Stephen Reilly

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Organization Development and Change

For Improvements in information Technology Effectiveness

Synergystics has been successful at reducing cost, increasing benefits and improving organization effectiveness by creating an environment where people are committed to quantum leap improvements in delivering business benefits.

We developed the approach in 2002 when we observed that companies were not achieving a high level of productivity with information technology despite the fact that they were following a structured, well thought out approach including the use of PMI Certified Project Managers and a complete systems project life cycle methodology. For what seemed like well organized projects, the people were not performing at capacity, the cost of initiatives exceeded plan, development activities took longer than seemed reasonable, the benefits were significantly below expectations, approximately 30% of projects failed, the information technology function continued to under performed management expectations and business people and IT people didn't get along with each other. What's wrong with this picture?

However, we saw an improvement in performance when teams were enthusiastic and people were committed to the change. In this environment, the people figured out ways to get things done and the benefits exceeded what was envisioned at the start of the project.  Our question was how to duplicate this high level of performance across companies and projects?

Study design

In order to determine what was required to improve IT productivity we surveyed over 200 people representing 150 companies and over 300 projects to determine what worked and what didn't work. The people surveyed included executive management, operating management and Information technology.

Summary of Findings

From this survey we determined that in most cases, companies manage IT initiatives following an orderly, well thought out structured approach but do not address people, organization development and business process issues early in the development process. As a result, the people involved in the project are less than committed to the proposed change and the results are marginal. However, when the company leadership strives to achieve a high level of commitment on the part of both the business people and the IT people the project results are superior. The survey demonstrated that superior results are achieved when projects are handled as IT enabled business change projects.

The Normal Development Process that we observed

The normal systems development process follows a well thought out, structured process as outlined in a company standards and procedure manual that attempts to address all of the known risks. These processes include:

Ó The Project objectives and metrics are defined and agreed by management. But, since they are imposed from the top, the organization doesn't feel committed to deliver these results.

Ó The business plan and business objectives lack clarity and haven't been communicated to the organization and the project objectivities aren't tied to business objectives. As a result, the people in the organization don't understand why the project is important and don't understand what's expected of them.

Ó An Executive level steering committee is established to allocate resources to IT initiatives, establish priorities and monitor progress but the steering committee doesn't function very well because people don't understand their roles and the people aren't open and honest with each other. Everyone on these high level committees are worried about survival and behave in a guarded manner.

Ó The project objectives are communicated to the organization in a memo, reinforced in staff meetings and pushed in project status reports and memos which get lost in the blizzard of information that people receive every day.

Ó Cross-functional teams are established to involve operational people in the systems development process but the teams don't work very well because people assigned to the teams are already busy, they don't understand their role on the team and they lack required experience. As a result, most cross-functional teams are dysfunctional.

Ó Current business processes are mapped early in the development process but the new business processes and the new organization are redesigned late in the development process so people don't have an understanding of what to expect or where they will fit in the new structure.

Ó A project specific work plan is developed following the company Systems Project Life Cycle standards which includes a development methodology. The plan projects staffing required by skill by time frame and the projects are staffed with an appropriate number of people.  

Ó Consultants are hired to manage and perform new systems development work. As a result of the type of people who work for consulting firms ("hill takers") and the leadership roles that they are asked play, the company people are pushed into the background and disenfranchised.

Ó Office space for the team and the conference room pilot is arranged to isolate the team from the people operating the company to give them a place to do their work. However, the result is disenfranchises all of the people who aren't included in the new development team. And, some who are included and don't have the time to think about the new world because they are consumed operating the existing business.

Ó The technical and application architecture is designed by information technology people and there is an IT migration strategy so integration and conversion work can be detailed.

Ó The System is broken into modules that make IT conversion easier from a technical point of view with some consideration to adding business functionality early.

Ó Training is planed and conducted for functional and technical capabilities but non technical skills are not addressed. The training is not effective because there isn't a good way to verify that the people understand how to operate the new system and the development teams are light on the people skills required.

As a result of these gaps, the people don't understand why the project is important and don't understand what's expected of them. A few project management people are committed but everyone else is either mildly interested, skeptical or inwardly hostile. The organization continues to resist new technology and new business processes since people are afraid of how the new technology will affect them, the information technology function continues to under perform, the people don't change their behavior. the benefits from innovations are less than expected and changes take longer than expected

Proposed Process

Where the initiatives were delivered on plan the following characteristics were evident and there was a high level of commitment:

Ó The projects are business initiatives, IT enabled. The business people are responsible to deliver the benefits and the IT people are responsible to deliver the technology. When the projects are seen as IT projects the teams don't focus on the intent of the project, which is to achieve a business objective, and the best people are not assigned.

Ó There is clarity in the organization on the business strategy and people understand their individual responsibilities to have the business accomplish its objectives. Once people understand their responsibilities anything that will help the people accomplish these goals will be supported.

Ó The project objectives are linked to the business objectives with agreed metrics so that everyone can see how the project helps accomplish business goals and for them to achieve their individual responsibilities. Senior management agrees to business objectives and metrics as developed by the people in the organization.

Ó There is a strong focus on treating people with respect and listening to them in order to achieve a high level of personal commitment. Maslov described this in "The Hierarch of Human Needs" and it still true today. There are some basic requirements that we have as human beings and one of the strongest needs is to be needed.

Ó The cross-functional teams, which are organized around business processes, are depended upon to drive the change process. This allows the people to know that they can and do make a difference to the business. It is the leaders responsibility to give the people the ability to succeed and the peoples' responsibility to deliver results. Once the teams understand that they are responsible and they start delivering results the enthusiasm increases. 

Ó The Teams include best practice organization development professionals as facilitators and an industrial engineer to measure results and push for performance. The facilitators serve as the catalysts to push for change and IE's measure if the results are improving. Together with the leader and the individual contributors the teams perform a high level and make a significant contribution to the business.

Ó The new business processes and the new system are designed by a team composed of senior people using a collaborative, Socratic approach where the business people perform and own the design. The design approach and the type of people assigned assure that the business people own the new system. In the more traditional approach were the analysts design the system by asking questions and tailoring a working model of the system, the ownership and commitment resides with the analyst not the businessperson who is responsible to deliver the results.

Ó The design team includes experienced senior facilitator people who have the respect of the business people. These people are trained to ask questions and have a quiet confidence.

Ó Outsourcing is used to provide people to work on existing systems and operations that allow company people to work on new system development activities.

Ó Where outside consultants are used to provide special skills or handle peak loads, they are partnered with company people and leave shortly after the new system goes into production. The company people have to know that they are responsible to deliver the results and the consultants are there to help, not to do the work.

Ó Creative advertising professionals deliver develop and implement a marketing program to sell the vision for the future inside the company and outside the company. These programs are modeled after the types of multimedia, repetitive campaigns that are done to sell a new product to the market. And, when the same message is seen multiple times on different media, people start to believe the message.

Ó  The new business processes and organization requirements are defined early in the development process. This is important so people will understand the target business processes and where they will fit. If the people are worried about their future, they will perform at less than capacity.

Ó The new organization is designed early in the development process involving organization development professionals and the business teams develop a plan to transition into the new organization. People understand how they will transition to the new organization through individual development programs to prepare them for transition project roles and on going role.

Ó Training is determined to be complete when the people are comfortable with new processes and operation is piloted before production; training involves role-playing, practice and coaching and includes non-technical subjects like listening and public speaking.

Ó Experienced coaches are used to improve team and individual performance. Quality coaches are able to see things that people don't see themselves and allow both teams and individuals to continue to perform at higher levels of excellence. This is a journey.

    • The Information technology architecture is detailed and migration planed.
    • A collaboration tool enables the cross-functional teams and project management by keeping lines of communication open.

Ó The project is managed using rigorous project management with the team members owning responsibility to deliver results.

Ó The system is delivered in releases that deliver business value early and frequently in order to maintain interest and generate enthusiasm.

In summary, the successful projects were handled as business change projects that were enabled by IT. The successful projects were not seen by the organization as IT projects. This is not surprising because Jim Collins found and reported in "Good to Great" that successful companies use information technology as an enabler, not as the path finder..

As Kenneth Blanchard said, "There is a great difference between simple interest and commitment. When you are interested in doing something you do it only when it's convenient. When you are committed to something you accept no excuses only results."