT Bridger


Option two

Committed bridging the gap between business and IT Bridger

Often operating as Business analysts or Project managers, Bridgers are committed a philosophy that says "1+1>2" and going the extra yard to speak simple English, Spanish, French, German . . more


Option three

Committed to bridging the gap between business and IT

Often operating as Business analysts or Project managers, Bridgers are committed a philosophy that says "1+1>2" and going the extra yard to speak simple English, Spanish, French, German . . more

Is there still a case for IT strategic planning?

 The earth is flat in any case

Unless you’ve been asleep, in denial or on medication, you will have noticed, at some level at least, that in the last few months the key assumptions underlying our post industrial survival have been proven flat wrong.

To put that in content, the earth is not round but flat and the universe is merely mirror images of the earth reflected on a layer of slightly opaque gasses. The landing on the moon happened in a closed off section of MGM and hamburgers are good for you.

It no longer matters how much we borrow because we probably won’t be around to pay it back, only nobody will lend it of course because they are keeping it to line their pyramids with.

What’s the point in getting up?

You could easily be pardoned for asking the question and I can see some beginning to think like that.
That, in truth is what recession really is.
An end to economic growth is no big deal, we probably couldn’t survive without taking the odd breather. The bad bit is when sensible people suddenly decide that it’s not worth bothering, then we all suffer and what was a diet quickly becomes bulimia.
Read on and I will convince you that there bigger opportunities than ever, they just need a different approach

So how do you build a business case for IT investment and sell it to the board?

Realism
If you want to be taken seriously, you can’t base any investment on predictions of returning to normal in a few months or pretending the problem doesn’t exist.
You must recognise it and spell it out in terms of a clearly risk managed approach.
It’s unlikely that you are in a business where you can afford to make risky investments with long payback periods, so you need ROI fast, or even faster and you must prove that your eye is on the ball.

Prudence
Getting the financials right is critical, but that’s not the whole story by a long way, here’s a selected list of other issues in no particular order that are extra important.

· Make sure your initiative addresses the bulls eye in terms of business initiatives, not peripheral or even sort of important, but right up there.

· Make sure this is best deployment of scarce capital.  Remember it is no longer in unlimited supply.

· Time to market is very important and can easily be disguised behind impressive returns. Include timing in this calculation. Limping in a month behind your main rival is a great way to blow your big chance.

· Competitive advantage can be a critical factor that is easily missed. If all your competitors are cutting 20% off cost of sales and your initiative wipes 5% off, you might find the idea is less successful than you had hoped.

· Don’t suggest a major new 22nd century architecture if your goal can be achieved reliably with duct tape and scaffolding. This is about surviving today, not ideas or principals or fancy technology.

A little audacity goes a long way
Take a look at tiny little Porche and compare them to giant GM. Porche are busy taking over VW, to create the third biggest car manufacturer in the world and asking nobody for help, but using the downturn to make it possible.
If you are good at what you do and you can improve costs and capabilities, then watch out for all the leftovers of those overweight beasts that are shedding customers and reputation and be ready to take advantage of the opportunities that a downturn creates. In a ten horse race there are nine opportunities and one risk for the bookmaker. Don’t focus in on the risk and blind yourself to the opportunities.

Outside the box

There’s a great awkward purple elephant sitting on the board table and let’s stop pretending he’s not there.
The GAPE I’m talking about is the contradiction between thinking out of the box and following the strategy, the corporate plan and the processes, those things so beloved of civil servants and Ops directors. Let’s just say it:
How the hell can you be a process man who works to the plan and also think outside the box?

Well of course you can’t, it’s that simple, so you have to come out from behind whatever you are hiding behind and take a chance or two. Be up front about it that acceptance of your new proposal means revision of the agreed strategy and the current plan. That’s why they are there, not as straight jackets.
Delivering benefits on the cheap can upset lots of people, especially some members of the IT department, preferred suppliers and business analysts who have carved out cosy corners for themselves, but if that is the price, then accept it and pay it. Here’s a few examples:

· Be prepared to ignore the Enterprise architecture and do it the cheapest way.

· Be prepared to bypass the developers in the corner and buy something a bit scruffy and poorly documented, but supported from outside the business.

· Be prepared to find a few freelancers in Russia and get it done cheaper.

· Learn about mashups that can deliver the same result as an enterprise bus for a tiny fraction of the cost and get your show on the road.

· Get to know someone who knows about opensource solutions that are a bit ugly in places and awkward to install but are FREE and once you get them working they eat no corn.

· If you don’t know about agile methods, speak to someone who does and consider it for appropriate situations.

· Look for SaaS products that can start delivering returns in days rather than months

· This is a no brainer, but rarely done. Make sure your people know how to get the most out of the systems you already have.

So there is a new strategy after all

Yes there is a strategy for the current climate and I believe it has a valid legacy to take forward into the good times also.
Don’t stop looking for opportunities, but look harder, look outside the box and examine them more closely before committing. That usually requires an external input, but it is well worth it.
Don’t plan for a decade, but for this year, who knows what next year will be like, but this strategy will still be serving you whatever it looks like. That means dumping or revising much of the strategy and plans you are currently strangling yourself with. Do it sooner rather than later and free up your thinking and your energy.
Look for silver linings until it becomes a habit
Remember not to get complacent in the next bull market
 About the author

Delivering benefits is no longer about getting a system signed off

(Who’s minding the shop?)
This blog is an attempt to stimulate discussion and understanding of the balance of responsibility for delivering business benefits from IT investment.
It is now fairly widely recognised that this is not as simple as choosing a system, getting it working and reaping the benefits, but as yet we can call on very few examples of good practice in making it work.
The business argument.
We have no time for discussions about how it all works, we just want a business case and if it gives us the ROI we need with acceptable risks, we want to do it. At least that’s the CFO’s line. In reality, many of these projects begin life as pet projects of the CEO, or other senior manager and it is clear from the outset that the question is not will it work, but make it work.
This is largely an understandable attitude, because businesses must be directed and managers must manage and sometimes the outcome can be a life or death one.
The IT supplier argument.
Be the supplier an in house department or an external supplier, the situation is not hugely different. The supplier tends to confine their responsibilities and activities to making the technology work. Better suppliers provide advice and guidance on rollout, but that is the limit of the activity and there is no responsibility beyond meeting technical requirements. This is wholly understandable, because the supplier has no control over whether the business case was correctly put together, whether the requirements were detailed enough or whether the culture is sufficiently flexible or disciplined to make the new system work and deliver benefits.
So who‘s minding the shop?
Well the answer very often is that nobody is minding the shop. Rarely is anybody in the business equipped to do this job and the suppliers are not getting involved.
The most usual scenario is that the system is delivered and there are issues and misfits that become immediately apparent, then there’s a return to the drawing board and changes are made and a re-launch and things are much better. Often you’ll find a new project with a new name the following year, billed as an upgrade and it finally knocks the thing into shape. Two years late and dramatically over budget the project is complete and nobody ever asks whether it delivered benefits because at this point the busines is bus with a whole new set of issues.
The other common scenario is that a consultant is hired to manage the project, he/she is expected to have a project management qualification PMI/Prince etc and have handled one of these type of projects before, maybe even in this industry.
Often the contract is already in place, the product defined and dates and budgets set.
Where does a Consultant go from here?
1. Recommend someone else who needs a bit of experience.
2. Take it on and hope for the best
3. Challenge the client at interview and get passed over as wrong attitude
4. Take it on and then challenge the client later via a robust consulting methodology
5. Challenge the client at interview via a robust consulting methodology
6. Offer to challenge the project’s soundness for a reasonable fee and provide a dispassionate report.