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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

5 Signs of a Dysfunctional Attitude in Your Organization

The Baldrige National Quality Program covers all functional components of a business. An effective organization will exhibit strong interacting processes across the various functional units. Many organization however lack such strong interactions among its functional groups. How to know if yours is one of them? Five common symptoms are:

  1. Hiding mistakes and keeping them internal to the functional unit.
  2. Selfishness and attempting to get all the resources we need for our unit, regardless of the needs of other units.
  3. Making sure we spend all the budget before the fiscal year is over, to avoid reduction in next year's allotment.
  4. Focusing on own unit's work and not supportive of initiatives outside the unit.
  5. Ignoring the external customer unless we are in a sales or marketing role.

    Organizations which structure internal operations based on end-to-end processes have been able to offer their customers a more comprehensive and integrated value proposition. Moreover the organizations are more streamlined and efficient. A leading example is IBM's Enterprise Process Framework (EPF) 1, 2. IBM transformed its operations across multiple end-to-end levels, each level represents one enterprise process area, for example product ordering, IT services or HR services.

    A process optimized organization is a mid-stage organization in between a business unit optimized organization and an enterprise optimized organization. Optimized business units are silos of work centers and processing units, process optimized are definitely a step above where waste is reduced, processing is automated end-to-end and economies of scale can be achieved. If your organization is exhibiting any of the five signs above, then know that you are still way far from a process optimized organization.

    Read more here:
    - Streamlining Business Processes, IBM
    - The Business Shrink The Dysfunctional Workplace
    - Top Ten Reasons Teams Become Dysfunctional

    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Getting Over the Project Bifurcation Point

    So we are already there. We reached the bifurcation point on the project I am currently managing. It is a $3.5 million software development project to automate and speed up the ordering and provisioning of several telecom services at a major operator. The project is due to deploy in June 2010 but is behind schedule by more than six months. So how do we get out of this dilemma? (see post on 2/19/10 for symptoms of project bifurcation).

    Along with two of my colleagues we have come up with a simple straight forward process to stop the bleeding and deliver something over the next three months. The process is summarized as follows:

    1. Enforce an immediate stop on all activities.
    2. Rescope the project to deliver the core capabilities in the time available.
    3. Ensure all project documents are baselined and a strict change control process is enforced to avoid creep
    4. Introduce an agile approach to realize some leaps in project delivery
    5. Evaluate open issues on the project and close any ones that are no longer applicable to the rescoped project.
    6. Prioritize the issues that remain open and ensure all architectural and user requirement related issues are resolved first.
    7. Ensure end to end traceability starting from business objectives to test results including all the various requirement level, design artifacts and test cases.
    8. Ensure all interfaces are well understood and interface requirements are documented.
    9. Hold at least one technical review at some reasonable point to assess the integrity and soundness of the work developed and processes followed.

    These simple steps if done, at the bare minimum will guarantee that you will deliver something, that will most probably work. When projects reach bifurcation salvage is the top priority and salvaging means focusing on the key capabilities and ensuring that they will operate as expected. Do not try to get too fancy and deliver everything, it will not work and the project will fail.

    Friday, March 05, 2010

    Change Agent Strategies: A Need for Survivability

    The only constant in this world are the rules of the Creator. The world we live in has been created in accordance to precise measures and in adherence to strict laws. Laws of physics, chemistry and biology are a few examples. Another clear example is the earth's rotation around itself and the sun, a phenomena we experience every moment and take for granted. So does this mean we live in a constant world with no changes. Absolutely not, change is the norm of our lives. People's interests change, impacting business dynamics, which impacts economies and society which in turn impacts people's behaviors and the cycle goes on.

    Organizations which wish to survive must adapt to change, in other words must change themselves. Healthy change however has to be founded by a certain set of values which a person, organization and society treasures and takes as sacred.

    Hence, there are two main points we need to consider when we talk about change. The first is a stable unchanging framework that defines the boundaries that we operate and live within. We can not exceed these boundaries, either due to inherent limitations in our capabilities or due to a conflict with laws of the Creator, manifested in how the creation behaves. The second point is that for change to be of utility it must be controlled and understood. So lets look at an example to understand these two points better.

    Considering the sun, moon and earth. These are Creations of the All-Mighty God. Their behavior does not change, and adhere to a precise set of laws, and we are unable to change their behavior. The sun rises from the east every morning and sets in the west every evening. This is our framework of light, heat and energy. Now we might decide that during summer season we do not want too much sun light, so we place barriers between us and the sun in the form of hat, canopy, umbrella or some other structure that we develop. We can change the configuration of this barrier as the sun rotates and moves around, and during winter months we can remove it all-together.

    "a stable unchanging framework that defines the boundaries that we operate and live within is needed for a viable environment"
    What we are able to do is only change the impact of the behavior of the framework, but not the framework itself. When mankind starts to attempt to change the framework itself, unpredictable results occur which could be devastating, if we are even able to do so.  Change within the framework is healthy and recommended, as it leads to innovation and growth. Going back to the example of the sun's heat and protecting one self from it, we realize that the simple shield of a ceiling made of straws thousands of years ago has turned into advanced engineering structures with air cooling and filtering systems and sensor controlled sky lights.

    " controlled change leads to innovation, growth and opportunities"
    Of course man made frameworks are not perfect, and could have limitations that require changes and improvements. This is also healthy as long as we can control the changes and understand the impact of the change on what is inside that framework and on other frameworks that communicate with our framework.

    So how can one implement change agents that are healthy and valuable? Lets say an organization wishes to change its bylaws. The bylaws to the organization is the same as the sun to people living on earth. It is the framework by which this organization runs its affairs and the binding contract among its members. Lets look at some practical steps for introducing the change into the bylaws.

    1. The need for the change must be clearly understood. This includes documenting the need for the change. Assessing its feasibility, its pros and cons, its urgency, its importance and its impact. This is must be followed by an assessment to study the readiness of the organization for change. Once the need is understood, the need must be communicated to all impacted parties and awareness must be established.

    2. Organize a team or project with required authority to guide the process and formulate methods, policies and plans to control and guide the change process; and visualize it.

    3. Remove obstacles that prevent others from acting on the vision, and create a sense of urgency to ensure buy-in and support. It is crucial to ensure that all parties involved are empowered. An empowered organization is one whose main focus is on its constituents that it serves and the role of its leadership is one of a facilitator and coach, rather than a controller and monitor. Relationships across the organization are peer-based rather than top-down and every individual in the organization has the ability to make decisions and take responsibility within a clear framework without lack of power and authority.

    4. Coach, train and educate top management on the technical aspects involved in the change.

    5. Collect all ideas and points of view to each proposed change. Measure, control and report progress of the implementation of the change.

    6. Be ready to utilize emotional intelligence, and to handle behavioral issues effectively. Control the complexities of change which are a result of the intangible areas involved in change such as beliefs, behaviors and perceptions of people through constraint management, scenario forecasting, motivation, negotiation and collaboration.

    7. Guide the assessment of the results of change, and ensure the implementation of clear acceptance criteria and metrics to accept the change as measured or to make further improvements to it. Capture lessons learned and evaluate comprehensively the impact of the change; economically, socially, and otherwise.

    When change agents hit road blocks the points above could help move the process forward safely and effectively. Each of these points is an exercise in itself and needs to be executed carefully and comprehensively. However once the need for change can be justified and plans developed, execution needs to be quick.

    More on changing the state of an ailing project that reached bifurcation next week.

    ** The above image has been developed using Wordle at