We say we’re running IT projects. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re running business projects that just happen to be enabled by technology. Technology is often presented as a solution to everything. It isn’t. It’s only a tool. A tool is only as good as the worker. And workers are only as good as their understanding of the job. When workers don’t know what to do, IT projects fail, and failures like this happen far too often.
When 70% of enterprise IT and 85% of AI / Big Data projects fail, something is seriously wrong. There are a lot of very smart, hard-working, dedicated professionals on these projects, and yet, we’re not getting the desired results. What we’re doing is not working. It’s time for a different approach—one that puts the business first and ensures that everyone understands exactly what it is that the business needs to do. We have that approach—it’s very different from what most people have seen—but we can teach you how to get up and running in a matter of days. Click the links below to learn more.
How We Work
Who we work with & why
There are three groups involved in almost every enterprise IT project: customers, service providers and coordinators.
- Customers are business units who are the intended project beneficiaries.
- Service providers are IT departments and vendors who deliver the system.
- Coordinators are project managers (PMs) and analysts who define and manage the work.
When an IT project fails because business requirements weren’t communicated, it’s a safe bet that everyone involved in that project contributed to that failure. The reason that’s the case is because everyone involved is human, and the way the human brain works is the root cause of those failure.
What makes fixing and preventing these failures so difficult is that no one realizes that’s the case. We think the root cause is something else. We look at the people close to the failure and assume they’re the ones responsible. We assume they were careless or incompetent. And we assume we would have done better. There’s only one problem with this thinking—those assumptions are wrong.
The human brain doesn’t work the way we thought it worked. It controls us in ways we never imagined. It tricks us into believing and saying things that aren’t true. It makes us think we’ve accurately shared all the information that needs to be shared—when we haven’t. It constantly sabotages our project communications, and none of us have any idea it’s happening.
If we want to end these failures, we need to do two things. First, we need to get everyone involved to understand that the source of the problem isn’t a function of being careless or incompetent. It’s a function of how our brain works. Second, we need to teach those people how to overcome this issue by putting a process in place to protect us against behaviors that no one can control.
We work with these three groups—business customers, tech teams, project managers and analysts—to do just that.
What we do
We don’t take over projects or IT departments. We teach you a way to bridge business and IT. We explain some neuroscience and best practices. And we support you while you master these techniques. We’ll work with you live, online, remote. We’re not instructors delivering a lecture nor contractors performing a role. We’re player/coaches. You’ll always have two of us in every session and they’ll always have decades of hands-on, C-suite and practitioner experience.
Our coaches bring multiple perspectives to each client to provide a richer learning environment, offer practical alternatives and transfer wisdom as fast as possible. We’re here to close the gap between what science now knows and what your organization currently does so you can better serve your business and deliver for your customers. We’re big on the “teach a man to fish” idea, and we take a four step approach to that process.
Step One – Assess:
No two organizations are the same. We don’t know where (or even whether) you need our help until we understand where your team, project, and organization stand today. That’s why we start with an assessment that looks at two things—is your IT project (or department) covering all the bases, and are your assumptions reasonable? Think of this as a pre-flight checklist.
Although the territory we cover is exhaustive, this isn’t a long exercise. With 300 years of combined experience, we know exactly what we’re looking for. Assuming your team is available to meet with ours, we’ll have our answers in two weeks. After we review our findings with you, we’ll both be able to make an informed decision about what to do next.
Step Two – Instruct:
Assuming everyone agrees to proceed, we’ll start by laying a foundation. We’ll explain the problems we see, how those problems are presenting themselves and why they’re happening. We’ll explain how and why people fail to communicate, introduce you to the business execution lifecycle and show you a checklist that can be used to follow a business process and unpack the details necessary to automate and track it.
This is the “watch one” phase, but it’s highly interactive with time for exercises, questions and real-world examples. To ensure that everyone relevant to your success starts on the same page and that all questions are answered, we keep classes to a minimum of 10 and maximum of 20. Larger teams usually necessitate additional sessions.
Step Three – Model:
Once you’ve got the basics, it’s time to apply them. In Step Three we’ll work side-by-side with you to model the application of the principles, framework and checklist introduced in Step Two to either a current project or component business process.
These workshops typically run two to three days and are led by the same coaches you worked with previously. If something can’t be adequately addressed in three days—and we’ll work with you to properly size the effort—we strongly recommend breaking the project/process down into smaller, more manageable components. Our goal is to give you a complete, end-to-end illustration of the entire process before you attempt to tackle it on your own.
Step Four – Support:
They say you never learn something until you have to teach it. And then you’re usually shocked by all the things you thought you knew that you didn’t. Following the workshop, it’s time for you to take the lead in implementing what you’ve learned—but taking the lead doesn’t mean flying solo. We’ll be right beside you until you’re ready to fly on your own. We’ll support you—in whatever form works best for you from coach to fractional CIO—to fill gaps, answer questions, offer alternatives, and refine your mastery of the process.
What we expect from you. We expect you to be mentally present for our sessions. You can’t learn to fish, if you’re not on the lake! We hate wasting time as much as you do. So we want to make the most of our time together.
What you can expect from us: We’re committed to cultivating a discipline of execution excellence within your organization. That said, while we can teach you the material in a couple of weeks, we don’t expect you to become an expert in that time. Your mastery of these methods will evolve and grow as you practice over time. As with the mastery of any discipline, success is a process you embrace, not an event that you achieve.
The Business Execution Lifecycle
There are hundreds of reasons why large IT projects fail, but one reason towers above the rest. Tech industry analysts are nearly unanimous in this assessment—one issue brings down 75% of all enterprise IT and 85% of all AI / Big Data project failures.
The reason those projects fail is because teams never get a shared understanding of what it is that the business needs to do. You can’t automate a process if you don’t know what that process is. You can’t analyze the performance of a process if you don’t understand what that process is trying to do.
Business-people aren’t telling the technologists everything they need to know. And technologists aren’t asking the business the right questions to capture all the details they need to code or configure the system. Contrary to common belief, these oversights are neither intentional nor malicious. They’re not a function of incompetence. They are a function of human evolution. This is literally the way our brains are hard-wired to behave.
Neuroscience has learned a lot about the human brain in the last 20 years. One particularly significant discovery is that our behavior is frequently controlled by an unconscious auto-pilot that runs constantly in the back of our minds. More problematic, most people don’t know this auto-pilot exists, and fewer still know when it’s engaged. The primary function of this auto-pilot is to synthesize, summarize and make sense of large volumes of complex information. It performs these operations well, but it does so at the expense of accuracy and completeness—an enormous amount of detail is lost in summation. During IT projects our auto-pilots cause us to accidentally overlook critical pieces of data. Those missing details lead to gaps (or silence) in the descriptions of business processes and requirements. The silent voids created by those gaps can be fatal to the success of a project. To overcome this neurological impediment, we need to find a solution that does not rely on the vagaries of human memory to recall every piece of necessary information.
Sometimes the only way to make sure you’ve checked all the boxes, closed all the gaps, and filled the silent voids—that you have gathered all the information you need—is to literally check all the boxes!
The Business Execution Lifecycle Checklist is designed to do just that. It captures and documents requirements for both sides of the execution lifecycle. This open source, back-to-basics methodology looks at business execution in a new light and explains things you intrinsically knew, but in a way you never thought of before. Working this checklist makes the confusing, clear; the sophisticated, simple; and the ambiguous, definitive. By reducing detailed descriptions to writing, it also forces compliance with best practice and removes another potential source of confusion—divergent mental images of the same thing held in the minds of different people.
The Business Execution Lifecycle
The Checklist focuses on the business—not the technology. It’s a framework for process mining and an inventory of business needs, not a prescription of technology solutions. We believe that business needs always come first. We also believe that technology offers multiple ways to meet any particular requirement. But you have to know your needs before you can find the best solution.
It’s said that “it’s the simple stuff that’ll kill you.” The Business Execution Lifecycle Checklist helps you catch the simple stuff—details you probably would have overlooked—so you can eliminate the simple oversights that cause 75% of large IT projects and 85% of AI and Big Data projects to fail. By systematically applying lessons learned from neuroscience to a simple and elegant checklist that’s customized for enterprise IT projects, we’re filling the silent voids that hurt most projects.
Business Strategy to IT Execution
The executive leadership of an organization defines the business strategy—what it is that the business is trying to do. The IT department is charged with faithfully interpreting that strategy, providing management with options to reach their goals, automating execution of the tactics that are chosen, and reporting on performance. The last three jobs can be fairly straight-forward if you’re able to do the first job well—but properly interpreting a business strategy can be very difficult.
When “what it is that the business is trying to do” is inaccurately or incompletely communicated from business executives to IT things start to breakdown. And those breakdowns happen constantly—resulting in 75% of all IT project failures. For reasons that neuroscience has recently begun to understand business people struggle to fully communicate all they know, and IT staff struggle to help the business tell their story.
This impasse has often led to a misstatement by IT that, “We know what the business needs better than they do.” The truth is they don’t. It’s not that the business doesn’t know what they need. It’s that they don’t know how to explain what they need, and IT doesn’t know how to ask the right questions to get that information. Unfortunately, neither side knows that they don’t know.
Resolving these ‘unknown, unknowns’ has never been more important—both because of the staggering losses involved and the on-going transition to a remote, gig economy which will make those losses even worse. The more transient our workforce—the less we can rely on our worker’s tribal knowledge and institutional expertise—the more important it is that we develop business processes that capture, curate and preserve institutional knowledge so that the organization can thrive even when workers come and go.
Fortunately, we do know the questions to ask to help business executives fully communicate what it is they are trying to do. We also know how to encapsulate institutional knowledge in a process—and in a couple of weeks we can teach your team how to do both. Contact us for a free consultation.
Data, Analytics & Reporting
As bad as the overall failure rates are for large IT projects, the failure rates for analytics and AI projects are worse. Over 85% of these projects are complete write-offs—total failures. And the reason they fail? Again, our neural programming causes us to accidentally overlook critical details about our business processes. The result being that gaps and silent voids are created so technologists don’t understand what the business needs or what they should look for.
Our work in this area is based on a simple premise. Business is about doing something—it’s the process of moving a “ball” from point A to point B as fast and efficiently as you can while generating as much profit and growth as possible. Although there are thousands of variations on a theme, there are only three basic types of process performance measures: volume, velocity and efficiency. Understanding and improving that process is everything. And mining and mapping that process is the foundation of that effort.
Once the process has been mapped and process participants have been measured. There are only three questions that need to be asked to decide where to prioritize your scarce management resources:
- What’s ok, and what’s not ok?
- Who or what is involved? and
- What’s the cost?
Organizations often lose sight of this simple formula. They make matters worse by forgetting three critical facts. First, your reporting strategy for a process IS your management communications strategy. An organization will focus where their leadership tells them to focus and ignore what leadership ignores. Second, there’s only one reason to write a report—to answer a question about your execution and improve your competitiveness. If you can’t articulate a business question worth answering, don’t waste time writing a report. Third, if you tell a team to focus on more than 3-4 items, they’ll effectively focus on none (this is another of our mental limitations). Rogue reporting silos and zombie reports (reports that have been around for years but that nobody uses) are far more harmful than most people realize because they confuse workers and distract them from what’s most important.
Our goal for every reporting engagement is to ensure your team learns how to do four things:
- Think through what’s most important for your business to focus on,
- Articulate the business questions you must answer to continuously improve your ability to execute and compete,
- Define—in plain English—the logic your analysts and data scientists need to follow to analyze and evaluate those questions, and
- Formulate answers that will enable you to quickly conduct ‘organizational triage’, to immediately target your team’s attention and maximize the bang you get for your management intervention buck.
We believe that people learn best by doing—so our training is hands-on and experiential. We’ll sit side-by-side (on-line, remote) with your business-people and data scientists (process owners and analysts) and work with your actual systems and data to address the four objectives listed above. In a couple of weeks we can show you an entirely new—and far more powerful—way to evaluate your performance. Contact us for a free consultation.
IT Coaching & Mentoring
To date the vast majority of CIOs and senior IT leaders have only technical degrees and training. While critically important, these skills alone are increasingly inadequate when it comes to fitting a technical solution to a complex business objective. And while the demands of their roles may make it impractical to pursue advanced business degrees, a deeper understanding of business practice and process would clearly benefit most of these leaders, their departments and the organizations they serve.
As valuable as personal development and executive coaching programs can be, we believe that these are neither the most appropriate nor actionable interventions to best equip most IT leaders to be technology change agents within their organizations. From our perspective, at a time when 75% of CEOs don’t think the IT department understands their business and 75% of employees don’t think IT adds any value, the more immediate need is for IT leaders to be able to:
- Fully understand and appreciate the objectives of the business,
- Probe for gaps in the information that the business provides—not to attack but rather to clarify,
- Translate that information into accurate and complete requirements,
- Propose innovative, tech-enabled solutions that best address those needs and align with the broader business mission, and then
- Execute on the chosen alternatives while remaining attuned to, and nimble in the face of, changing conditions.
What IT leaders need right now is a better ability to excavate the whole story and translate those requirements into actionable plans the tech team can deliver. Said differently, we would encourage most IT leaders, particularly CIOs and VPs of IT, to master the fundamentals of enabling business execution before seeking to improve their emotional intelligence and office political skills.
These are the objectives of our IT coaching relationships. We bring a hands-on, master craftsman perspective to expand the mental landscape of the journeymen we mentor. Our goal is to help those we coach become more aware of the needs and challenges faced by their business counterparts so that they can better appreciate, accommodate and address those needs. Our philosophy can be summed up as follows. The business has two jobs: increase customer satisfaction and improve performance. IT only has one—to help the business to theirs—and it’s incumbent upon IT (the provider) to understand and meet the needs of their customer (the business), not the other way around. Our job is to help IT do their job.
Whether you’re an executive with an IT leader reporting to you who you would like to develop further, or an IT leader interested in expanding your own skillset, please feel free to contact us for a free consultation.