Depending upon who you talk to and what segment of the market they work in, you’re likely to get very different views on the economic recovery and what it means to their organization. Some have indicated signs of recovery, while others are still talking about continued weakness and decline. Given this, “conventional wisdom” would suggest that this is a terrible time to go looking for funding for a new initiative.
Fortunately, conventional wisdom isn’t always right!
The fact is there is still a lot of money being spent and it brings us to the critical question: If this money is not going into IT budgets, where is it going? This is an easy answer. It’s going where the organization’s leadership has determined it will achieve the best possible benefit for the company.
Given that, IT executives need to start developing the skills and means required to match up IT initiatives with customer benefit.
One of the most reliable means of accomplishing this is through the continuous improvement program (CIP).
The concepts underlying CIP have been around for a long time. CIPs will generally have the following characteristics:
- They are based on smaller, well-defined blocks of work;
- That take advantage of an opportunity or resolve a problem;
- Which will be executed in a 90-day time horizon or less;
- And translate directly into some customer facing benefit that can be used to create a self-funding initiative.
A CIP operates a bit differently than other programs that the IT organization may be used to operating because, when implemented properly, they identify opportunities for improvement that:
Use metrics that can aid both the IT and customer organization to readily evaluate the potential benefits and/or prove that the problem has been eliminated;
- Help you make decisions with your customer about what initiatives to take on, and what to defer;
- Decide on the right means and timing for how to proactively report your progress back to your customer; and
- Help establish and reinforce the value you provide by demonstrating how your services help customers achieve their vital mission activities.
While a CIP does leverage core project and program management principles, it also introduces specific needs that go beyond what is normally considered as part of an IT project. The proper organization and operation of a CIP will allow you to take a structured approach to your improvement efforts and help keep them on track.
“Is this really different than what we already do?,” you might ask. The short answer is, yes, it is. Most project-based thinking and, in many cases, projects, are centered on technology and functionality. They don’t necessarily map easily or readily to organizational activities or service capabilities.
As a result, this is one of the first areas where IT organizations start losing their focus and moving away from the customer. Why does this happen? When we have difficulty establishing customer organizational priorities or actual business demand, technologists generally retreat into what they know and what is comfortable — “speeds and feeds”, technical capabilities, product features and so on.
What’s worse is this movement makes it easier to justify narrowing the focus on the IT organizations ability to execute current-state tasks or how to fight recurring problems, instead of charting new futures with customers. Additionally, as we move farther away from the customer, any lack of clarity about what is important to the customer will only grow and become more acute.
Without resolving this, it’s predictable that your: ·
- View of potential demand for services and their business importance will not be aligned with your customers view;
- Uncertainty about how spending should be allocated to support various initiatives will increase;
- Ability to properly validate requirements will be impaired; and
- Ability to provide accurate cost and schedule estimates to provide a given capability or enabling service will decrease. ·
The good news is that by utilizing CIP strategies, you will develop good mappings to activities and capabilities. In turn, this will help you avoid seemingly small or insignificant errors that can cascade throughout the service lifecycle and draw you even further off the mark. One of the key benefits here is that every cycle through the CIP will help bolster your credibility and relationship with your customer; moving you one step closer to having a proactive basis for engaging your customers, not a reactive one.
Not just more process improvement
The short answer is, no, it isn’t. The vast majority of process improvement initiatives fail to realize the targeted benefits. To make things more challenging, the targeted benefits may have little or no relevance to the customer. Attempts at using process improvement to gain advantage often fall short of anticipated results because of:
- Gradual, unmanaged increases in size and scope of the process improvement effort;
- Seemingly excessive time horizons required before seeing tangible results and benefit;
- The perceived need to make wholesale changes needed to adopt and realize the benefit; and/or
- The lack of in-house expertise in organizational transformation.
Utilizing CIP strategies can help you mitigate these risks and manage your costs by ensuring that the changes that you’ve targeted for your organization are always customer relevant, properly sized and well targeted.
Actions IT Executives Can Take Today
1. Set the example for your staff: Adopt continuous improvement as your initiative and demonstrate its importance and relevance.
2. Establish a program office to lead your CIP, even if it’s not staffed with dedicated, full-time resources to operate it.
3. Learn to speak your customers’ language, especially the language of finance. Learn the key criteria that are used to evaluate funding decisions and what is expected in return.
4. Celebrate your successes with your team and your customer. Use your results to build your relationships internally and externally.
5. Train your staff in the fundamentals of effective problem management(the keystone of any CIP).
6. Develop your people to and create an environment in which they can lead these initiatives. Visible support from the senior IT leadership team will be critical to gaining momentum.
Much of what you need to establish and operate your own CIP is already at your disposal. Whatever missing pieces there may be, can be acquired quickly and cost effectively. By tying your CIP to tangible, customer-focused benefits, you increase your likelihood of getting the funding you need by building the credibility needed to take on larger, more ambitious initiatives.
After all, if you can’t (or don’t) make the case for why your team should get that funding, someone else will.
In his current role as a managing partner at Engaged Consulting, Ken Gonzalez is accountable for a wide range of activities that include such critical areas as internal business operations, business and partner development, new service definition and development, to actual customer-facing service delivery and engagement management. In addition to his primary job, Mr. Gonzalez also currently serves as VP of the not-for-profit Service Management Society, Inc. (SM-S). Prior to his current role, Mr. Gonzalez most recently served as Product Team Leader for Data Center Solutions at Symantec.