I was speaking about plans and projects with someone the other day. As far as challenges go – next to people – change and the associated planning is the most difficult element of The Weave.
Change is a continuum. For the organization, something is continuously changing that affects it: Change is happening within, and it is happening in the surrounding environment. All change must be weighed and assessed for impact, and there must be a ready posture for doing this. Too many organizations think of change as something mounted in a burst; “now we can rest.” This is why so many organizations seem to take action at the back edge of the envelope: change for them is constituted as an addressal of problems under pressure-filled and even desperate circumstances.
When change is mounted under pressure, there is usually a failure to fully survey where you are. It may seem obvious, but in planning a destination (that is, a project’s destination), with appropriate directions, you must know your point of origin: the organization’s true station and status. You must survey business process, your technical enablements, and your people. If you don’t know where you are, the route to destination is a broken one – reaching the destination is painful, inefficient, and sometimes not even achieved.
The smart organization doesn’t disengage from change – nothing around the org stands still if it does. Therefore, the management of change isn’t just some reaction to what is happening internally, or some engagement that is “forced” by outside change. You must present a position of readiness, so that you have the “muscle” in place to exercise change. You must be able to forecast, develop, and schedule. This requirement for readiness presents itself to the individual, to groups, and to the organization in equal measure, as we’ll see.
Today, we need to realize and acknowledge that even change changes. How does change change? Consider: While we’re busy implementing a documented, sanctioned change, some of our assumptions, support products, fiscal supports, regulatory requirements, business practices, etc., haven’t done us the courtesy of standing still. Further, various projects and their change can compete for common resources; they can shift in schedule and crash into one another; they can have interlocking dependencies and impacts that must be carefully coordinated. Any time you make a course correction, an accommodation, an expansion in scope, etc., you are making a change to change.
Circumstances such as these, and the quality of planning in your organization, yields one of two things:
1) A house of cards, or
2) A solid structure of mutually reinforcing initiatives and projects.
Because things are shifting and evolving around us all the time, we need plans that have enough structure to guide us effectively, but that are not so rigid as to “straightjacket” us. We don’t want to be implementing so-so or broken solutions today that looked great yesterday. We don’t want the organization to be thrashing as it attempts to mount major changes without regard to prudent sequence, or that are even in direct competition with each other.
High Level Plans in Support to Detailed Plans
From a high level view, we need to plan support to the Business-Technology Weave. High-level plans should identify, guide, assist, and facilitate that which you wish to accomplish. They provide the general documentation and a calendar position for a collective of projects and initiatives, the sum total of which represent the organization’s forward thrust, and each of which have their own detailed, operational plans as separate documentation.
Aligning an organization’s detailed plans, projects, and initiatives is similar to tuning a car: you want all of your cylinders firing in proper sequence and timing. When properly tuned, your car not only has maximum power in ‘getting to where you’re going,’ it is making the best possible use of resources (in the form of highest gas mileage, and with minimal wear to the engine). Your organization’s individual operational plans are like cylinders – each contributing to the organization’s forward movement relative to time and circumstances. You must ensure that each of these plans “fires” in proper sequence, so as to assist the next plan – or at the very least not impinge upon its “firing.” You must get the collective of projects and initiatives making a concerted best-use of resources.
At the same time, any higher-level plan must have some flexibility in order to make allowance for an adjustment in schedule or direction. Yet, they can’t be so ill defined as to provide no structure at all. And, we have to preserve order: an order in change, and the order of the organization. How do we effectively manage this trick?
If you’ve followed The Weave over time, you know that we’ve discussed the importance of communication between Business and IT. And we know that it’s wise today for Business to make known its planning and direction for early participation and contribution by the organization’s technical investment. Certainly Business must facilitate IT’s understanding of required support to business initiatives, evolving technology needs, and changing environmental factors (such as security, expansion, new regulatory requirement, etc.). But realize that whether this happens effectively or not, IT still exists for, and at the pleasure of, Business. The onus is on IT to support, align with, and enhance Business’ plans for business. IT must dig where and as necessary.
There is plenty of chance to do that, so recognize your opportunities: There will be the obvious occasion for plans’ creation and adjustment within specific, formal, plan meetings – but also formally and informally in the course of budget meetings, staff meetings, board meetings, etc. The exercise of snapping them into focus happens largely in the BIT forum (The Business Implementation Team), and in specific IT plan meetings: but anywhere that there’s a discussion of futures planning contributes to the overall opportunity to assess change, and to effect the “gel” of a plan.
Further, in a changing world, there is the onus on IT to “hear” and garner everything, as a weigh on a scale of possible change requirements.
Coming: Part II – Three Plan Types.
NP: Bessie Smith, on original 78rpm.