Tag Archives: leadership

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

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©