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Uncommon IT Sense for Turbulent Times
In chaotic times the very common sense knee-jerk reaction to investments in information technology is to “slash and burn,” - suspend, delay, and limit projects, and impose across the board spending cuts. In any economic crisis or downturn, short-sighted conventional thinking can seriously undermine the ability to execute those activities that are critical to “weathering the storm” and ultimately recovering.
There is a better way!
Turbulent times call for more “uncommon sense” to target investments in those areas that save costs without undermining capability, and that can increase efficiency, improve productivity and yes, increase revenue.
In Chaotics, notable business strategists Philip Kotler and John Caslione suggest that “Downturns give companies a chance to buck conventional wisdom ... ” and that ‘targeted investments in many areas can generate efficiencies and revenue growth that surpass the savings from straight cost reductions.” For Information Technology they suggest a focus on areas with a high probability of achieving very near-term revenue and efficiency gains, such as:
How can we ‘sharpen our focus” and more mindfully invest in targeted IT efforts that have immediate and substantial impact? Consider the following principles and approach to strengthen your operations in turbulent times and emerge leaner, more resilient and more profitable.
High-Impact Quick-Win Performance Improvement
Focus on mission-critical, core businesses processes and the pain points, obstacles, revenue leakage, inefficiencies, waste, backlog, sub-optimal service levels, performance issues, frustrations, customer experience, etc. Forget about the idea of “low hanging fruit.” Identify the mission critical issues!
What hurts? Where are the gaps? What cycles? What processes? Where’s the pain, right now? What hurts, and hurts the most? Where’s the gap in performance or capability between actual and desired? Ask your customers, suppliers and your employees. They know what’s in the way of great performance. The numbers also tell the story. Focus on what really matters.
Identify “bite-sized” projects with clearly articulated business results, a “tight” business case and realistic set of deliverables. Smaller and more focused projects are easier to resource, easier to understand, easier to approve, easier to obtain buy-in and commitment, and faster to complete.
Ensure all efforts are self-funding in terms of achieving positive, measurable results significantly greater than the cost or investment. Provide tangible evidence of the performance gap and quantify the impact on business results. Focus on the key issues and pain points for quick wins, quick payback, and a solid return on investment.
Get the commitment and sign off of the CFO and the operators. Clearly articulate the goals, vision, strategy, financial impact, and create alignment with and commitment to the effort. Clarify the ground-rules for decision making especially those values and considerations that are not to be compromised.
Minimize risk through an iterative, incremental development cycle. Iterative execution is designed to achieve significant wins quickly and reduce overall project risk by working in ‘digestible chunks’, with regular deliverables, regular oversight, and feedback mechanisms. It is an action – learning model in which all of the key success factors – design, governance, process, tools and technology – are thoroughly addressed in each “chunk” or phase of work.
Focus on speed, flexibility and action. Go with what makes sense and don’t wait for perfection. Just do it! Start only what you can finish crisply. If we can’t do it all today, identify the portion of what can be done right now. Elevate issues quickly if they become obstacles and deal with unforeseen obstacles and issues immediately to reaffirm goals and objectives. Focus on simplicity and speed of action learning for effective change management.
Involve your people for effective knowledge transfer and sustainability. Assemble the right team. Be inclusive. Empower and delegate. Let go and let them work. Define the effort, set the ground-rules, launch, measure performance, learn, and readjust where required. The role of executives is to identify and remove blockages and to manage the process of change. Let the team execute.
Engage the experts. Yes, invest in outside consultants and services with direct subject-matter expertise who can bring an unbiased expert perspective to make an immediate impact. You can accelerate the effort and minimize the risk without a long term commitment or cost.
Downshift to engage more flexible, agile and high performing resources. Partner with smaller firms that have the capability and range of technical expertise you require and the speed and responsiveness of a smaller organization and dedicated team.
Start small, with more manageable assessments, audits, reviews, diagnostics, scans, tests, benchmarking to identify specific issues, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, performance gaps and opportunities.
Move to pilot projects, strategic roadmaps or projects taking a deeper review and assessment to confirm the business results unique to your circumstances and to validate the business case and minimize risk. Continue working in ‘digestible chunks,’ with regular deliverables, ongoing oversight, and feedback mechanisms.
Celebrate success as your teams work on high impact, quick win projects and achieve tangible business results. Foster an atmosphere of action, learning, teaming, high performance and results.
The high-impact quick-win approach can be applied to all areas of business processes and technology and it is grounded and clearly focused on achieving tangible business results, quickly and efficiently. I do assert that given the turbulence and uncertainty we will face in the future, this “uncommon-sense” model of development will become the norm.
Let’s identify examples where the high-impact quick-win approach can support Kottler and Caslione’s insights in Chaotics, Thriving in the Age of Turbulence. The authors have identified several pragmatic steps executives can take today to create organizations that are more responsive, robust and resilient.
Make strategic planning more dynamic, interactive and compressed into shorter time cycles – sequenced in three month intervals, rather than reviewed and adjusted once per year.
Do you have the capability to compress and accelerate planning cycles, rolling forecasts, multiple scenarios and performance measurement systems? An immediate review of your business intelligence, strategic, financial and operational planning systems may be in order.
Facilitate cross-functional decision-making at key levels to drive better, faster decisions. Key Decision makers must be connected with more frequent and faster communication channels. More stakeholders should be included in the discussion and decision-making process.
Do you have the capability to provide decision-makers more real-time, higher quality information with enhanced communications, productivity and accountability? These issues can take us into the realm of business intelligence, all forms of communication, infrastructure and portals – for customers, employees, supplier, partners and stakeholders.
Break large organizations down into smaller, flatter groups and subgroups to facilitate and achieve faster reaction times. Responsibilities, authorities and accountabilities should be driven down to the lowest possible level. The smaller groups must be able to reach other relevant groups on a global basis.
Do you have the capability to adapt, support and empower a flatter, more distributed and yet highly connected and effective organization? These issues touch on several areas including portal strategy and execution, enterprise content management, communications, infrastructure, user experience and usability testing.
Other areas of opportunity include: Outsourcing – all non-core IT infrastructure to experienced and secure service providers; Web space – design, usability, content optimization, interactivity, self-service and multiple channel operations; Project execution and quality assurance; as well as Business Process Improvement.
The high-impact quick-win approach is most relevant in these turbulent times to save costs, improve capability, increase efficiency, improve productivity, increase revenue and enable organizations to be more responsive, robust, resilient, mindful and profitable.
For additional information or to schedule a conversation to explore how the high-impact quick-win approach can be applied in your organization please email firstname.lastname@example.org , or call 416 985-7916.
For additional information on the very timely book Chaotics by Philp Kotler and John Caslione published by Amacom, please visit their website www.chaoticsstrategies.com/ .
Many more articles in The CIO Refresher in The CEO Refresher Archives