Monday, December 05, 2016

Politicking can kill not just projects, but damage enterprise value systems !

It was an opportunity of a lifetime for the newly appointed team of the entity formed as a joint venture between two behemoths; anyone would have vied for a part of the action, the team was handpicked with high performers in their respective fields. They collectively created an audacious vision for the project with many pioneering steps none of which had been successfully executed in the past. The endorsed vision required engagement of experts from various disciplines to be brought together for specific activities.

Well-funded, they sought the best in each field to take charge of the tasks and forge ahead to fulfil the vision – a talking point within the industry. The best felt a sense of excitement at attempted the almost impossible, they came onboard easily; the energy of the team was infectious and recruited others with ease. Surprisingly the team of experts did not cross swords with each other and rather collaborated happily with each other, the glue being the leader and success that would deliver self-actualization.

One such duo comprising strategic and operational excellence was on boarded to shape the systems, process, and technology, a necessary foundation for success. Both were industry legends in their own right, their collaboration was expected to bring the necessary magic required. They hit off well with the veteran providing experience to rein in youthful ambition and risk taking; the project thus took off with the industry amazed at the quality of inputs and discussions based on the benchmark beating framework conceptualized.

Well and ill-intended pressure notwithstanding, the team delivered a path breaking schema at which everyone gawked at in disbelief. Global interest kindled, the battle was well fought among partners who wanted to be part of the now much discussed project. Surprisingly for everyone, the underdogs went on to impress the evaluation team to win the project much to the dismay of few sore losers who attempted to undermine the credibility of the winners; with time the pressure eased off and the team started execution.

Emboldened by success, the organization retained the consultants for further definition of tech based projects, evaluation and award to thus selected partners. Transparent evaluation criteria was the hallmark of past success where aspersions could not be cast on any step or player; the second project too benefited from similar governance thus cementing the relationship between consultant and company. The industry applauded the partnership and spread the good news around for others to emulate.

The organization had now got used to the best and success that came easily riding on the experience of the consultant. The third project of reasonable complexity had multiple solution possibilities and thus many providers who could have executed with varied degrees of success. Lobbying started from the inception and announcement with providers and integrators, big and small, pushing for change in specifications and dilution of qualification criteria, and leniency in the evaluation process to give a chance to every aspirant worthy only in their own eyes.

Business team faced pressure; influencers of all types – good, bad, ugly – pushed the team to accommodate vested interests. They met the consultant, cajoled, threatened, and attempted every trick to swing the decision making criteria in their favor. Some of the changes were forced to accommodate additional vendors with clout with senior management and the Board. The consultant uncomfortable through the process, continued to work in the interest of the project and the relationship with the team that had brought success.

The bids were finally accepted after multiple changes and timeline extensions; many bidders were beginning to lose hope smelling something fishy. The consultant remained tight lipped and started evaluation of the submissions and turned in his recommendations. After that days became weeks and months with no announcement as the partners hounded the Consultant for updates. Clueless he redirected everyone to the evaluation committee head, who steadfastly maintained that evaluation was still on.

Unknown to the Consultant, the lobbying with the management had taken its toll; some of the new staff members were willing to bend the rules in return for favors. They poisoned the effort and proclaimed inadequacy of specifications as well as evaluation by the Consultant, recommending scrapping the project, which unfortunately was accepted. Aghast the Consultant exited the relationship which threatened to compromise the value system on which the relationship was built, and damage his credibility.

It is evident what went wrong, some of which was controllable, and some probably not with vested interests holding power over decision makers. The collapse of the value system unfortunately polluted the rest of the enterprise which prided itself on its professionalism and lofty audacious goals that they had proclaimed, attempted and completed successfully. A year later, the company was looking no different from any other in the industry, the magic was lost and the high performers had moved on !

People build companies, people destroy companies too !

Monday, November 28, 2016

Making buying decisions based only on cost is mostly a bad idea

A new CEO came on board from one of the worthy competitors; he was hired to scale up and scale out in a market that was beginning to adopt the services offered by the company. His earlier stint was with a global mature enterprise in the same industry where he had grown the business as sales head and was now ready to take on the role of a CEO. The young industry required large teams to deliver onsite services to customers; technology did provide a differentiator where early adopters had seen the value.

The CEOs newly adopted company had grown organically beating market growth but lagging behind on profitability, partly due to continuous expansion and rest attributable to operational efficiency which required technology interventions. To the CEO it was quickly evident that inducting new solutions would bring in the requisite process compliance and reduce exceptions which mostly led to costs going out of control; reduced dependence on individual performers would lead to the desired consistency and profitability.

In the initial assessment he realized that corporate overheads were low and did not lend themselves to further reduction; he therefore focused his attention on investments required to bring in requisite technology solutions and thus tasked a small team of veterans to evaluate named solutions which largely comprised the universe of available options. The team rejuvenated with the new ideas from the newbie leader jumped into the evaluation process; industry research also pointed back to the same set of vendors.

The solution providers – local and global – offered varied functionality that allowed for extension of services to be offered to customers; at the core, all offered basic process automation and customer management. The choice thus depended on technology stack, value added features, ease of use, customer and employee self-service, mobile deployment, analytics, and ability to deploy across the cloud as well as on premise. Flexible and conventional licensing models rounded up the full stack of evaluation criteria.

Within the stipulated time, the team reverted with their evaluation and recommendation; they had done a fairly good job of mapping the existing business processes and identifying the best option for their company. They had also taken into consideration the company culture and primary decision drivers – low risk and cost; in the past the management had been hesitant to explore high capital investments instead preferring to work on low cost operating model where the plug can be pulled quickly to reduce losses.

In the next Board meeting the CEO scheduled the proposal while the evaluation team stayed in the back of the room for any clarifications. The meeting started a bit late, and dragged on with the discussion on financial numbers taking up a large part of the day; by the time the item on the agenda representing the technology solution came up, the Board members declared exhaustion and to the dismay of the team present deferred it and other remaining items to the next meeting planned after a gap of 3 months.

In the next meeting the Board did manage to discuss the project and asked the CEO to rework the risk return model as they found the outflow high. A Board member was assigned the responsibility to validate the final proposal and approve. Between the CEO and the Board member they kept at it for a while attempting to get the numbers down while increasing the scope of deliverables. In the interim business continued to grow and new customer acquisitions took away the CEO’s attention from the project.

A short economic instability and the business saw a blip in performance diverting everyone’s attention to bringing revenue numbers back on track. The company continued the growth trajectory and the project was now on the backburner with all attention on further cost cutting to deliver Board mandated margins. The CEO attempted to revive the discussion on the value proposition and market competitiveness the company stood to gain with automation and technology solutions, only to be chastised for proposing spends in a lean period.

Nimbler and technology driven competition overtook the company in market standing; the Board brought in consultants to create a business strategy that would help the company regain lost glory. Months later the Chief Consultant presented the business strategy for the next 3-5 years to full attendance from Management and the Board. The plan looked familiar and so did the steps they outlined for business efficiency and profitability; by the time the meeting ended, everyone looked at the CEO as an awkward silence prevailed.

The plan and strategy was what the CEO had outlined with his favorite project that had quietly died in the hemming and hawing over the last few years !