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Business change methodology gaps | Keep The Joint Running

Whatever else you do, give yourself a chance: Rename every project, initiative and strategic program in your organization to reflect the business change goal instead of the system name: Sales Force Effectiveness Project instead of Salesforce.com Implementation; Evidence-based Decision-making Initiative instead of Business Intelligence Implementation. The impact is surprisingly large. — Business change methodology gaps | IS Survivor Publishing.

Here is it is in a nutshell. Too often I’ve worked on building a computer program, rather than a business system. Now as I’m a computer programmer, what can you expect? Some might say, “well, I don’t want to know about the business system, just let me code”. And in some circumstances they could be right. But the thing I find is, that often the layers of people, business analysts, architects and managers are rarely thinking about the business system either, and that’s not even usually their fault either. Someone may have, long before project inception, thought they needed a “business change goal” as Bob Lewis puts it, but within a few minutes it is articulated as “we need a computer system to do X and Y” and ever since, that’s what’s been firmly in mind of everyone involved in the issue.

I always find the most useful question to ask any end-user, project manager, architect, business analyst etc, when clarifying ambiguity with them is not “what do you want the computer to do at this point?” but more importantly, “what goal are we trying to achieve?”. This allows me to formulate at least a couple of scenarios as to what the computer should “do” and allow the user to choose the most appropriate one.

This issue has become more and more apparent to me as I’ve been working these past few months on a important, high-visibility project inside a highly visible brand/player in Australian transport. The stuff I’m doing directly impacts the physical operation of the company’s equipment (and the equipment, on it); unlike most other systems I’ve built which are typically about shuffling information – usually monetary – about the place. The software I’m building has the ability to make hundreds, if not thousands of employees’ jobs easier to perform, create better integration between the company and the company’s vital partners, and maybe earn a little bit of kudos with the company’s customers as well (as they definitely use the outputs of the system). But the systems we are building are defined narrowly in scope in terms of just software components with quite limited goals. Talking to the end users and the business sponsor, when they express their needs in terms of what their jobs requires, you can see this vast field of lacunae and we’re not even impacting 10% of that. It’s frustrating to be telling them the usual mantra: “out of scope in this project”. Yet it also appears that at least certain members of management had attached a cargo-cult to the project, in that they thought it would magically solve a bunch of problems that it was never addressing, all the time while reducing the scope. Those false expectations have had to be hosed down in fairly short order. So while the need is clearly apparent to everyone involved, I certainly don’t see any effort to create a bigger “business change goal” anywhere articulated, even though its desperately needed.  Even if there is one somewhere in the higher echelons of management, there’s never been a a plan that tells us down here in implementation just where our project fits in, and how to shape it appropriately to meet those bigger goals, which is an issue. This is not just about strategic vision, but tactical necessity.

I’ll leave you with another quote from Bob’s article about the issue of “politics” (and I’m not saying that my issues above are “political”, there’s just organisational failure issues):

Politics isn’t a thin, unpleasant veneer — a distraction from the “real” work of organizational change. It constitutes, by its very definition, a great deal of the real work of organizational change.

Oh for people who know what company I’m currently engaged at, none of the above has anything to do with recent “issues” that have been in the media about that company either. It’s a deeper sort of malaise, one that’s particularly frustrating because you can sense that maybe there’s some chance that they they could be just this close to actually “getting it”, at least in regards to the project I’m on and the people whom it directly impacts.