Systems, Support Process

September 29, 2010

In the technology part of our businesses, words – and I mean simple words can be be confusing.

How about the word system?

First there are the definitions that we know from a standard dictionary.

Then there is the word System in the context  of  Systems Theory, which states that while individual parts may be independent, they also are interacting, therefor problems in one input can affect other outputs further down the value chain. (Which is a lot of the basis behind Theory of Constraints process modeling)

And finally, a common usage in business technology; a System being the computer server, storage, and/or software that provides a particular resource. As an example we talk of an E-Mail System, or ERP System.

All of these uses of the word are completely in line with the definitions that we have in our trusty dictionary, but what will get your technology projects, investments and communications into trouble is the over use of the word system in relation to the business process that your system is trying to help.

I found an excellent article by Bob Lewis titled; Business change methodology gaps. The article is written about business change, but one quote demonstrates how often we abuse the word system when used in relation to technology supported business process changes;

Most organizations are still stuck thinking in terms of system deployments rather than process changes. Don’t believe me? How many companies title their projects something like <System Name> Implementation? When the project title misses the point, how likely is it the organizational change will be on target?

Do your sales staff give a damn about a CRM System?

No – they don’t.

Your sales staff have issues ranging from managing communications to effectively managing the pipeline. They need a business process that alleviates the pain points in managing their communications and improve that pipeline management.

Managing those communications or pipeline issues requires looking at the business process. And asking how that process can be improved. And then leading the change for that process.

Once the process is looked at and understood, and a new process designed, can technology help? Certainly.

Technology can then help you standardize or automate parts of that business process.

The SMB Takeaway

I believe it is time that we seriously reduce our use of the word System when it comes to any corporate IT enabled project, change or initiative.

As Mr. Lewis states, lets call it what it is. It is business process. It may be process changes. But calling it a System just confuses the issue.

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Resistance To ITIL?

February 12, 2010

Resistance? To ITIL?

That can’t be true!

Everyone knows ITIL processes can improve IT service support and delivery costs, improve internal IT service management processes, and even make coffee in the morning!

You can laugh now! Everyone does not know that ITIL can improve internal IT processes. (OK, the part about coffee is untrue as well!)

But for SME’s looking at ITIL, first, it is a journey. And like all journey’s it involves change in the way people work, and changes in what they may be responsible or accountable for. And like any change, we as humans can resist change when we don’t understand the WIIFM. (What’s In It For Me?)

Along that concept, Ann All at ITBusiness Edge has a great article that I want to pull two bits from.

First, your IT team may be as resistant (or more so) to change as anybody else in your organization.  For some technology staffers, it may simply be not understanding the business implications about what ITIL can provide. And for some it may be because they are addicted to the glory of heroic  IT acrobatics, after all, avoiding any incidents or problems in the first place is hardly glamorous. And some technology staff can simply see it as an unnecessary inhibitor or overhead to their getting real work done.

The warning here is that an announcement that ITIL is going to happen on Friday! – Sorry, that won’t work. Like any organizational change this journey will be slow, require 10 times the communication that you thought necessary, and has to be taken in small, incremental steps. (You can try to do it all at once, but unless your teams and your people thrive on ripping the guts out of your business and rebuilding it from the ground up, you will have a hard time of it)

The second piece I wanted to emphasize, is that implementing ITIL processes are not an all or nothing exercise. I know that I have written a lot about this, but here is one excellent example. As the article referenced above states about one journey into ITIL;

… didn’t invest in a new tool until nearly three years into its ITIL initiative,

It is not all or nothing.

People, process then finally tools.

They built their methodology in bite sized pieces, then started looking at service management software tools to help them.

Not the other way around.

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OK, an obvious riff on the Rolling Stones We Can’t Always Get What We Want!

But here is a true story.

Lets wander back a few decades to when I was in the property management business.

First! We are going old school here, the Internet was still in prep school (the technorati talked SLIP, Telnet, Gopher), and the masses talked via BBS (Bulletin Board Systems – remember Mustang?) or CompuServe. E-mail? nope. Computing was an AS-400 and green screen terminals.

but I digress!

At one of our tenant companies, two individuals repeatedly complained to the commercial property supervisor that they were either too hot, or too cold in their work places.

Feeling that they were not getting an adequate response after several complaints, these two employees escalated the issue to their business Vice President, who then raised hell with our commercial property Vice President.

As crap usually flows down hill, the commercial property supervisor was hauled onto the carpet for a tongue lashing about not being responsive to the complaints.

During this event the commercial property supervisor demanded a meeting in the tenants offices with both the tenants VP, and our VP. After some argument – this was arranged.

So! its meeting day, the property supervisor takes both VP’s to one of the complaining individuals and asks about the temperature; Too cold was given as a complaint.

The trio then visit the second complainant who states; too hot!

Our property supervisor says; there you go, what the hell do you want me to do?

You see?

Those two individuals that were complaining?

They had their office desks fitted side by side!

In other words, there were sitting about 3 feet apart! So there was absolutely no hope that both could be satisfied.

And the lessons learned?

The first, and most obvious lesson; the commercial property supervisor would have bypassed all of this if he had simply picked up the phone and explained that there was nothing that he could do about the situation after he received the very first complaint.

But more importantly, we need to understand that we cannot satisfy everybody, every time. We can solicit input, we can try for consensus. But sometimes we need to agree to disagree.

We need to make the decision and move to the next step. We need to appreciate their input, but state that the decision is no longer on the table for discussion.

Photo Credit by jmc_sjsu via flickr

Anger, And Change

January 14, 2010

Frustration = Anger

I know I can get frustrated. We all do.

We can get frustrated by recalcitrant children. Or we can get frustrated at work with superiors, peers, or subordinates.

And we can all get frustrated when we don’t understand something.

And one symptom of frustration? Anger.

As a business technology manager I know that I have been frustrated enough at some balky piece of technology. Yes, that includes fantasies of watching it fly out a window!

So how can I assume that individuals that are not as technology literate to not be afraid and frustrated about some new technology tool that they are going to have to use?

Their resistance may not have anything to do with that technology directly, but the internal fear and frustration that they may not be able to ‘get it’. That they may not understand what is going to be expected of them.  We can all have uncertainty when asked to master some new thing when we are not comfortable in that field.

When there is any change initiative, many of which have a large technology component, we must assume that there will be resistance and anger.

And some of that anger may simply be due to frustration

Due to uncertainty.

And due to fear.

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Photo Credit Mr. Fotoshop via flickr

On Change

July 15, 2009

Organizational change is difficult.

Jon Nitto President of a SME (emphasis mine)

It’s a liberating change. They can support more clients better and faster. But without us taking them through the process, they didn’t believe in it. We still have work to do. It has taken almost a year for everyone to grasp what the product is doing, but more important, where our company is going. And with that knowledge, we’re ready for our next challenge.

Some good lessons

1) Change Management is not one or two meetings, not a couple of weeks; Almost a year

2) Your people can’t do it alone, effective leadership means that as a general manager; Change needs you, or it fails

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Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Big Hairy Audacious Goals

Jonathan Fields dives into a great comparison of goal setting via James Collins’ BHAG‘s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) vs. more incremental Baby Steps in this post titled; Goalsetting Smackdown: Big Hairy Audacious vs Baby Steps

He prefers BHAG’s – follow the link to read more!

But First…….

I have to make a preface here! If you are a dozen people in a dorm or basement intent on generating revenue directly through technology by inventing the Next Big Thing, or building that killer iPhone app the world does not know it needs yet, this is not for you.

Because in that type of environment you have (by default!) set your sights on that Big Hairy Audacious goal, the Game Changer! the World Beater!

But for the majority of us in the SME space?

Well, we run on a continuum from fairly low technical maturity where technology is just to run accounting and E-Mail, to higher maturity levels where technology is used to enable and improve business processes. Either by assisting in revenue generation or reducing costs.

In our case, we are not trying to invent the next Twitter or Friendfeed.

Sure – We want to beat the world too – but by reducing cost of sales, getting word of our product or service out there. And reducing our SG&A.

And in our IT Goal setting, do we want BHAG’s or baby steps?

Well – Here is one warning with BHAG’s when it comes to IT goals.

The effects of change on both business and IT processes from any change in your IT and IT strategy are not linear. Like mortgage interest, they are compounded.

And like compounded interest, a little change can have some big time effects. And larger changes? if you change X Y and Z all at once, odds are that something is going to break, and as 80% of outages and IT related downtime is just finding out what broke. Well you see the risk.

Sure Keep Your Eye on the Prize!

Maybe that goal, or that prize is a BHAG – a Game Changer.

But I recommend you get to it by baby steps. Or as I have called it before, Learn To Dance.

Step, Pause, Adjust, then step again.

Enough from me – which do you prefer?

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Photo Credit NASA

An Insidious Disease

February 23, 2009

Last week I wrote a post referencing Tim Walkers Watch out for chokepoints! In that post I wrote that IT can be a key bottleneck in those chokepoints

Both directly, and indirectly

In the comments to that post, Mr. Walker noted that when it comes to indirect chokepoints;

..indirect ones are far more insidious, like a wasting disease.

He is absolutely correct.

This indirect chokepoint is simply process waste.

This concept is nothing new, Michael Hammer and James Champy wrote a best seller about it almost 20 years ago; Reengineering The Corporation.

Here’s the Problem

In most cases, these process waste problems are invisible. People don’t recognize that the many steps, handoffs, and pieces of work that they perform are wasting time, money, and efficiency.

And unless you as a SME manager are involved, no one will care about it.

It is not like this waste is going to instantly sink your big deal or contract, it is just slow, leaking, wasted time and money.

And IT can’t do much about it.

These type of insidious diseases cannot be fixed by your technology staff or provider on their own. Because even if they do see it. Fixing it must be driven from the top.

A Real World Example

Using Microsoft Sharepoint Team Services (the freely available addition to licensed copies of MS Windows Server, not the full MS Office Sharepoint Server) I built three applications to remove that type of process waste.

Of those three applications, one of them has been successful, one was successful for a short period of time, the third was never used.

Here is why

The successful tool that I built was a brand new request – a manager needed to solve a new issue. So there was no fighting the way we always done it around here….

For the second one, another manager who was aware of our process issues worked with his team to do some process improvement on the old ad hoc process as it existed – this worked well until he left after about a year. His internally promoted replacement just let it go into misuse – back to the old way we always do it around here.

For the third, even though I had provided it, and demonstrated how it would reduce rework, and decrease wasted time, the divisional manager liked it but did not drive using it – and everyone on that team were too comfortable with the way we always do it around here.

The Lesson

Some things can bubble up from the grass roots.

But change can’t.

With this type of insidious waste, while technology can help remove it, technologists cannot do it alone – because it is change, and change must be driven from the top.

It requires strategic management of your IT. Not a tactical plan.

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