March 2014

Several pocket watches

Manual workarounds: There’s no such thing as a “few seconds”

Several pocket watchesLet’s face it, we’ve all been there.  Whilst working on a project which will deliver some kind of change within an operational area, we face unexpected difficulties late in the delivery lifecycle.   Perhaps we find out that something we were hoping to do is much more complex than we’d anticipated, or maybe time and budget are running out.  The project manager and sponsor are on the case:  We must deliver on time, so yet another round of prioritisation meetings are called.   We need to take a metaphorical machete to our project and our requirements with a view to delivering something smaller and cheaper that is still “fit for purpose”.     That is quite a challenge, but one that I’m sure will resonate with many readers!


A hypothetical example…

Let’s build on this idea and imagine for a moment that we work in a mid-size organisation that is progressing a project to launch a brand new customer self-service portal.   The objectives are to encourage customers to submit changes online, rather than ringing through to the call centre.   The project’s business case is built around efficiency savings, reduced number of phone calls and intangible benefits including better customer satisfaction.   The original intention was that when a customer submits their information via the web, it’ll automatically feed through to the master customer database, updating the details immediately.


However, we face a sudden and unexpected problem — we’ve suddenly had our project budget cut by 30%, and there are pressures to deliver even quicker than originally planned.   So, we convene an urgent prioritisation meeting.  We take up our role as facilitator and start to discuss what we could do differently, or which features or functions we are going to de-scope from the project.


The conversation gets heated remarkably quickly – our stakeholders egos start to show themselves.  Different stakeholders have different worldviews and are politically exposed in different ways.

The sponsor opens the meeting sternly:


“We absolutely must deliver on time.  We’ve announced the delivery date to the press, and we simply can’t be seen to have yet another delayed project.”


Discussion continues.  People start to ask how this situation has occurred.  A range of potential  re-scoping options are discussed, but it isn’t possible to get agreement.  One stakeholder suggests that we should seriously consider cancelling the project altogether, but this voice is quickly quashed. The conversation is moving on quickly when one of the other senior stakeholders (who used to be an operational team leader 20 years ago) interjects:


 “Right, I think I have a solution.  We can deliver everything on time and within budget”.


The room’s attention is immediately drawn to the stakeholders face.   She waits a moment and then breaks the silence.

Figure at red intersection of arrows

More data doesn’t (always) mean more insight: The old chestnut of “MI Requirements”

Figure at red intersection of arrowsI hazard a guess that many of us have worked in organisations where data is, quite understandably, seen as the crucial “life blood”.  Data can be an important asset that not only keeps the operation ticking over but also drives informed decision making.  Not only can good quality data help us to benchmark organisational (and individual) performance, it also helps us to spot trends and anticipate future customer needs.  Managers and executives need reliable and accurate data to make tactical and strategic decisions—and in some cases this may lead to repeated requests for more and more data.  We might find that a mini-industry is created in crafting internal “Management Information” reports, often involving triangulating data from multiple, disparate systems, with an associated risk of error.   We may well initiate projects to automate the creation of reports so that we can get them to our stakeholders quicker, faster and in greater quantity.


This addiction to data is understandable – after all, organisations need to rationalise and justify the decisions they make.   Whether a company is multinational, mid-size or even a small entrepreneur, it’s vital to know how things are performing and where improvements can be made.   However, there’s a real danger that a dependency on misleading data can lead to delays, indecision and could even damage decision making.  Put simply, more data doesn’t always create more insight.  And this has a significant impact for businesses, projects and business analysis.