Transformation: There are no easy answers

Sometimes the need to improve is a well known fact in an IT organization. In such cases the desire for change is powered by a large base of employees. No doubt, we are not talking about a coordinated focused movement – a lot of players will have their very special views on areas of improvement. Problems massed up due to the fact that changes in organization, operations, sourcing, etc. were not commonly designed. For sure the usual game of circumvention of a central architecture by some operational teams is also a source of inefficiency.

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All this big and tiny changes, amendments and additions settled a perfect compromise patchwork burden for the IT organization, this burden can be removed but not as quick as some of the managers dreams. I want to point out, such conglomerations can be rebuild into something efficient by good planning and a good portion of persistence. This will not happen by easy answers. You can be very sure, there will be a lot of easy answer guys in such a situation.

In this article I will describe the adverse impact of easy answers to an organization that has a pretty clear picture about their miseries. I face this scenario quite often. I am not taking about an IT organization that lost connection to their business or similar, where people without wisdom are just stabbing around in the dark. Here buying wisdom by management consultants is a good start.

Let us put our-self into the position of such a patchwork IT organization and wait for the moment when the management wakes up because they can not ignore the needed changes any more. A moment of relief and hope for most of the team. Enjoy it, it will not last long. Then suddenly disillusioned by the fact the management hired high-level-consultants who broaden generic issues and add more questions to details. Best in class easy-answer-consultants will hand out a folder containing a general plan with the advise to use cheaper resources for implementation. The easy-answer-consultants are more strategic, you know?

Above scenario could be a simple case of an overpriced slide-deck with your company logo added. Unfortunately such an approach produce a lot of crop damage and will end up in a more complicated case, but now with less hope. To be more illustrative let me switch from this unorganized IT operation to a fictitious messy student flat share. Instead of ITIL® and outsourcing of services as a compelling event, we use a new housemate moving in.

Scenario: A lot of stuff is lying on the floor everyone is stumbling across. The bathroom is theoretically 20 sqm, but currently the is no space left the new roommate neither in the cabinet nor on a shelf. From time to time perfume vials drop from a decayed self mounted board into the toilet.

Now the well-paid analysis of the easy-answer-consultant starts, he conducts a very sophisticated assessment and his findings are: Compared to the industry standard, there is a need for optimization in processes of this living community. After a short investigation, the most promising approach to improve is the joined-cooking-service. The main findings are poor coordination, flea-bitten basic ingredients, missing recipes and many more defects.

To find the solution for a prospective error-free cooking, the culinary skills of the residents in the flat are checked, cookbooks are considered and the finding: there is no menu gets an alarming note to the management. Here is an obvious area to be fixed and the consultant will as fast as possible define a course of action, how to get an efficient diet.

To define a structure into a disorder, can not be solved with simple answers. The target landscape is simply done. It is not rocket science, you can use standards and amend them easily. A large organization with historical structures will never be changed by applying simple cooking recipes, even if all the team members are willing to change.

Considering the knowledge that our easy-answer-consultant has brought to the flat share, we can put to the record: there is hardly any piece of knowledge created. The disorder was known by everyone, most probable also examples of tidy homes and their processes were at hand. Combining this internal knowledge and selecting a starting point, could be done simply. Presumably a series of workshops with the flat residents supported by a (non-specialist) mediator would be enough to do the trick.

Until now all the hints and actions of our easy-answer-consultant were of limited use but at least not harmful, so let us proceed and see what will happen next. Most likely a lot of things about cooking will improve. Even the simple fact to sit together in workshops discussing about the meals will have a positive impact on the cooking-service.

All persons, activities, tools, etc. supporting the cooking process will be still messy and result in unpleasant interactions. The response of our easy-answer-consultant remains simple: Isn’t it obvious that all supporting processes need to be adjusted according to his “strategy”? This simple answer analysed means to rebuild the complete flat in technology, organisation and processes. As this is neither planned nor realistic, the team members of the neighbour process will stop asking this consultant and follow an avoidance behaviour. If moving the cookbook from one room to another is to slow, because you have to climb over all sorts of rubbish, the team is now running faster.

A strategy on how to get to the desired structures in the light of current processes, will lead to complex interactions and tricky situations. Especially due to the fact local directors often want to secure their positions and hence love complexity. In our case we are blocked due to the plain fact that 90% of structural problems do not exist in a tidy flat share. They are waiting to be addressed, planned and changed. The approach of our easy-answer-consultant, who has indeed given his new menu structure, can not be wrong. So the consultant will now switch to “that which must not, can not be!” (Christian Morgenstern).

Denying problems using phrases like „Tell me, is that so very difficult?“ or subtle clues pointing to the unexpected lack of professionalism of those involved will help our easy-answer-consultant. Using this meanness way he achieves an important goal: He is proven correct and the residents will remain silent in the future. This has serious side effects: All team members are now left alone with the task adopting the new structure. Even if at the beginning there was acceptance and a feeling of usefulness for the new structure, now the lack of experience will prevent any success.

Actually, every ICT specialist knows computer strategies that lead to success using a side-step and that are faster than greedy. That is one of the reasons why the easy-answer-consultant is a constant source for the Dilbert Principle.

After the easy-answer-consultant left the building, sooner or later the increased pace operating the book shelves will return to normal again and the new menu will be questioned and not pursued any more.

Let us think about a more intelligent approach for this scenario: Probably first clean all corridors and routes from junk, then clean up the kitchen, create a cleaning plan for the kitchen, start and control the first move. After well-rehearsed, spot on the bathroom and beyond. Anyway, a more clever approach would be definitely a move that was developed as a partial goal by insightful residents out of a congregated set of alternatives.

There will be trade-offs, now that the team learned about alternatives it will be hard to accept that the hygiene of the food is not improved during the first steps. Also purchasing and stock management remains a gap. The cook still has to replace noodles by rice.

Such shortfalls have to be fixed on the way changing to a new structure. After the kitchen was organized, the task to improve the bathroom will be easier and can be implemented by an internal team with a bit of senior advice. While a sub teams cleans the bathroom the planning is free to address the purchasing or by choice planning how to fix the hygiene issues 🙂

This article is not about to blame the easy-answer-consultant. I want to mention some reasons why in some IT organizations ITIL has a bad name and is seen as plain additional bureaucracy. If an organization has followed an easy-answer-consultant, the project produced nothing but shelf meters of bureaucracy that nobody asked for. I promise: There is often a need for standardization but never a need for internal bureaucracy.

Particularly in obvious cases, when the organization knows his potential for improvement, IT Service Management using ITIL as a source for patterns works actually quite fine. It shows a basic structure like in a map. With a little training and assistance the surrounding area can now explored by internal teams. In other words in most cases is is not a big chunk of consulting services needed to define the target with stakeholders. This is standard out-of-the-box. Interestingly, the team is ready to go for an expedition and able to plan how to get through deserts and climb over mountains. A senior consultant can help to choose the right alternative and he knows by experience what equipment and how much water is needed. Perhaps in the beginning he has no solid estimation how fast the team will move, but with a bit of control this is measurable after a while.

Implementing a new structure in an IT organization is quite close to eating an elephant. Classify the consultant after he left the building. Is it clear where to start, how big the bites are, how big the progress after one year chewing should be and what plan B is? Yes, then he is no easy answer but a great guide.

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