Avoid Failure - Setup the Right Team


One of the recurring themes we have seen with today’s IT development projects and the rollout of new capabilities has been the lack of preparation and setup of the right team with the proper skills to ensure success. A key root cause of IT project failure in over 90% of the projects we remediate has been the project team.

In order to avoid this pitfall and make sure that you see positive results at the end of every project, make an attempt to do the following:

  1. Ask Take the time to ask everyone (vendors, software supplier, key partners, etc.)  what would be the composition of a successful team. Find out what was used successfully in the past for governance and subject matter expertise.  
  2. Tough Love – Step back and ask if your current resources are really capable of driving success.  Do they have the knowledge and expertise to create and sustain something new?  Or will you have to face skill gap issues after the project has started?
  3. Then Supplement – Face the fact that you may need to supplement your current resources, because you may not have the right resources to get the job done.  Be realistic about what your team can take on.
  4. Stop – Don’t start the project unless you have the right team, the right leadership and expertise in place. Don’t get started with a team that is limited or has constraints.  In the long run you will regret starting without the right resources. 

We have found that in most cases the composition of the team and their expertise is more important than the software and tools you are attempting to deploy.  Getting the resources right at the beginning will make a significant difference!


Delivering Transformation with Precision

You’ve just walked out of an operations review, only to hear that another project has not delivered as expected. The team lead had been called on the carpet, having to explain what has gone wrong with deployment and what actions are going to be taken. The team lead has just completed a lackluster review of the project’s current status and most of the meeting was a critique of actions taken and the directive to fix the current problems and then report back to leadership. You have now witnessed so many of these meetings, that aside from the specific crisis at hand, you have the gut feeling that ‘there has to be a better way!'

It is likely that your  team and organization has become overwhelmed and  too focused on remediating current issues. The same issues continue, happen repeatedly and the result is that there is little or no change to the conditions that created the problems in the first place.

There is a better way and a solution. I’m calling it “Precision Transformation.' My definition of Precision Transformation includes the specific activities, metrics, measures and change management required to deliver results with precision.

My premise is that although IT organizations are well known for gearing up a project plan and project team to deliver a solution, there is limited focus on delivering with precision. Given the complexity of delivering results, the focus needs to change.

Driving precision transformation will change IT delivery, whether it is in the execution of the software delivery life cycle or  in IT operations. To make this happen consider the following:

Defining Need: Are your customers able to accurately describe what is needed? This goes beyond the classic use of business analysts to refine customer requirements. If the customer cannot define the need with some level of detail, then why are we doing the project to begin with?  Three simple questions to ask when defining the need include:

1) Is the need defined in detail? 

2) What is the expected impact to the end customer? 

3) What will this new functionality do to  current state operations?

Quick Hint: If you cannot define the need with some detail, then why are you doing the project ?

Defining Delivery:  Ask your customer to close their eyes and define the perfect delivery.. aka ‘nirvana.' Three simple questions to ask include:

1) What does best in class delivery of the solution look like? 

2) What does delivery look like for operations and IT?

3) What would be their worst nightmare …things that could go wrong?

Quick  Hint: If the customer cannot answer all of these questions, then go back to the drawing board!

Defining Operations: Pull out your current documented operational and IT models, all the metrics, all the reporting and examples of  the operational reports that are created today.  Or if you don’t want to collect this data, draw it on the white board.  Ask you team these three simple questions:

1) What are we going to eliminate / improve / change with the rollout of the new initiative? 

2) What is the impact to our architecture and infrastructure when rollout happens?

3) What steps were taken throughout each phase of the SDLC to make sure operations are going to be robust?

Quick Hint:  Ask these questions at the start of project and ask them at the end!

IT Consulting – Acting as a Mobile Application

The traditional “Big 4” or "Big X" IT consultant model is in dire need of radical change. Recent
experiences indicate that although the technology industry continues to morph and deliver to client
demands, the client is really looking for the IT consulting industry to do the same, and act as a “mobile


Some recent examples bring this into focus:


1. A consulting need is often immediate. The client only needs the consultant for a specific period
of time (it may only be one hour or one day, not months) to meet a very specific need. Although
the delivery of some programs may require large amounts of committed consulting time and
resources, the bulk of client requests are not these “big ticket” items. Clients are looking for
consultants that can react quickly, and answer the need with straightforward content and value
added material. If you had one day to accept and respond to a client request, what would you
be able to do?
2. The need is specific. The C-level folks are often looking for a specific piece of data or value
added input in the short term. The trick to meet the specific request is to focus sharply on the
immediate need. Answer the need, but also make the effort to ensure the client understands the
full ramification of what they are asking for by putting the answer in context.
3. It has to be cheap and useful. Just like the mobile application that you love and use all the time,
part of the reason you are using it is that the cost is cheap and the content is consistently useful.
With lots of competition out there for IT consulting and rates becoming more cost competitive,
the consulting help has to be useful. Forget about initially supplying the client with lots of
PowerPoint decks and “fluff.” Give them what they need. And then later send them a link to
more items (again, just like the mobile application).


It may tough to do everything on this short list, but start thinking about your delivery from the view
of your client. Their time and focus is limited and they are often in a position where they must move
forward with a business decision quickly. The legacy models of IT consulting are going to be become
more like the mobile applications we all love to use and can’t wait for the next one!


IT Transformation – 6 Critical Success Factors

Your organization will not be able to deliver on the goals of IT transformation, unless you deal with the
basics to setup for success. If "10" is outstanding and "1" is poor, how do you rate your organization on
each of these?


1. A strong case for transformation. No one will “join you on the bus," unless they understand why
transformation is necessary. Make sure you are able to tell a strong story, and have a good business
case you can convey to those affected.
2. A good vision of the future. Talk about doing the impossible! A good vision of the future has to be
realistic and attainable. Some teams take a look beyond 5 to 10 years, but my experience says to
look to the next 1-3 years. Can you lay out a plan of items to achieve over the next three years? Rather
than predict, can you setup a plan and break it down into steps that will be embraced by the
rest of the organization?
3. Money. Are you funded adequately to deliver results? What are the chances of getting the
money you need to realize the transformation? As simple as it sounds, it is probably one of the
toughest items to achieve and is often gets stuck in the process of authorization, resulting in the delay of
initiatives. Without this item completed, you may as well shelve the project.
4. Senior management sponsorship. Do you have a strong senior sponsor who will support you in
the rollout and then support you when you hit the inevitable roadblocks? Your sponsor
cannot only be there to kickoff at the beginning and then take the kudos at the end when the project is
completed. He/she needs to continually offer insight and guidance to keep things moving. Is your
sponsor able to offer ideas to resolve issues and broker solutions when needed?
5. A strong dedicated team. Your team will only be successful if they are able to meet with a purpose,
resolve issues, make decisions and move to complete the work. Team dedication to the project is critical
and the team needs to be held accountable when items are not completed to schedule or at a level of
acceptable quality. Each team member needs to be strong enough and dedicated to making the project
6. Flexibility. Embarking on a transformation often means having great flexibility to adjust and reset the
plan, resources, funding and leadership as needed. The reality is that most transformation plans change
the day after they are agreed to. Flexibility is key to keep things moving forward, by being able to stop
or curtail a step in the process if necessary, reset and then move forward. How open is your organization
and team to being flexible as you move through one of the toughest challenges an organization can


Take a look at how you have rated the six critical success factors. How would they rate if "10" is
outstanding and "1" is poor? If you were to ask someone else on the team their view of each item what
would their rating be? Try this in a team meeting and you may be surprised to hear the results!


IT RFP’s: Where is the Transformation ? – 5 Items to Consider

How often have you sat in a workshop or meeting focused on creating an IT RFP? How often have you
sat in the room with lots of expertise, with one person taking the lead and the rest of team checking
their emails and doing other work? How often have you had to review multiple documents only to be
trapped into the “fun” of tracking changes and editing content? Where is the ‘value added’ in preparing
the IT RFP? Where is the opportunity for transformation that was mentioned by your senior executive
team in the kick-off meeting?


Having experienced each of the above, there is a better path to follow! IT and business leadership
teams continue to be over-enamored with the definition, preparation and rollout of IT RFP’s, often
ignoring the real opportunity for transformation.


The IT team should be focusing on the following 5 items:


1. Create a one-page view of your requirements. Keep it to one page. If you are not able to clearly
state what you are seeking from a vendor, stop and go back to the drawing board. Ask
yourself why you need the 20-page powerpoint which requires that you explain its key points in
a summary slide at the end. If all you have accomplished is a restatement of what you are doing
today, rip it up and start over.


2. Ask the vendor what they can do. Before you start down the path of creating the IT RFP
and holding a bunch of meetings to explain what you need (and then finding out that the
vendor has something new to tell you that might change your requirements) why not do
this up front? Host a ‘speed dating’ exercise, and give each vendor one hour to tell you what
is possible, and then update your requirements. You should come back with several new
ideas for transformation opportunites as part of the IT RFP. Create the list of transformation
opportunities, rank them and move on.


3. Setup a small team and empower them. We all understand that lots of folks can be
involved in the IT RFP process, but only do this when they are truly needed. Depending on the scope of your RFP, identify the right leadership team and tell them they have 30 days to figure it out. Chances are, they will have an answer that is at least 80% correct.


4. Decide which battles to fight. What are you most concerned about? What are your
current pain points if this is a renegotiation? Savings, improved delivery, new capability , IT
transformation? All of the above? Before you get started on the RFP exercise, define the
battle plan and the key criteria for evaluation. These should be short and focused on what you need.


5. Decide when to stop. Very often we feel compelled keep the ball moving and realize that the
team in not doing anything new, just describing the same work with no transformation. You
need to stop the ball moving forward and ask the tough question - ‘Why are we doing this?’


The secret to an IT RFP that includes transformation is not in the paperwork or the documents. The
secret is taking the time to really figure out what you need and understanding how your team (both
you and the vendor) is going to be successful. If you can’t successfully do the items above, don’t
start. Hold off and start when you are going to be able to drive a successful approach!


Communicating the Transformation

In addition to the tough challenge of delivering transformation successfully, we need to recognize that every successful IT or business transformation initiative has done a great job with communicating the strategy shift to their employees, business partners and vendors. You probably know the answer to what every failed
transformation project has done wrong ... they have ‘botched” or done a poor job at communicating the
transformation and its implications for the organization.
If the objective is to align delivery and behaviors with the new strategy, then the team has to provide enough details and content and consistently inform the team of the strategy and how things are going to perform differently. You need to consider and communicate much more than "change is coming" or "transformation is on the way!"
The silver bullet of effective communication does not exist. But, there are some lessons that are extremely helpful when considering how to prepare and deliver a communication strategy and content around
transformation. It’s hard to get everyone ‘on the bus,’ but let’s examine a couple of key lessons and the reality of ignoring the communication challenge:
  • Assign ownership of the communication strategy. As simple as this sounds, it often does not happen. A good plan includes a plan for communication and change management, with a named owner. My experience has been that this is often ignored or reduced when the estimates for delivery come in and then it surfaces again when the team is ready to deliver. Don’t skip this step and don’t skimp oncommunication delivery. The adage of ‘over communicate’ rings true every time!
  • Make sure the message is consistent. Some good projects get derailed when the message misses the intent of the transformation. Write the standard messages, including not just the strategy, but go ahead and create the Q&As you know will be coming throughout the life of the initiative. Better to pre-think the questions and your answers than be stuck with a tough topic and no clear answer.
  • Segment the Receivers. Figure out your audiences by breaking them into groups or roles and what their view may be. Don’t hesitate to reach out to an audience member and find out what they may need for communication. In today’s world, a video may be much better than an email distribution, so think about the media used as well!
  • Monitor results. Teams will often spend a ton of time and resources crafting the communication material and the messages, send them out, and then do nothing, assuming all is fine. Don’t get caught in the trap of hearing from someone else that your communication is not working. Put in place a pro-active feedback loop that gives you the chance to capture feedback and measure how effective the communication really is. Keep it simple.
In addition to the items above, the team delivering the transformation should consider crafting communication materials that focus on ‘what’s in it for me.' This means customizing the material and key messages to each employee, the business and vendor partners, enabling them to understand what is going to happen and the specific impact on them. Not only does this help drive a consistent message, it might just identify a problem with your strategy and delivery approach, way before you hit the wall with a troubled project. Use this feedback to gain valuable insight and make necessary course corrections.

Collaboration and Social Media – Delivering Results

Collaboration and Social Media can become powerful assets in the IT arsenal to deliver business results. Social computing presents opportunities for IT to promote and support connections, both inside the organization - through technologies such as SharePoint, Jive, Yammer, wiki’s, blogs - and with external partners and customers through the use of online social media tools - LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.


The truth is that many companies struggle with where to start with social media and how to move forward. While you may perceive potential value in social media initiatives and pursue those initiatives accordingly, deriving that value and delivering results requires changes to how IT has been approached in the past. IT needs to consider moving away from conventional IT management approaches in several areas.


The key areas that will challenge organizations and need to be considered when initiating a focus on collaboration and social media include:
  • Unclear ROI — The business case for social computing typically breaks down because of the unclear nature of how and where social computing will deliver value and how the results will be recognized and measured. This is reminiscent of the history of determining an ROI for email. At that time, email was deployed with limited or no ROI.
  • Availability of Opportunity — The reality is that business units can often identify and exploit social media opportunities before IT. IT needs to sharpen it’s focus, become more aware of how the business partner views each opportunity and gather those requirements so that they are part of the solution.
  • Magnified Risk — Social media diminishes corporate perimeters and controls for information exchange, so organizations must “get over it" and determine a risk profile for social media (more on that later).
  • Consumer Technology Options — Business users may select technologies to connect and collaborate, which may not be corporate-controlled. The organization needs to determine its policies on technologies outside of its control.
  • Rapid Change — Velocity and complexity of social technologies outpace IT's roadmapping capabilities. To remain relevant in the social media conversation, IT organizations often rely on technology-centric "supply push" strategies, when instead they need to quickly understand and respond to "demand pull" from their end users.
Successful delivery of collaboration and social media solutions depend on four user-centric factors:
  1. Understand technology fit with end-user workflows and behavior. You need to map these out and create a view of the future. For example, IT teams are now adding visualization software to the agile process of development so that developers and business customers have a clearer picture of what will be delivered.
  2. Drive use by communicating tangible end-user benefits that can be directly connected to clear business metrics and outcomes (e.g. time saved). 
  3. Apply a risk framework that can evolve and improve as social media changes – set up 2-3 risk factors that will frame the focus on risk.
  4. Collaborate – as silly as this sounds, spend the time to collaborate with your business customer on a solution that will deliver results! Leverage proof of concept and pilots, as well as asking the business customer to come back with examples of functionality that may already be available and used by public social media groups today.
All of the above items need to considered, giving you the runway to avoid the pitfalls experienced by many social media projects.

Ensuring IT and Business Transformation Success

Why do most IT and Business Transformation projects fail? IT and Business Transformation projects often fail for the same key reasons, namely; 

  • Not being realistic as to what can be accomplished;
  • Putting the wrong leadership and team in place;
  • Not knowing how to avoid the ‘big bang’ of delivery.

Without having the ability to recognize and resolve these issues, you are probably doomed for failure. Instead of walking into this trap, here are a few techniques you can try to help you and your team be more successful.

Failure Premise – Not being realistic in terms of what can be accomplished

What are you really trying to do? Has anyone done this before? To be more realistic, take a look at whether or not your overall plan makes sense: Are you taking some  key initial steps, like piloting and prototyping your solutions before going for the ‘big bang?'  Look at each item of delivery and define what the criteria are for success. If you don’t have a plan, or can’t figure out a plan, how will you know what can be really be accomplished? Each item in the plan should have a simple measure that will tell a powerful success story.

Failure Premise – Putting the wrong leadership and team in place 

How often have we sat in meetings and said to ourselves, this leader is not getting it or this team is doomed?  This happens more often than any of us want to admit. IT and Transformation projects will often get trapped in the depths of detailing the leadership team, the working team and the time commitment of each person. This is often a cover-up, knowing the right person for the project is probably not available or can only give you 25% of their time, so the team has to juggle the rest. If you find yourself caught in this situation and you are not getting the right people to either lead or become part of the team, STOP the initiative! Don’t move forward until you can get the right people in place. And make sure you are applying this rule to the WHOLE team, meaning your leadership, the vendor leadership, the IT leadership, the business leadership and any other vested group that plays a role.

Failure Premise  Not knowing how to avoid the ‘big bang’ of delivery

If you are sitting in the planning or team meeting and someone puts on the table that they are going to go live and do it all at once or in a ‘big bang’ approach, alarms should be going off in your head. Having been burnt on this topic several times, get real and start raising questions that will get your team on a successful track. 

Transformation projects are not about big bang. They are about the ability of the projects to drive change that is transforming on many levels. In some cases, you and your team may not even have a clue of what the actual results will be one to two years after you 'go live.' Why not get in front of this and create your own destiny, roll things out in smaller batches of delivery, use a trusted partner to help you test and prove what you are doing before rolling it out to the larger organization?  Plan for failure in a pro-active way that will allow the team to learn from the events and move forward, rather than experiencing a ‘big bang’ failure and not being able to recover and move forward.  Manage the risk profile so that you can get the best from the real capabilities of your team.

IT Transformation …

... empty technology buzzwords or a concept that describes the evolution of technology as it relates to business and commerce? 

Twenty years ago we used the phrases, “change agent” or “organizational change,” but these were attributed to change that emanated from the business side of a corporation, and had very little to do with technology. Technology was moving so rapidly that when we used the acronym “IT,” it was synonymous with change. So it is not surprising that a business enabler like technology, with a rich history for acronyms and evolving its own language (PC, IT, CMMI, ITIL, B2B) would create its own phrase for change.
Does IT Transformation …
  • Merely refer to cost cutting and leveraging the labor arbitrage so readily available in Asia, South America and Eastern Europe?  
  •  Entail the recreation of IT to drive value with the rich set of information tools that are now readily available?
  • Involve the innovation required to help change the culture and competitive nature of a business? 
  • Relate to the ongoing need to refresh computing platforms to deliver services in a more efficient and effective manner, or refresh the portfolio of applications with a more integrated, feature-rich set?
In the past, many CIOs have been seen as change agents within the business organization. Now that IT has been in place for more than 30 years in many corporations, it is of paramount importance that CIOs step back and assess their own organizations, and become change agents within IT. CIOs must periodically review and revamp their service offerings and processes to align with business needs and evolving technologies.
Is IT Transformation, then, a set of strategies that the CIO can implement over a period of time, or is it more than that?  Does it require changing the way the IT organization functions? Is it a cultural move from the “order-taker” mentality to a group that engages with its business partners to understand and fulfill a technology need, while simultaneously driving innovation and business growth?  It seems that this multiplicity of purpose is what hinders most IT organizations from “transforming,” as most CIOs find it difficult to articulate their vision and the journey required to change the role of IT in an organization.
In order to understand IT Transformation, what does that end state look like … and what roles should a business expect the IT organization to play? CIOs must become more strategic, be willing to take a risk, and align with the business, while constantly searching for technology innovations that will significantly improve the competitive nature of their business partners.
CIOs need to become the internal technology consultants who can apply the best technologies available to the most pressing business challenges. Their efforts need to balance the needs of their internal business customers with the need to effectively run existing IT operations, while identifying the next technology opportunity … quite a balancing act. What this requires is a savvy CIO who applies IT transformation only to those areas that matter strategically to the business, not to the areas where IT is most comfortable, namely in the technology realm.
The truth is, IT Transformation is not an empty technology trend, or a concept that describes the evolution of technology as it relates to business and commerce. Delivering results with IT Transformation means:
  • Partnering with the business;
  • Synchronizing business goals;
  • Assuring alignment with the business; and
  • Offering true value to the strategic discussions.

These are all aspects of IT Transformation that are required on an on-going basis if the IT organization is to continue to have a voice in the value-creation of any business entity and keep enterprises competitive.