The art of slicing an elephant

So, your latest organizational development project did not turn out as you thought? Before you could even pass the exit criteria something else became more important? Alternatively, are you disappointed over the semi-failed software implementation? That software that was seen as a knight in shiny armor arriving on a white horse, but right now it is keeping everyone busy and made your organization depending on external consultants. What I am talking about is the overall complexity and extreme difficulty to run organizational development projects in any form, because this is what new processes, new tools or a combination of these really are. The technical part is normally a lot easier.

Save that thought for a while and let us talk about agile way of doing things. Which by the way not is very new, breaking up something bigger in smaller, manageable parts, has been done for many years, but not as clever and successful as for example SCRUM, many of you know about WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) or Atomization (breaking up in atoms, a k a parts) and other ways of turning a huge task into several smaller tasks. To be fair the agile way of doing things of course adds more than simply dividing a big think in smaller parts.

The reason why many organizational development projects, such as ITSM process implementation, tool implementation and such fails is because it’s too big, complex and takes too much time. However, be not afraid people, I of course have a solution to all this.

As a consultant you need to scope things, it is about survival, if you fail at this, you will end up with either an angry customer or a bad cash flow, sometimes even both. To make the client happy and to have a healthy balance in your earnings you have to be the master of getting things done in a planned, structured and, most of all, extremely customer-aligned manner. For me this has always meant two major task, slicing the elephant and managing the slices in a smart way.

So how do you implement five processes, a supporting tool, train the organization and a lot more? Doing this while the operation cannot be disturbed and normally not with a huge budget since we are talking about long term effects, excellence and other great results but also results that normally does not increase revenue, at least not at first. The answer is obvious, you need to divide your work efforts into smaller work items, make sure that they are prioritized according to the value they bring, the magnitude of the problems they solve and such.

I started to componentify all projects I deliver a long time ago. In the shape of improvements, with their own resource estimates, internal work items and everything else needed for execution, almost like a miniature projects. Then I grouped these items into phases and structured the phases into a program. Most of the time the customers change their minds, wants to re-prioritize and change the budget, with this componentified approach I simply move the components, the actual improvement item, in or out of one phase, and in my megablaster spreadsheet the resource budget and time plan are adjusted accordingly, projected on the wall for the client to see how their ideas actually causes things. May sound like I am banging my own drum just a little bit too much, but hey these days we all need to do this, always keeping things real but be proud of your achievements!

Those of you that read some of my previous blog posts know that I am a huge fan of doing baseline assessments before doing anything. Always consider what you have, before starting to move towards where you want to be.

One very pragmatical approach of slicing the elephant right from the start is to work with GAPs and improvements, letting the improvements become your components, the miniature projects, to manage. You simply perform it all like this:

  1. Make sure to have the objectives on your radar, the actual goals you want to achieve with doing what you are about to do.
  2. Use the 4 P´s of ITIL (People, Process, Products (tools) and Partners (suppliers)) to perform a baseline assessment of the area you are about to develop. Make sure to really align your assessment to your scope.
  3. Perform a GAP-analysis of the baseline assessment using the objectives, effectively identifying the GAP between where you are and where you want to be.
  4. Each GAP needs to have a solution, an improvement, to effectively close the GAP. Many improvements may be used to close several GAPs.
  5. Identify the work item for each improvement, what you actually have to perform in terms of activities, deliverables and such, and estimate what kind of resources, type and amount, will be needed.

Congratulations, you just sliced your elephant, what you have are the improvement you need to take you from where you are to where you want to be. Of course, the fourth and fifth point will take some time, however I can promise you it is really worth it, giving you the slices you need to successfully maneuver in your development efforts. Good luck!


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