Category Archives: Business Transformation

How cognitive computing will change project management

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You aren’t going to stop it. The trend is going to keep moving – Ginni Rometty

Cognitive computing is rapidly making inroads into the professional services workspace. The emerging technology will have a lasting impact on all jobs across all industries, with health care, finance and legal as early adopters. As much as it changes current jobs, it will also create new jobs.

For many years, IBM is the leader in the field of cognitive computing with IBM Watson.  According to IBM, the purpose of cognitive computing  is to enhance and scale human expertise, rather than an attempt to replicate human intelligence. IBM prefers to call it augmented intelligence (AI) instead of artificial intelligence.

The underlying thought is that cognitive computing functions in an assisting, sub-ordinate relationship to humans. This is an interesting point of view and positioning of the technology, because many experts believe that cognitive computing has the potential to advance in a superior relationship to humans.

There are a number of technologies that are related to cognitive computing like machine learning, text to speech recognition, natural language processing, image detection, sentiment analysis, and others. All of these technologies have the intention to improve human productivity and decision making.

Cognitive computing will have a material impact on the way we manage technology-driven-change projects. It is a fantastic opportunity to bring the role of the project manager to the next level. The emerging technology shall operate as an assistant and expert in many PM disciplines. It will change the execution of tasks and shift the focus of the PM to more creative and analytical activities. It will provide better information to make decisions.

Here are 5 examples of where I think cognitive computing will have a material impact on project management in the future:

Methods, Tools and Best Practices – The AI assistant is knowledgeable of all the relevant methods, tools and best practices for the project, because it can read and understand speech. The PM can ask specific questions and gets accurate feedback from the AI assistant in real-time. The information can be used for any PM task. As the project progresses and the AI assistant learns about the project deliverables, it can give recommendations to the PM, based on what could be versus what’s actually being delivered. It’s basically a quality check on deliverables that helps the PM to manage expectations. At the conclusion of the project, the AI assistant conducts lessons-learned sessions with the project team and updates the knowledgebase for use in other engagements

Scope management – The challenge with managing scope is not only the change management aspect. It is also the verification of the scope that is being delivered. Something we are not necessarily good at once we are getting close to the finish line. The AI assistant is capable of understanding the planned scope, based on the statement and detailed definitions in design documents. With that knowledge it can verify the scope based on data from status reports and test systems. The AI assistant can make a recommendation to the PM where the project is at risk close to a go live

Time management – Project scheduling can be a daunting task, because of its complexity. The AI assistant can not only provide a baseline schedule that the PM can adjust and refine, it can also make predications based on historical and empirical data. This improves the productivity of the PM and the entire project team. The AI assistant can plan and forecast the required resources based on an estimation model that it maintains with data from the project itself and other projects. The AI assistant can determine if the project is on track and if there are tasks at risk that are on the critical path. A prerequisite to many of the functions that the AI assistant can provide is the access to data. For example, project team members must record time at the task and deliverable level

Cost management – Based on the scope definition, baseline schedule, resource plan, approach and risk tolerance, the AI assistant can calculate a cost baseline that the PM can adjust and refine. As the project progresses, the AI assistant can make an ETC and EAC forecasts based on earned value parameters that the PM has set. Based on the approach the AI assistant can calculate the cost impact of alternative delivery scenarios. As example, it can determine the cost and schedule impact of using more off-shore resources

Organizational Change Management – This is an area where the PM can provide more value with the arrival of the AI assistant. When a majority of the routine tasks have been delegated to the AI assistant, the PM can apply his creative and social skills on driving organizational change. The AI assistant and PM can work collaboratively in this field. As example, the AI assistant can provide a baseline of questions to conduct change impact assessments and training needs analysis. Based on the analytical outcome of the response, the PM can optimize the change management plan and properly engage with the key stakeholders. Furthermore, it can determine what course are required to train the project team and end-users. Another example is stakeholder management. Based on text analysis, the AI assistant is capable of understanding the key characteristics of the main stakeholders and provide recommendations on how to best engage with them. The analysis is also benefiting the PM in aligning and committing the stakeholders to the project goals

The evolution of augmented intelligence or cognitive computing in the professional services workspace is fascinating and should be welcomed with open arms. I strongly believe that an AI assistant can further strengthen the role of the PM and increase the value of services to the client. The majority of the examples that I have used have yet to be developed as applications for practical use. The technology is there. It is a matter of when, not if.

Bas de Baat

How companies limit project success

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It always seems impossible until it’s done – Nelson Mandela

Companies can limit project success and may not even know it. If they do, they tend to ignore it at first and move ahead, often up to the point where it really becomes broadly visible and dismaying. By then the damage has already been done and it’s hard to recover, if at all possible.

Technology-driven-change projects have a massive impact on the organization, because they touch people, processes, and technology all at once and deeply. Before you start the project, you need to take care of a number of derailing factors that can be deeply rooted in your companies DNA.

I will list a number of these factors first, select a few and address those in greater detail:

  • Establish leadership alignment and commitment on vision, scope and strategy
  • Remove silo-ed behaviour of departments and groups
  • Assign full-time, qualified people on the key positions
  • Implement governance structures within the project and outside with external stakeholders
  • Focus the team on the key tasks by minimizing distractions and prioritizing the work
  • Educate project staff on how to execute key tasks and what the new technologies are about
  • Select qualified business partners to help you deliver and act upon their recommendations
  • Adequately resource the organizational change management team
  • Communicate the project scope, timeline and strategies over and over again

The factors that I have picked to explain in more detail below are not necessarily the obvious ones, but they can be very detrimental to the project outcome.

The first factor is about silo-ed behaviour of departments and large groups. Traditional, function oriented companies struggle in today’s fast pace world with cross-functional collaboration. The majority of the leaders of these organizations are still very comfortable in their verticals and do whatever it takes to optimize the fragmented reality of the day for themselves first, and others second. When they engage in cross-functional activities and communications, they appear to work well together, but in reality they hardly do. This is a severe challenge for projects who are implementing enterprise business solutions.

It is very hard to course correct this behaviour and oftentimes requires people changes to remedy. A short term effective measure is to work with performance metrics that stimulate cross-functional collaboration at the executive and mid-level of the organization. Another short term measure is more frequent involvement of the CEO or GM who can bond the team of senior leaders, foster the right behaviour and make key decisions in adversarial situations.

My point of view is that traditional, function oriented business models don’t work effectively in today’s world. Instead, organizations should strive for a horizontal design of their business operations. They should orient their structure by end-to-end business processes and lines of business. It is business process first and then function, instead of the other way around.

The second factor is about distraction and competing priorities. Most people and project teams struggle with getting things done when there are too many tasks at hand at once with similar deadlines. They have a hard time dealing with planned work that happens concurrently. At the same time, they are getting distracted by unplanned work that grows in volume towards the end of a project phase. When the pressure goes up, the team’s progress slowly comes to a grinding halt. People start to point to the timeline being to aggressive. But is it really? What do you need to do on this front before you start the project, and as you move forward?

The biggest step to make or take is to educate the team on how to organize and schedule the work. Make sure that every project and sub-team has work planners and schedulers. Make sure that highly effective communication structures are set up. Make sure that internal and external dependencies are identified and managed. Use a hierarch of work plans and schedules, with a MPS – master project schedule, and TWS – team work schedules that are aligned all the time.

There has been a lot of discussion the last years of waterfall versus agile project management methodologies. Without going into detail in this post, my point of view is that for technology-driven-change projects a combination of both is most effective. As example, the baseline of the project can be waterfall oriented, but when the planned work volume peaks you use SCRUM techniques to get through that particular moment. You can also decide to use agile for certain parts of the project scope, where waterfall is more effective for others.

There is one behavioral element that is hard to deal with when you are in-flight and can be addressed at best before the start of the project. It is called procrastination. Many people have a habit of leaving the work up to the last minute. This can be devastating if they don’t understand what the work is in detail, and when at the same time unplanned work comes up.

When you staff the project team with internal and external resources, be aware of the core personality traits of the key resources on the project. Do not only focus on the expertise that the person can bring to the project, also focus on ability to deliver under pressure and tight timelines, collaboration with other individuals and teams, and verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Get the right team on the ground. From your own internal organization, and from the business partners.

The third factor is about project management capability. Companies limit project success, because the majority of the resources they assign to the project don’t have  the right level of knowledge and experience to manage a project. Let me be more clear on this. Every resource in the project has a responsibility to manage the project to some degree. For the program and project managers it obviously is a full-time responsibility, for team leads and team members it is a partial responsibility.

An example of what happens quite often is an issue that should be reported upwards to the project level, stays far too long at the team level without a decent chance of getting an effective response. When it does finally boil up, the severity and impact has gone up dramatically with less time for resolution. Another example is work planning and execution. It happens regularly that project resources get stuck with their project work, because their functional leader has other non-project work assigned to them that the project leadership is not aware of.

What you also see is that the initiative is not managed as a true project, but more as an initiative that functions as an extension of the departments involved. Let’s say there are two departments leading the initiative. That means there are two circles of influence that overlap. Ideally the overlap would be significant. Project resources operate where the circles overlap. You may call that area the project. In such a situation, project resources tend to go to the home base first to discuss anything that is related to the project. Once that happened, they may or may not discuss it within the project. This occurs because the traditional function or department is stronger than the project. What should it actually be?

There should be three circles of influence. The two circles of the departments and a third circle, being the project. The project needs its own identity with its own leadership, governance and resource structure. With the project assignment, resources move over completely to the project and only report to the project and not to the home base they originate from. At the same time, the company must have a clear strategy of how project resources at the conclusion of the project flow back to the organization. Such a strategy builds trust and gives comfort to the project resources, because they know what will happen in the long run.

An example of a behavioral issue that happens all the time with two circles and not with three, is accountability. When there is no true project (two circles that overlap), the needs of the home base can take precedence over the needs of the project. Resources tend to ignore project leadership in favor of their functional leadership, because they know that in the long run the functional leader has more impact on their future at the company. This is a situation that is not beneficial for anybody: company, department, project and resource, yet we still allow it to happen.

Before companies embark on technology-driven-change projects , they must take care of a number of factors to maximize the potential for success. I am a firm believer that projects do not fail of the technology itself. If they fail or realize less benefits than planned, it is about key decisions the senior leadership team did not make properly before the start, or not adequately executed them while in-flight.

If companies want to deliver projects and achieve the planned benefits, they must set people up for success. If they do that for each individual, they will build high-performing teams and get the anticipated results. Make sure you have got all of the factors addressed before you go.  Investigate what leading practices or world-class standards are and implement them. Use the expertise from professionals in the marketplace to get you off to a right start. Build the right project platform to operate from.

Bas de Baat

A leader changes the ground rules

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The hell with the rules. If it sounds right, then it is – Eddie Van Halen

Have you ever been in meetings where the eyes of the people in the room are starring at you and almost instantly ask you to provide direction? What are we going to do now? For less severe issues, the response can be given on the spot, no problem. For deeper rooted issues, a change of the ground rules may actually be required. That demands leadership, but what kind? Course corrections aren’t easy, and not meant to be either.

Changing the ground rules implies taking risk and requires boldness. We are good at doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results (Einstein’s definition of Insanity). That’s because we have a natural resistance to change and are not audacious. Oftentimes we tolerate a problematic situation far too long, lean back, play victim and hope that somebody will stand-up and fix it. Changing the ground rules, means altering the operating model. That means changes to one or more of the following dimensions: people, process, technology, policies and procedures, governance structures, business partners, etc.

There are always opportunities to change the situation. There is always a way out. You have got to find them. You have got to go after them. You have got to become creative. You have got to thrive on willpower. There is no change without a plan and action. What is required is true leadership.

The first step is to take responsibility for the troubled situation and accept the current state. It is what it is. It can only go better if you start doing the right things moving forward. The leader that you want to see stepping up has a high level of accountability, confidence and grit. It’s crucial that the leader starts with building trust. That core value fuels the quality of relationships and boosts pace and performance. The leader must bring focus on the critical path activities and introduce concepts to better manage time, work load and quality of output. With that the process of change and turnaround has started. A relentless, unstoppable, collective effort with the intention to improve and win.

The leader must be able to quickly grasp the context. That can only happen if the leader has a broad orientation and interest, and has gained cross-functional and cross-industry knowledge and experience. The leader you are looking for is shrewd, sharp aware and far-sighted. He knows where to go and how to get there from your current state. The leader is a big picture thinker with eye for detail. That is a rare contrast. It is a very important characteristic as it determines the ability to go from planning to successful execution and implementation.

Changing the ground rules is an expert skill. That is because of the integrative nature of the dimensions that have to change almost all at once. Its like a chef of a Michelin star restaurant finding the right mix of ingredients, flavors and colors to serve the best meal ever. Day in day out like it was the last meal to come out of his kitchen ever. The leader is plan driven yet pragmatic in the execution. He strives for simplicity in input, process and output. There is a strong tendency to plan and take action based on facts. Simplicity and a fact-based approach greatly helps with building trust, proper communication, team bonding and performance. When people understand and deliver, they gain confidence and want to do more and more.

The leader is competitive and an achiever. He is comfortable with making decisions without exhaustive and comprehensive sets of information. He is decisive. With enough information he will come to the best decision. In most cases this is a consensus driven decision making process. Having said that, the leader knows when time is up and a decision can no longer wait to be made. At that point he will take the information available and make a decision using his instincts. Once the decision is made, the leader relies on his strengths to convince the key stakeholders. He does that by zooming in on the purpose and meaning of the decision. Why are we doing this? That’s the departure point in those discussions. The leader is a team player and encourages and stimulates collaborative behavior. With that he will make a dent in the Universe and make a transition to a better, future state.

Bas de Baat

Why business transformation programs fail

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The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance – Nathaniel Branden

Sometimes people ask me why business transformation programs fail. Many of them have searched the web, found the famous top 10 list and also a number of measures how to avoid them. What many people don’t realize is that these measures are very tactical. Like if I do this, then that won’t happen. Reality is different these days. Business transformation programs fail because of lack of awareness, trust and structure. Root causes of failures are less related to technology, more to process, and most to people.

The first two factors, awareness and trust, are very difficult to change, because they are directly related to how people within and in close proximity to the program behave. The third reason, structure, is relatively easier to change, because there are tonnes of proven concepts, methods and tools available that can help you. The challenge there is to implement them correctly and stick to it.

Awareness

One of the courses that I followed at University was Information Management. The professor was a fabulous storyteller. He vigorously spoke about technology and sociology. That may seem like a weird combination at first. But if you think about it, technology only works when people adopt it and apply it as intended.

In one of his classes he spoke about awareness and referred to the Thomas Theorem: “If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (W. I. Thomas and D.S Thomas). The theorem and his explanation made such an impression on me that ever since, it jumps up in my mind once in awhile and let me ponder about situations that transpired.

What if the interpretation of the situation is wrong? In that case, the consequences are most likely wrong too. An interpretation is personal, subjective and in reality somebody’s perception of the situation. You cannot change someone’s perception. At best you can influence it and steer it in another direction, and hope that overtime it changes.

Internalize this theorem for a second and apply it to business transformation. If you want to in-still change in an organization and ignite a transition to the future state, the hardest part is to make people aware. If you want to be effective with creating awareness, there are 3 factors you want to look at: communication, relevance and acceptance.

Communication is about clarifying the purpose of the program and motivation. People tend to accept change if they understand the purpose and can relate it to themselves using their own insights, visuals and words. When they understand the value and realize that a step forwards actually means achieving a number of benefits, they’ll make that step. When they have reached the point where they can flawlessly articulate and share the purpose with others, you know you have a successful communication strategy.

The other element is about relevance. In other words: ‘what’s in it for me?’ People can only become aware if they hear about it. But they really pick up on it and are willing to invest time and energy in further exploring the subject, if it has meaning. This is an area where communication in business transformation programs can improve. Communications must be more tailored towards different stakeholder groups. How many times have you seen the same set of slides passing by in meetings with stakeholders who have completely different needs and interests? Wonder why certain people do embrace change and others don’t?

Trust

In one of my posts on www.basdebaat.com I wrote that ‘trust, is the primary driver of success’. The single reason why people are willing to do things together and work towards a common goal, is trust. They are willing to build and strengthen relationships, because they believe there are mutual benefits in doing so.

One of my favourite books is from Stephen M.R Covey and is called ‘The Speed of Trust’.  Covey says that trust means confidence, and the opposite of trust, or distrust, is called suspicion.  In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.

Business transformation programs with low-trust relationships between key stakeholders have a high risk of failure. When trust is low, programs tend to delay on schedule, under-deliver on scope and overrun on budgets. It is important when business partners are being selected, teams are being assembled and meeting structures are being defined, to gauge the level of trust and make corrections when deemed necessary. This is an accountability of the executive sponsor. It makes sense to periodically conduct a ‘trust assessment’ of the critical relationships and make conscious investments.

High-trust relationships demonstrate effective collaboration and consistent performance. People are going the extra mile, because they are intrinsically motivated. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, introduced a performing model that can be very helpful with building and developing project teams. I oftentimes introduce the forming-stroming-norming-performing model at the start of a program and revisit it along the way, because team dynamics change all the time. The model helps people explain and understand why certain behaviours happen and how they can best respond to it. That contributes to better, healthier and more trustworthy relationships.

Structure

Business transformation programs that don’t have a robust planning and scheduling function fail by default. My recommendation is to implement a cascaded model, comprised of plans and schedules at 3 distinct abstract levels. Executives have a strong preference to steer the program based on a GANTT (high level visual timeline from start to finish) with major work streams and milestones. At the program level, the PMO works with the same GANTT, complemented by a MPS – Master Project Schedule that has all the contractual deliverables, key tasks and dependencies. The MPS can be supported by a number of trackers that have detailed schedule information by sub deliverable, for example design documents. The MPS has a firm schedule for a 3 months horizon. At the project team level, leads work with the MPS and TWS – Team Work Schedules that are deliverable oriented and activity based. They follow a 6 weeks rolling window.

Having a plan and schedule does not mean ‘success guaranteed’. A major risk of failure is timely and appropriate decision-making. Decisiveness competency is influenced by a number of factors. One of them is trust, the other ones are quality of available information, level of ambiguity, risk attitude and ability to deal with pressure. It is the responsibility of the program manager to understand what the critical decisions are, the timing that decision need to be made, and managing the decision-making factors pro-actively. Part of that responsibility is to escalate decisions up the chain if they are not made or made inappropriately.

Organizations must be resilient and have the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and toughness. Business transformation programs are roller-coasters with high peaks, lows, accelerations and slow-downs. Project and business teams involved in the execution, will encounter the valleys of despair at times and wonder if they can ever get to the finish line and meet expectations. There are a number of remedies to deal with this. For example, increased executive level involvement at peak times to fast-track decisions or remove hurdles like resource constraints. Daily scrum meetings where progress, issues and risks are being discussed with the key players and as a result the bonding helps the team to get through a difficult stage. Or team building exercises where the focus is on techniques that improve overall performance.

Successful business transformation programs focus less on tactical measures to keep them on track, but more on the people factor. They have created effective communication strategies that create the required level of awareness for the different stakeholder groups. They are able to relate to the interest of the group and individual. These programs foster a high-trust culture, resulting in strong, collaborative and productive relationships. They thrive because there is a well-defined structure with plans and schedules, and teams that can deal with pressure, high expectations and tight timelines.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

Find your sources of inspiration

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Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve – Napoleon Hill

If you want to get your creative juices flowing, you want to know what your sources of inspiration are. Whether you want to resolve an issue, respond to a risk, craft a project strategy, you need to be able to tap into the creative zone of your brain. It applies to all non-routine activities that you are facing on a daily basis. Be effective, smart and of real value to your clients by being aware of where your inventiveness is coming from.

The greatest sources of inspiration are stories about work and life experience of other people, and memories you have of achievements that had a lasting impact. Inspirational leadership is based on stories. Think about it for a minute. Inspirational leaders like Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Michael Jordan, Johan Cruijff or Hasso Plattner all have great stories to tell about their accomplishments. They entice you because they can vibrantly articulate what they have done, why they relentlessly pursued on that path and how they dealt with obstacles along the way. Many people want to replicate behavior of inspirational leaders and do it slightly better.

People love stories. The best presentations you remember are the ones where the speaker gets your attention right from the start by telling a unique story. The best stories grab your energy and direct it to a better, high motivating level. A formal setting is not needed for storytelling. It can simply come from somebody you are talking to, or from the different kinds of (social) media we have today. It can come from a location that is special to you and where the setting and ambiance is inspiring.

The stories that I remember and like to go back to for inspiration are from people who contributed to my personal growth and performance. They gave me meaningful messages that I instantly knew I would never forget. I also obtained insightful stories from biographies, audio books, magazines, TV or radio programs. Not necessarily from academic literature. Of course there are a number of key concepts and theories that you have memorized for a lifetime, like a SWOT analysis, the five forces of Porter, or Mintzberg’s structuring of organizations. Truth to the matter is that most of what you remember and recall when you need it is from experiences, either your own personal experience or somebody else’s.

It is key to have a broad interest in topics, also outside your field of expertise, outside your comfort zone. By expanding your horizon, you are able to expose yourself to information that you have never imagined and which can be very helpful for completing a task you have been struggling with for quite awhile. As an example, one of the areas that I have been exploring the last year is artificial intelligence and its impact on professional services. It is a fascinating topic that is rapidly evolving and one day will impact all of us to some degree. A development that is very interesting to follow is what IBM is doing with Watson.

Sources of inspiration can be ‘real-time’ or from past experiences. When I was 15 years old I started working for a grocery store in a small city, north of Amsterdam, who was well known in the area for their fresh produce. It was a family owned business with a long tradition of serving top-notch products to a very loyal group of customers. The owner and his two sons ran the business. Each son had his own store. The owner was in his late seventies when I met him. He was a great storyteller. I remember the days that he asked me to work with him in the warehouse. It was a very old building not far from the office where my father worked. Together we prepared the fresh produce for the store. We would load a silo full of potatoes and unload it by filling 5 kilogram bags for example. That activity could easily be for half a day. While doing that, he told stories about the Second World War and what he and his friends did to hinder the Germans. Or how he helped local people survive by handing out food. He spoke about the evolution in transportation, and that the distribution of fresh produce was now so much easier with the use of trucks. Small vessels did when he was young most of the transportation from Amsterdam. With him telling stories, they days went by fast. When we were done with bagging the potatoes, we would switch to sorting all the different kind of bottles that the customers returned to the store. Crates and crates full of bottles, sorting a getting them ready for return transport. I did not mind doing the work, as long as he kept telling stories. What I have learned from this period in my life was to always deliver quality output, even when the work is repetitive. But also to respect the quality of life we have today, as well as the freedom and security. He taught me what it means to persevere, especially by explaining what it meant for him to stay alive during the cold winter of 1944-45 of the Second World War.

Locations you visit on a regular basis can become a source of inspiration as well. There is an island in the Caribbean that I visit quite often with my family. The entire experience from arrival to departure completely renews, replenishes and reenergizes me. Whether it is going to the white sand beaches, listen to live music, nice dinners or get togethers with friends, all of them or very inspiring. One day I met the founder of a Brazilian company that manufactures, installs and services ATM machines, entrance technology and ticketing systems around the world. He was in his eighties and had passed on the business to his sons. He was still involved as an advisor. I had long talks with him about his life and work. He told me that he worked in many different places and companies in Europe and North and South America. Engineering was his trade and he made a number of major inventions. Through this storytelling he handed a number of lessons:

  1. Be the dominant leader player in your industry – Be so damn good in whatever you are doing, such that you always attract business
  2. Know the key players and work with business partners – To be successful you have to collaborate with other stakeholders in the market segments where you operate.
  3. Know your clients – The most important stakeholder is your client and you better understand their needs and challenges they have to overcome
  4. Have lots of cash, cash is King – You will be facing difficult times whatever you do and you need a cushion to keep going
  5. Be fit – No matter how busy you are, find time to maintain your health through exercise and clean diet.

Despite his age, he swam a few kilometres in the ocean every day. He would park his car, warm up his muscles, put on his goggles, watch the tide, decide what direction to swim, swim and walk back. During the swim he would oftentimes get ideas that he would share with his sons, the new leaders of the company that he founded.

Another source of inspiration for me are performances from business leaders who really made a difference and changed the world we live in today. Steve Jobs is an example of such a leader. His commencement speech at Stanford University says it all. The advice he gave to the students has made a huge impact on me and many others who I know admire him as well: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”.

In the 1989, Stephen Covey published his bestseller ‘the 7 habits of highly effective people’. I remember that many people around me in the workplace read the book and mentioned that it  changed their attitude towards work and life. The 7 habits transformed the way they work and interact with other people. The book became of standard and many companies included it in their management development programs. Overtime, it became a source of inspiration for many successful leaders. His book also inspired his own son Stephen M Covey to write the bestseller ‘the Speed of Trust’. One of the key lessons that comes to mind frequently when I lead technology-driven change programs, is that when trust goes down, speed goes down and cost goes up. Stephen came up with this equation to clarify a simple dynamic that can make or break any initiative, and that is that ‘trust in relationships is the main driver of success’.

You can make it a habit to get to your sources of inspiration. Most of those habits require a moment of silence or time for yourself. It could be a walk in the forrest, or some form of meditation, an outdoor run, an intensive workout or any kind of activity where you are detached from the day-to-day routine. Try to find what that habit is for you and seek your sources of inspiration.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

Collaborative willpower drives organizational change

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If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself – Henry Ford

Technology-driven change projects succeed when senior leaders demonstrate collaborative willpower. Many organizations lack this group dynamic and as a consequence deliver sub-optimized results.

What does willpower mean? Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University, and author of the book ‘The Willpower Instinct’, describes it as the ability to do what matters most, even when it’s difficult or when some part of you doesn’t want to. Self-awareness, control and discipline are fundamental behavioural traits that come with willpower.

While I listened to McGonigal’s audio book on my way to work, I wondered how collaborative willpower can work in projects. Here are 5 thoughts to came to my mind.

  1. Craft a shared vision, set compelling goals and stick to it – Although it’s obvious that one of the first steps is to set the project direction, it is oftentimes a stride to get and keep all the key stakeholders on the same page, aligned and committed. Continuity of vision throughout the project lifecycle is imperative. What I mean with that is that on one side the interest and buy in of the stakeholders into the vision is continuously managed, and on the other side the vision is further dissected into bite size, meaningful deliverables that add business value and manifest change. The willpower is reflected by strong bonding among the senior leaders, a coalition strength and a unanimous voice to the organization about where the journey is going
  1. Manage expectations at all levels – Large scale, enterprise-wide transformation initiatives have an impact on everybody to some degree. The impact is different in ‘substance’ and also in ‘order-of-magnitude’. Communications and management of expectations need to be tailored to specific stakeholder groups and individuals. Senior leaders play a key role in explaining what tomorrow’s world looks like and what that means to the people they are leading. They have a mixed bag of unified messages that apply to everybody and specific messages for individuals. For both it is important to find the common ground between the interest of the organization and the interest of the group or individual. Once people understand ‘what’s in it for me’ and concur, the senior leader has made a huge step forward
  1. Execute a realistic plan – True collaborative willpower results in a plan that is supported and actioned by the senior leaders without doubt, argue or resistance. They embrace it and deliver. They sync up with each other and adjust.  And they rally their teams to make things happen and celebrate. A realistic plan means that milestones, deliverables and key tasks are clearly articulated and achievable without ‘over stretching’ the team. Senior leaders are aware of what is important and what tasks take precedence over others. They are able to deal with competing priorities by thinking and acting ahead of time, especially when there is a concurrent performance peak on the project and business side that impact the same group of people. Senior leaders with willpower take ownership, they focus themselves and their team on the important tasks and persevere
  1. Establish cross-functional integration –  Many organizations still have functional oriented structures and cultivate vertical, silo-ed behaviour. They struggle with transformation and can at best deliver sub-optimized results, because their interest to ‘reinvent the legacy’ prevails over making a real shift. In today’s global economy, the trend is to transition to organizational models that are nimble, process oriented and cross-functionally integrated. Senior leaders with collaborative willpower perceive a transition from vertical to horizontal as a trend reversal. They realize that they have the opportunity to undertake a make over, and can make a ‘once in a lifetime’ change.
  1. Manage organizational change  – The project team is designing business processes, building and testing the new and soon to be deployed technology, and preparing the organization for go live by conducting end-user training.  At certain points in time the project conducts change impact assessments and drafts change plans to be implemented. All of these activities are a ‘must have’ to set the project and organization up for success. But truth to the matter is that the ‘driving engine’ of organizational change is the collaborative willpower of the senior leaders. That has to be fully recognized and adopted right from the start. Regardless of what the project delivers, senior leaders can make or break the outcome, determine adoption, and realize business benefits. Through tight collaboration, senior leaders stay the course, synchronize intentions and orchestrate their teams to manifest change

Winning organizations have senior leaders with collaborative willpower. They work towards the same set of goals in a transparent manner. They unlock and extend potential, motivate their project and functional teams and operate different than their peers in the marketplace. They thrive on a shared set of values and beliefs and are wary of single minded actions and outcomes that do not benefit the overall performance of the organization.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications

Articles published on CIO.com

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Since the summer of 2015 CIO.com is publishing my articles!

The articles are about program management, business transformation and coaching of business leaders and top talent.

Here is a summary list:

5 things elite coaches do with top talent

10 things smart program managers do

Collaborative willpower drives organizational change

Find your sources of inspiration

The ABC’s of program management

Why business transformation programs fail

 

How to project-manage the Executive

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Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be – Jack Welch

“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end” is a well-known saying from Robin Sharma, a motivational writer, speaker and leadership expert. The existence of projects is to drive the change that the Executive has in mind. Imagine that you are the leader of an enterprise-wide IT business transformation project that is the centrepiece for manifesting the next growth spurt of the organization. Your work relationship with the Executive is critical to make this initiative a success. How do you manage the Executive such that both of you are effective? Here are 5 management rules you should be aware off and practice.

Understand and challenge the vision: the single most important success factor of any project is a clear understanding of the vision, purpose, impact, and benefits of the project. It is all about a broad and deep understanding by all stakeholders of the WHAT. It takes awhile for the organization to absorb a vision statement. It’s the responsibility of the project leader to facilitate that process by working closely with communication experts and the Executive on crafting messages and broadcasting them to the right audience at the right time and place. The project leader should challenge the Executive on the vision with the objective to sharpen it. It is in the best interest of the organization that the vision is unambiguous and rock solid before you move forward with the planning and execution phase. If internal and/or external subject matter experts are needed in the ‘vision refinement’ process, the project leader takes care of that. Throughout the project lifecycle, the project leader is accountable for a ‘continuity of vision’ process, which means that the future state gets more and more defined in detail from vision statements to blueprints to specifications. The project leader is the linking pin between the Executive and the project and orchestrates a bi-directional communication and collaboration

Have a mutually agreed to plan: Once the vision has sunk in and all internal and external stakeholders sing from the same song-sheet, it is time to get to a mutual agreement of the project plan between Executive and the project leader. In parallel to the envisioning phase (see above), the project leader is working on a draft plan based on strategies and principles that have been discussed with the Executive. The plan has 3 levels, a GANTT for planning at the Executive level, an integrated project plan at the project level, and work plans at the team level. Throughout the project lifecycle, plans get further refined. The project leader is responsible to involve the Executive in this progressive elaboration planning process as required, not only when plans need to be adjusted and re base lined for unforeseen events. Progress and status will be reported at the GANTT level, such that the realization of the vision is transparent to the Executive at all times. Last but not least: always have a plan B…, just in case

Share the real status with facts: The Executive likes to see a coherent, crisp and concise story of where the project stands on a single page every week, and at peak times  more frequently. Use a dashboard displaying the GANTT and status indicators for the key dimensions: scope, schedule, cost, people, quality, issues, risks and vendor performance. Provide factual information for each dimension that is valuable to the Executive and the project. Include a section where you keep track of key decisions that need to be made. Make sure that the overall story has a rolling forward approach, where the indicators speak to the current and previous period status. Refer to other documents where you keep track of detailed project status, for example issues and risk logs. Have them up-to-date and available upon request. Most of the Executives that are accountable for enterprise-wide IT business transformation projects have a hectic work life. In case the project leader does not get the attention that is needed, think about sharing status information in a creative but still effective manner. An example that works well is to distribute the status report as an attachment to an email. The email itself only carries 3 to 5 key messages. Point in the email to action items or key decisions that need to be made. Follow up with the Executive verbally in a subsequent step that can go quickly, because the project leader already gave a heads up by email, and can focus in the discussion on what’s important

Come with options: One of the ground rules the project leader wants to set at the start of the initiative is that options are being presented at the same time as the problem. Options should be realistic and when possible supported by qualitative and quantitative statements. There is a golden rule that the decision maker can select from a list of 3 to 5 options. The project leader is responsible for making a recommendation to the Executive with input from the team. Make sure that the recommendation is the result of an impact analysis and rational trade-off process between the pros and cons

Get the Executive on the floor: Key ingredients to a successful project is the demonstration of Executive commitment and alignment, as well as acknowledgement of the contribution of the organization, team and people. The project leadership team is responsible on a daily basis for people management. Coaching top talent is one of the premier activities in that area. The project leader must establish a recurring platform where the Executive ‘connects with the floor’. Projects that realize the most benefits have the Executive at arms length. They have the Executive participating in key meetings, or conduct town halls on a recurring basis, do walk arounds to meet with project staff, or have social events once in a while. As I wrote in my post ‘Want a World-Class Project Team?’, the people factor is very important, at least equally so not more than process and technology. The Executive as the visionary leader plays a crucial role

With the projects that I am talking about, ’The Executive’ is oftentimes more than one person. A major responsibility of the project leader is to ensure that along the way, the Executives stay committed and aligned. There are 2 key measures to make that happen. In the first place, work with the Executive in charge to get buy in and to build a forceful coalition of Executives. In the second place, make sure that all the Executives receive the same project status information, such that the context of the project is transparent. When everything is unfolding as envisioned and planned, you are good to go as project leader and be successful with your team.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

Want a World-Class Project Team?

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The bigger the dream, the more important the team – Robin Sharma

The building blocks of solutions that IT business transformation projects deliver are commonly defined as people, process and technology. Many organizations tend to jump straight to the technology component to argue what the best fit would be for the future state of the business. The next building block in line that gets most attention is process. “Do we adjust the business to industry standards and leading practices, or are we unique and therefore accept modifications of the technology to fit our needs?” Organizations tend to spend so much time on debating technology and process that they forgot about the need of having a qualified project team of internal and external resources that can actually do the work.

Let’s be real. When IT business transformation projects fail, it may appear it is the technology, but in most cases it is not. If it fails, it either has to do with a lack of adequate leadership to move to standards and leading practices, or it is a consequence of not putting a world-class project team together, or a combination of both.

I strongly believe that the people factor is at least as important as process and technology, so not more. At the end of the day, the work gets done by people, and one can only expect world class output if there is world-class input. Here is a list of factors that can be helpful with building a world-class team:

Capability: knowledge, experience, skills, personality, diversity

Pick the right people for the job, and if they don’t seem to be out there, keep looking. When organizations select people, the focus automatically goes to knowledge, experience and skills. That’s perfectly fine as a first set of selection criteria, but in interviews the focus should shift more towards personality and diversity. Does the candidate fit with the team and organization? And what values can the candidate bring to the team that the organization does not have today, but can become very useful down the road? Diversity can be a driver of the ‘creative power’ of the project team as a whole

Intrinsic motivation and passion

You want to build a goal oriented project team, where people have the opportunity to unite business and personal ambitions. Motivation that comes from the inside is propelling a team to greater heights of achievement. Identify those common grounds and shared interests during the selection phase and foster them during the execution through coaching

Work environment

There is a reason why many start-ups and companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook have work environments that are way different and standing out. They recognize that there is an immediate relationship between creativity, productivity, job satisfaction and business performance, and value that by making substantial investments in the work place. An IT business transformation project thrives on creativity and there is no such thing without top talent that feels ‘at home’ and can ‘outperform’ during business hours

Feel safe

In his book ‘Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t’, author Simon Sinek explains that remarkable things happen when there is trust and cooperation within the team. There is a continuous need for each person to feel safe. Sinek means that leaders are responsible to takeaway elements that are perceived as dangerous, and trade them with positive elements like opportunity to grow and succeed, self-confidence, education, and ability to try and fail. If certain conditions are met and the people inside an organization feel safe among each other, they will work together to achieve things none of them could have ever achieved alone. Sinek also mentions that great leaders would never sacrifice the people to safe the numbers, they would sooner sacrifice the numbers to safe the people. The great leader has followers because he cares, not because of the rank, position and authority, as that drives fear. The world-class team of the leader who establishes a ‘feel safe’ environment will be able to consistently deliver a remarkable performance, whereas a leader with the opposite style may at best harvest some short term, mediocre results

Acknowledgement

Studies have shown that a person, who contributes to a work product, wants to receive some level of acknowledgement. People want to feel good about their performance. Deepak Chopra, a well-known author and speaker of alternative medicine and forms of spirituality, found that if a person is using his strengths and the leader:

  1. Acknowledges that, his level of disengagement goes to less than 1%
  2. Ignores him, the level of disengagement goes up with 45%
  3. Criticizes him, the level of disengagement goes down with 25%

It is interesting to see that ignorance is worse than critique.  A leader who wants to be successful with his project team, makes it a habit to provide constructive feedback on an ongoing basis, and understands that ignoring people performance is a no go zone

Effective communication

Leaders who build world-class project teams are strong communicators. They know how to share the right information to the right audience at the right time. They understand that predictability is important for senior leaders to make informed and timely decisions, and for team members to do their job extremely well. An effective approach to make that happen is to have a single plan-on-a-page readily available that provides instant answers to scope, timeline, financials, issues and risks. In world-class project teams, each member has a solid understanding of the vision of the initiative, the path to get there, the individual’s contribution and project performance. Effective communication has become a habit instead of a planned activity

There are more factors that help leaders to build world-class project teams. Think about degree of control, decision autonomy, leadership style, social interaction and team development or growth and learning opportunities. Technology can become a competitive advantage for organizations if they are able to attract top talent that is needed to implement it flawlessly. Therefore a change of mind-set is needed: one that focuses more on people and world-class performance.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

 

Make or Break your Project?

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The bigger the dream, the more important the team – Robin Sharma

If you go through my blog you’ll see posts that speak about critical success factors for IT business transformation projects. I have talked about the importance of trust, the impact of ambiguity, how to pick the right people, but also vendor performance, dealing with competing priorities and SMART project leadership.

It is not so difficult to BREAK your project; you can do that in a heartbeat. It is much more difficult to MAKE your project. It all comes down to leadership potential of all internal and external stakeholders, because project success is something you create and achieve together as a well-integrated team.

There are a few, silent ‘BREAKERS’ of success that can be detrimental, throw you off track and ultimately force you to pull the plug.

Singing from the same song sheet

Many organizations that initiate an IT business transformation project put their faith completely or way too far in the hands of the vendor. They rely too much on the vendor’s expertise to design, build, test and implement the solution. For these organizations it is a given that the vendor provides industry leading practices to the project. “But that’s why we hired them” is a comment you hear when organizations realize that their expectations are not being met.

Is this an issue caused by the vendor only, or by both the vendor and the organization? It can actually be both. Every organization should develop in-house expertise of the future state solution, otherwise you are not able to define WHAT you want in clearly articulated business requirements. With expertise I mean: knowledge and experience of the business processes, technology and data.

Does it need to be at the same level as the vendor? It must be at least at a point where you can truly understand the options that are being presented by the vendor, and you can identify alternatives that for various reasons do not come forward. Organizations should consider assigning a solution architect (contract or permanent employee) to the project who can bring that level of knowledge and experience. The solution architect functions as a catalyst to other project resources and brings continuity, consistency and integrity of the design to the team. All key resources should be trained in the new technology at the start of the project, preferable by the technology vendor.

The money that the organization spends on building this solid project team capability must be perceived as an investment. It is a risk mitigation activity that has both short term (set project up for success) and long term (effective sustainment) value.

Vendors who embark on IT business transformation projects should encourage the organization to build up their capability right at the start of it and not gradually overtime. It is in their best interest to work with a client organization that sings from the same song sheet, speaks the same language and uses the same communication matrix, from the starts of the design phase onwards. The quality of the solution design drives the value and benefits that the organization has in mind and is expecting to realize.

Silo mentality

It is fairly common that organizations with traditional structures have entities (departments, units, teams, etc.) that operate in silos. We also know that nothing great happens in silos. IT business transformation projects thrive on creativity, collaboration, communication and a multi-disciplinary approach. Organizations can only attract and retain top talent if they move away from this one-dimensional paradigm once and for all. Top talent that is needed to staff the project and future sustainment organization will quickly move on to greener pastures if the organizational culture does not change.

A major risk of silo mentality is that the project will struggle with the “pave the cow path and reinvent the legacy” syndrome. The future state will be not be much different. As a result it does not bring what the organization needs to achieve cost savings, better customer service levels, accurate management information or anything of that kind that makes it better (world-class) than the organization’s peer group. It is not an easy task for the leadership team to successfully deliver the IT business transformation project in this context. What needs to happen?

Executive Leadership can:

  1. Set a new tone for the organization by communicating core values that go with the future state. There are organizations that define core values in a collaborative manner with their people
  2. Clearly articulate the vision, the path to get there, and what contribution is expected from each of the entities
  3. Model the behaviour that is expected
  4. Actively participate in the IT business transformation program with the intention to inspire, motivate and coach people
  5. Set the right business priorities and make timely decisions when needed
  6. Clarify in what functional and technical areas change must happen to achieve major business benefits
  7. Monitor progress and take corrective actions as required
  8. Assign ‘business transformation’ specific performance goals to key leaders
  9. Source top talent from outside the organization that resonates well with the future state
  10. Implement a reward program that encourages people to think, act and speak differently

Project leadership can:

  1. Make sure that project and relevant business objectives, strategy and plans are always aligned and well communicated
  2. Increase focus of change management activities on stakeholder alignment and commitment
  3. Define and enforce solution design principles that drive people, process and technology change
  4. Quickly identify and remove roadblocks on the design path to change, and actively manage integration points or dependencies between entities
  5. Simplify design concepts as much as possible
  6. Implement an escalation path up to the Executive Sponsor to get fast decisions on design issues and risks
  7. Foster a working climate of collaboration, creativity, communication and change
  8. Conduct demonstrations of components of the to be solution to key stakeholders
  9. Implement quick wins where possible and meaningful
  10. Seek for industry leading practices and share that with stakeholders that resist to change

There are a lot of ‘make or break’ project success drivers to think about when you initiate, plan, execute and close an IT business transformation project. Key is to identify and respond to them properly and in a timely fashion. Stay in control of your own destiny by investing in core project team capabilities and by taking the right actions at the Executive and Project level.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©