Why are so many IT business improvement projects proving difficult to deliver or failing completely? Oliver Lock of consultancy Double Diamond Delivery explores this question and discusses what can be done to build the right foundations.
Projects fail when they have shaky foundations, with a lack of an overall vision, unclear outcomes and poorly-defined requirements and processes as major factors. The desire to jump straight to solutions, often interim or tactical, without fully understanding either future business needs or the technology roadmap can mean a project is doomed from the start.
In the current economic climate, organisations want to embark on business change and transformation programmes as vehicles to achieve efficiencies. In the housing sector, this is a significant issue, where funding for such projects is in short supply and streamlined ways of working are essential in delivering cost savings. Housing providers therefore need to ensure that their investments deliver returns in reasonable timescales and any changes introduced are sustainable and future-proof; after all, few organisations embark on a transformation programme twice.
Double Diamond Delivery has a methodology built over the past decade, with consultants specialising in Microsoft Dynamics but also able to leverage any new technologies to achieve business improvements. Our approach means we can look at the desired end-state of an organisation and produce the right technology roadmap to support business goals.
In our experience, the common complaints during projects are:
- The requirement wasn’t clear;
- The solution doesn’t meet my requirements;
- The users don’t like or won’t use the system because it doesn’t align with the business process;
- The build of the solution is bigger than expected;
- The project plan needs to change because milestones haven’t been met;
- The business process is complicated;
- The solution is complicated;
- Business decision-making is slow;
- The project’s ‘health status’ has rapidly gone from ‘green’ to ‘red’ or from ‘on track’ to ‘behind schedule’;
- Multiple change-requests have been logged by the technology partner against the agreed contract;
- Some or all of the project’s scope, time and cost have increased;
- The project’s benefits haven’t been realised or aren’t being tracked at all.
Delivering ‘as is’ processes on new technologies, not new business benefits
A common mistake many organisations make is to develop, almost by accident, their current processes with new technology; it’s hard to step away from the way we work now to develop a future business model. Many hours are lost navigating current users away from their ‘as is’ world into new ways of thinking. There is a skill to facilitating workshops that challenge the status quo and encourages the art of the possible. A robust set of design principles is invaluable in helping users to create something new.
Mobilising a business team for success
Successful projects are able to harness the skills and knowledge of subject matter experts and use other organisational knowledge; the ideal team needs a mix of skills. Always include people grounded in the subject in question but don’t be afraid to include a disruptive influence who will provide challenge and innovation. Add in a skilled business analyst and a solution architect and you have all the right ingredients.
Projects can’t be done ‘to’ people or imposed on business areas. There must be collaboration and cooperation because the implementation team will depend on engagement and buy-in, resources in the form of subject matter experts (or product owners who look after elements of an end-solution) and, above all, a high level of take-up.
Setting the right foundations
Here is a sample of our methodology; they might appear to be obvious but if you’re currently involved in a project, you might want to check you have these in place:
1. Business vision & case for change
- A clear business vision – can this be explained in a few sentences?
- Target operating model – do you know what your business will look like in its transformed state?
- Clear business benefits defined (and perhaps quantified) – can you describe the benefits to customers and users?
- Definition of business outcomes and scope of change landscape – do you know what will be new and the change interventions needed?
- True ‘as is’ business, technology and data landscapes – have you just mapped the technology?
- Priority decisions logged, with the assumptions and dependencies understood – are you clear on the big decisions ahead?
- Scope and delivery plan – can you lock down the scope and at least plot some key milestones?
2. Defining a target operating model
Transformation programmes are most successful when they are designed to achieve a new target operating model; this acts as a blueprint for how the organisation will run in the future and helps to identify any knock-on effects of your decisions. There are some standard approaches to creating a target operating model, but the real art is being able to define the initiatives needed and keeping the business roadmap in lock-step with the technology roadmap.
3. Defining the future state
Working together, with a blend of skills and capabilities, the future state can be achieved through:
- Driving forward the implementation of your target operating model;
- Organisational design considerations as you determine the impact of any changes and the shape/size of new organisational structures;
- Future business-process definition and ways of working to deliver new outcomes;
- The logical design of business outcomes to your technology capabilities, which in turn can limit customisation;
- Business requirements’ definition, including user-story production aligned to real processes and experiences;
- Process and requirement delivery backlog (e.g. via Azure DevOps);
- Solution design blueprints at business, functional and technical levels;
- Business impact assessment of future ways of working which can then align to change management interventions;
- Change and communication plans to keep everyone informed;
- Detailed planning to find the critical path and therefore the path to success.
4. Shared understanding between business & technology teams
The term ‘shared understanding’ is crucial in the earlier phases. All parties must be aligned to ensure that what is designed and planned is actually what is going to be built and delivered. Business and technology teams often don’t speak the same language; there should be an experienced party in between translating their respective languages and ensuring alignment.
We can offer a start-up guide to get your programmes up and running with all the right elements and identify the gaps you need to fill. Our experienced teams have seen and heard it all; nothing will surprise us!
Oliver Locke is a director of Double Diamond Delivery.