Why Change?….Success Criteria # 3

In Success Criteria #2, I linked culture to organisational performance in delivering projects mentioning that “an organisation always gets the project they deserve”. But also when the project team exhibits great leadership they can overcome this.  We will therefore talk about leadership and team composition, but before doing so there is another more important criteria.

That is asking the question of why change anything in the first place?  Knowing why, helps define what the change is trying to achieve?  It could be a simple technology change like a desktop rollout or it could be something much more transofrmational.  Even with a desktop rollout there can a lot of reasons why this is being done and this changes the approach and the outcomes.  Is it a defined upgrade due to end of life or is there other reasons, such as a new enterprise capability that requires new desktops?  Is data and applications being migrated or accomodated in the new environment or discarded?  Will this have impact upon operations?  Is there variations to specifications allowed for specific needs by some users/managers?  Who pays for these?

I have only scraped the surface with questions.  The answers will define what outcomes the team is supposed to deliver.  Is it a low cost, tightly constrained project or is it allowed to consider value judgements that may cost more but bring some benefits. 

Why are these questions important?  All projects make trade-offs, some make them more explicitly than others.  If a project is not making trade-offs between time, cost, quality and benefits then it has a very loose direction, it is not finely tuned nor highly defined.  It is like saying just run over there and see how you go, versus you are about to run in the 100 metres on that track on this time and day.  To do things well, what you are doing needs to be clear, as do your objectives.  You cant do something well, when what you are supposed to be doing is vague.  Yet some projects are very unclear. In fact, it would seem purposefully so.  Not having clear objectives means you can’t fail…well perhaps that is the view by some. 

Not having clear objectives also means you can never succeed.  and this forms Success Criteria #3, have a clear mission.

Brisbane Office Closure

With the current flood conditions in Brisbane, and the shutdown of the Brisbane CBD, our Brisbane office is closed this week.  We plan to reopen on Monday 17th January subject to access, services and utilities being available.

E-mail and mobile phone communications are still in operation.

The Problem with Change Managers

OK, to start with let me declare that I love Change Managers. I work with many of them, I consider some to be good friends, and I see them as having a crucial role to play in all businesses and especially in projects where change is being made (which is most projects).  Many Change Managers have been crucial business colleagues in the past and some remain so today.
But what I do find with some Change Managers is that they get into Change Management because they want to change the world, or at least talk about it.  And sometimes some of them want to change the world because that is probably a whole lot easier than changing themselves.  They must figure that it will be easier to focus on “that” problem rather than “this” one.  This reminds me of an anonymous story that I love.  It goes something like this:

        There was an old man on his deathbed, and he was talking to his son.  And he said:
“You know son, when I was young, I wanted to change the world.  I soon realised I couldn’t achieve that so I decided to change my country.  I struggled with that too so I tried to change our town.  I failed at that so I wanted to change our family.  I haven’t managed to do that so I focused on changing myself.  I am now too old to do any of those things except that I have managed to change myself.  But now that I have changed myself, I now realise that if I could have started with me, I could have changed us as a family, I then could have gone on to change our town, and perhaps tackle changing the country, and who knows I may have been able to change the world too.  But the lesson, son, is that it should have always started with me, and so anything you want to do should start with you.”
I was recently asked to conduct a workshop at a Change Management professional body training programme.  It was small event, but a new and promising professional organisation so I agreed.  There were around 30 participants, and three breakout sessions where participants could choose one of four workshops at each breakout period.  I was asked to facilitate one workshop at one of these breakout periods.  I showed up having prepared a topic of interest to the expected audience.  The topic discussed personal styles and the diverse needs of modern day projects (you can see the material here).
I had two people attend.  They were keen and motivated, which was excellent, but what happened to everyone else?  The law of averages suggested that I could expect perhaps 7 or 8.  Thirty people had a total of 90 workshop selections they could make during the course of the program, yet only 2 attended the only opportunity to cover Project Management.  This was less than a 3% interest. 
There is probably several reasons for this, but I do believe it largely relates to one.  One chap came up to our table as we were about to start.  We all got excited thinking we had a third participant.  He said, no we are just short of a chair next door.  And then he said “ what do I need to know about gantt charts anyway” as he walked off.  There you have it, Project Management, in the eyes of Change Managers, is just about Gantt charts.
The unfortunate aspect for Change Managers with this observation is that they believe they know what Project Management is and they don’t need to know any more.  Whether they believe it is about gantt charts or some other thing, they have just created distance between Project Managers and themselves because they believe they already know all there is to know about Project Management, when clearly they do not. 
Project Management was one of eight competencies this new professional organisation has as part of its competency standard.  And all of these change managers would work in projects, and many would regularly report to Project and Program Managers.  Yet less than 3% had an interest in learning more about it.
Perhaps it is understandable that Change Managers would stereotype Project Managers as merely Gantt chart gurus.  Of course Change Managers themselves have been stereo typed for many years.  They are the tree huggers, the ones who keep telling us how its all about the people, as they complain about a stakeholder who wont see things their way.  But of course, having had many long and successful business relationships with Change Managers,  I know that those views are really not constructive, and nor do I believe them either for that matter.
The key point to remember here is that Change Management is a profession that should be about building bridges between people.  And the best way to do this is to find common ground between interested parties, not digging trenches and placing others in them.  This is not the way to deliver change outcomes.  Learning from others, understanding their perspectives and helping them find a path that suits them is the work of Change Management.  And this starts with moving yourself closer to other parties, not further away by thinking you know all there is to know of them.
Of course many Change Managers are great at what they do, but if you are a Change Manager, for the sake of your own profession and your own success (and I haven’t yet mentioned your responsibilities to your clients or employers) please take note…Project Management is as much about gantt charts as Change Management is about using Outlook to schedule a conversation.

And if that doesn’t make sense then maybe you are in the wrong profession.

The High Road or the Low Road

Many Australian managers are very downbeat about the long term survival prospects of their businesses and are concerned about the impact of short term thinking on organisational health. This is the central conclusion of a wide ranging survey conducted by the Australian Institute of Management.

The Institute surveyed 1200 executives (including business owners, middle managers, CEO’s and board members) on issues related to organisational health and survival. The resulting report, entitled Corporate Endurance, finds that:

  • 51% of respondents associated with private enterprises believe that short term profit goals are having a key influence on business performance
  • 15% of board members and CEO’s are not convinced that their businesses will still be around in five year’s time
  • On a more positive note, many respondents named environmental sustainability as a key emerging focus area for their businesses

These findings underline the conflict between long term investment and short term protitability. And with increasing corporate reporting regulations and the strength of media (meaning news spreads fast), bad news about short term results spreads fast and hits hard.

‘Short Termism’ is a topic covered within “Managing for the Long Run” by Danny Miller and Isabelle Le-Bretton Miller. They introduce the ‘Four C’s’, the traits that they have observed in 40 companies that have led national markets for two decades or more.

  • Continuity: Being around for the long term is part of their core cultures. This was evident in their approach to training, apprenticeships and the development of business strategies
  • Community: Invest in employee loyalty by building a community centred on strong values achieved through mentoring programmes and employee friendly policies
  • Connection: Focus on win-win external relationships, treating customers, suppliers and partners in ways that will create long term mutually beneficial relationships
  • Command: Active, intelligent and proactive governance, and managers and boards should have the ‘freedom, knowledge and incentives’ to invest for the long term

For those who have read or followed Branson, you will know that his is one of a number of private companies that ditched their public shareholdings and took back ownership in favour of not having to explain long term business decisions to those who don’t get it.
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A fuller discussion of AIM’s Corporate Endurance survey can be found here

Danny Miller and Isabelle Le-Bretton Miller book is Managing For The Long Run (Harvard Business School Press, 2005) is based on their experience with 40 companies (most of whom started out as family businesses) that achieved long term market leadership.

An executive summary of the Miller’s research project can be found here

Is the economy turning corporate decisions from green to grey

Since the economic meltdown started, one question has been: Is this the end of the green agenda, at least in the short-term? And will environmental stewardship be considered a luxury we can no longer afford?

A recent survey by IBM and Info-Tech reported that many mid-sized organizations around the world are buying into green IT despite falling bottom lines and falling stock prices. Another survey by Cisco identified that one-third of all businesses with green plans intend to move forward with them. So can environmental sustainability be good for the bottom line?

The driving force behind continued—and even increasing—green IT investments is the need to control costs by improving energy efficiencies. This is the first-tier greening strategy that most organisations should do, without excuse, as they can save money. The IBM paper looked at 11 possible green IT initiatives, with the most popular being storage consolidation, remote conferencing, and telecommuting.

It doesn’t surprise to see that these three initiatives can result in immediate bottom line savings. Plus they create a smaller carbon footprint through lower electricity bills, reduced consumables costs, decreased current and future operational expenses. Plus they may even attract rebates and incentives from local governments and utilities.

The examples in these reports hold true elsewhere. Data centre experts at the March 2009 Green: Net conference in San Francisco, encouraged increasing server utilization to improve energy efficiency by more than 200 percent. And companies such as Cisco are still pushing ahead with products to dramatically impact CIO’s bottom lines. Its new Unified Computing System (launched March 16, 2009) is said to reduce data centre capital expenditures by 20 percent.

There may be other benefits of “the downturn”. As investors look for safe growth options for their money, buying into technologies that improve efficiencies and pay big returns may be a good option in the current climate (economic and environmental). While relatively modest, CoolIT Systems, recently received $5.1 million in funding to expand development of its liquid cooling system.

There will continue to be uncertainty ahead, despite the optimistic view of green IT’s future. This is particularly so once we get beyond the first-tier changes, which provide both immediate and parallel cost and green improvements. Beyond this first-tier the payback may not be so immediate. And with company acquisitions such as IBM’s potential takeover of Sun Microsystems, we are yet to see the end of the economic fallout and any reshuffling of the corporate world that lay ahead.

So, my advice is to stay tuned, but in the mean-time, get those costs down, and while you do it, let the world know how green you are becoming. Now that has to be good for business.

Want to make savings but not leap onto a cloud…try this.

When it comes to business, we can all get trapped in a mindset that says, to do more, you need more. What if that wasn’t the case, when some things could come for free.
What about the green agenda? It currently has some of the bigger vendors telling us about their emerging green products, and the new things we could buy. But in an economic winter, is that wise. Why not use your energy to do things which save money, and improve your green credentials at the same time.

 

Power management is often spoken of, but how about data centre cooling, which occupies upwards of half of a typical energy bill. With operating expenses so high, this expense often outstrips the cost of IT equipment, with the average annual operating cost for a single midrange server hovering just below AUS$3,000 (for cooling and power).
But trapped into scarcity thinking, many continue to believe that upgrading a data centre to reduce the cooling expenses is too costly, with long returns on investment. The big boys in all things hardware like IBM and HP estimate that improvements in energy consumption between 15 and 40 percent can be achieved through system upgrades with paybacks between six months and two years. Even still this does require upfront investment, and so this keeps companies holding firmly to their wallets.
Thankfully, with new technologies and some simple changes, you can cut the amount of energy you’re using to cool your data centre with minimal upfront costs. These ideas won’t cost you much, but they’ll lower your energy bills making them a great investment of your team’s time.
If you don’t care for technical detail skim over the dot point and pass this to your CIO. If you want the detail, read on.
    • Maintain an efficient HVAC system: Improper air flow in your HVAC system can increase cooling costs by up to 15 percent, so an efficiently-functioning HVAC system can have a surprising effect on cooling costs. With a regular, routine maintenance schedule, you’ll save money every month. To keep your system running smoothly, clean and replace air filters, clean evaporator coils, shade your air conditioner, and ensure the condenser coils are unblocked.

 

    • Turn down the cool: Contrary to popular belief, servers do not have to be kept exactly between 13 and 16 degrees Celsius (°C). In recent tests conducted by Sun Microsystems and others, it was discovered that servers can actually tolerate much higher temperatures and levels of humidity than originally thought. So go ahead and turn the thermostat settings on your HVAC system up. Consumer Reports estimates that for every half of a degree Centigrade you raise your thermostat setting you shave three percent off your cooling costs. Big players like Google, Microsoft, and HP are even getting in on the savings. Google recommends nudging temperatures from 21°C to 26°C. By inching their thermostat by just 1-2°C, Microsoft realized annual energy savings of approximately AUS$380,000 in one Silicon Valley data centre. Following a similar change, HP hopes to reap the equivalent of AUS$12 million in annual energy savings. So the potential, even for smaller organizations, is pretty significant.

 

    • Ensure air flow is efficient: By this we mean to keep hot and cold air separate. Some very practical changes—like making sure the hot air from one server isn’t blowing directly into the air intake of another server—can drastically cut cooling costs by keeping the two air systems apart. Configure your room layouts to minimize mixing of hot and cold air, and then install barriers to further prevent this from occurring: blanking panels in server cabinets and aisle barriers are two options.

 

    • Monitor energy consumption: Knowing how much energy your data centre uses—for running the HVAC and powering the equipment—can go a long way to reducing your overall power consumption. To make the task of monitoring hassle-free, put a Direct Digital Control (DDC) system to work. With the information provided by your DDC, you’ll be able to reduce energy consumption today and predict what you’ll need to keep running in the future.

 

  • Use variable frequency drives on air handling units: By adjusting the rotational speed of your cooling fans with a variable frequency drive (VFD) system, you’re more accurately able to match cooling needs to actual demands. Slowing the speed during low-demand periods dramatically reduces energy requirements and can achieve a payback period of less than 16 months with a 50 percent reduction in power consumption.
    Shut off unused equipment: If you’ve got idle servers or cooling units, turn them off! It’s a simple solution that can quickly reduce your energy costs.

There is always bigger adjustments you can make, but these cost-effective options will get you saving quickly for a very low investment. Your costs will go down, and your carbon emissions along with them.

And if workload pressure has come off your team, what better way to use those available skills, than applying it into long term savings that can impact on your bottom line within the week.

Benchmarking Australia’s IT Use

Australia is ranked 7th and 14th in two recent reports on its effective use of information technology.

Consistently in front of Australia in both reports are the US, Sweden, Switzerland and Finland. Some note was made of the Nordic countries and Korea for their recent efforts.

The domestically perceived weakness of the broadband infrastructure, the associated industry haggles in telecommunications and the ongoing concerns over the quality of secondary and tertiary education may be impediments to moving up the scale.

The two published reports, one from the London School of Economics(i) and the other by the World Economic Forum(ii), assess countries according to their ‘connectivity’, i.e. the extent to which a country’s effective use of ICT is set in relation to its overall economic performance.

Of emerging interest is a ranking of how IT equipment is being dealt with after the end of its useful life. Our next news item profiles on one aspect of Green IT, how IT Equipment is being disposed of globally and how Australia ranks in this regard.

(i) Call to arms for governments worldwide to improve connectivity / Sandra Rossi. – In: Computerworld. – 1 February 2008.

(ii) UK relegated from ICT premier league / David Meyer. – In: ZDNet Australia. – 11 April 2008.

No More Technology in IT Department

Gartner looks into the future, or tries to define it, again. In “Traditional IT department to disappear in radical five year transition”, Gartner proposes that successful IT organisations will divide into at least two parts with one focused on technology sourcing and delivery while the other will focus on architecture and change. Their names may change from IT departments to process or innovation departments.

Previously we pointed to an article on Gartner’s vision of the future of organisational IT, which speculated that in five years time, commoditisation of products and services will lead to the demise of the technical functions of that unit of the business. Its focus will turn towards processes and innovation instead. Google sees the need for IT personnel to embrace this development or end up being pushed into obsolescence. According to Google, the responsibility of the company’s IT people will be “coaching users as to the best tools to choose to enhance their performance on the job”. Sounds something like “governance”?

Following on from the above, at Gartner’s ITXPO, advice was that the consumerisation of IT is now to “cause significant disruption in the technology sector”. The response to that was to be found in encouraging corporate IT to become innovative (“The IT Revolution Needs You”,2007). Subsequently, it was speculated that commoditisation of products and services threatens the subsistence of the entirely technical functions of corporate IT (see above). More precisely, Gartner has now identified 14 delivery models that have to be taken into consideration, which will transform the IT industry. In effect, these will, in many areas, supplant the traditional lifecycle of systems and applications, where the user “owned” at least part of the infrastructure, and retained “risk and responsibility for the overall design and management”. These “alternative” delivery models are meant to bypass the corporate IT function, and soon may be mainstream.

Dispute Over Extent of IT Legal Disputes

A new survey into the scope and frequency of legal disputes over IT-related contracts in Australia has raised some debate, with Gartner contradicting the findings and recommendations in the Australian IT of 25 September 2007.

The survey in question had been launched jointly by the Australian Computer Society (ACS), the Project Management Institute (PMI), and The Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia (IAMA) mid last year. Furthermore, the investigation was backed up by a host of other concerned industry groups: Australian Corporate Lawyers’ Association (ACLA), Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Software Queensland, Multimedia Victoria (MMV) and The Australian Telecommunications Users Group (ATUG), and has apparently been seconded by the Commonwealth Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

IAMA is promoting Alternative Dispute Resolution for the ICT industry and its clients through a special interest group. Some results of that survey have been published in the first newsletter of this IAMA SIG earlier this year. According to the Australian IT of 27 September an “Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) strategy aimed at the ICT industry jointly developed by the ACS and IAMA” has been launched last week. The strategy’s desirability was stressed by an IAMA representative pointing out that arbitration was more common, for example, in the UK and the US, where mediators had also statutory powers. The survey had been responded to by 400 companies, reporting 1,200 contracts out of which half resulted in some dispute. The proportion of those conflicts that escalated to formal arbitration was considered very high by the IAMA, especially since in one third of those cases the legal costs exceeded half a million dollars. Both poor project management and insufficient contracts are to be blamed for the severity of these quarrels.

Gartner’s view on the matter was entirely different, despite its research having looked at a different sample, i.e. companies from the Asia-Pacific region, and a different scope, i.e. technology sourcing. They said that only 3 per cent of contracts ended up in legal disputes, and that this was mainly due to alleged breach of software licence agreements. And of course, arbitration had been recommended by Gartner to their clients for ages already.

Disputes over intellectual property violations in relation to software seem to be rather rare. In contrast, Information Professionals’ own litigation support experience is that cases generally result from a combination of poor project management and/or insufficient contracts, consistent with the IAMA findings.

Heresy From Olde World of Banking

Technology in the financial industry would normally bring about thinking of mainframe computers, large projects, Basel II and well structured governance, however, that is being challenged. At the Technology & Innovation – the Future of Banking & Financial Services Conference in October, new Suncorp CIO, Jeff Smith outlined his view of IT governance. He believes that, applied to projects, it is overemphasised and hence in the end counterproductive. Structuring projects in a linear fashion with phases, gateways and sign-offs should be abandoned. Instead, by applying what is called agile methods, smaller teams should be working within short timeframes, undisturbed during that period. At the end of a month the work would be reviewed, corrections applied, or possibly cancelled if its value cannot be demonstrated. He also claimed that banks were becoming “more agile organisations” conducting more and more projects of six months duration only. These limited projects would aim to retain as much intellectual capital as possible in the company, strictly minimising outsourcing or offshoring of development and functions. As could be expected, the title of his keynote speech began with the words “Transformational change …”.