Monday, February 24, 2014
The 80% solution
It had been a long project with missed timelines and scope creep, the kind of projects that everyone dreads as they create difficult conversations in every review meeting while meetings are being conducted. The vendor was as frustrated as IT; the management wanted to stop funding to the project and treat it as a learning experience. The users wanted the project bad enough and managed to keep it afloat citing business need, efficiency gain and cost saving “when we go-live”. So the project survived despite odds.
Every enterprise had at some time or the other witnessed similar stories or projects that became unviable with all metrics: time, cost, resources and business value being busted; not necessarily software projects, but even hardware deployment, network upgrades, storage capacity enhancements or something as simple as the new projector for the boardroom. It is neither incompetence nor lack of rigor that causes such situations, everyone is committed to delivering the best result and that is where the problem starts.
Technophiles, well-meaning and conscientious team members want to provide the best solution which leaves no room for any kind of discussion or debate. They like to get the perfect solution in place that will win awards, accolades or in many cases just simple satisfaction of having done the best. The quest for the best keeps them busy exploring all angles including ones that don’t matter. They love debates on technology standards, finer aspects of architecture, the last exception condition the software will ever face, leading to frustration.
Searching for the best solution is indeed important for long-term success of any solution; after all you do not want your creation to be flayed within a short time. So try casting an eye over the 5-10 year horizon and postulate the future of the solution, technology, and the company. Shouldn’t the source code be in escrow or buyback of hardware at every refresh at predefined values ? How can we be sure of your wanting to continue with this line of business ? The questions get quite interesting as everyone wants to look good forgetting the adverse impact of sliding timelines.
Users living in a paper dominated manual or inefficient solution world want to make sure their problems are addressed down to every imaginable scenario. The evolving solution landscape wants to ensure the least change and the highest level of customization which unfortunately vendors are willing to acquiesce to; thus IT becomes the bad guys attempting to prevent the massacre of the solution. Trying to get it 100% right has become the nemesis of many projects and solutions; teams struggle unable to imbibe past learning.
Agile methodologies applied to software development provided a process for iterative evolutionary development where good enough is deemed acceptable to be refined over a period of time. It recognizes the impact of time on any project or need thus finding many business teams wanting to adapt to quick wins. The 80% mark is not cast in stone; the baseline is notional and varies by project. I believe that this can also be applied to hardware procurement or other IT disciplines with variations to the design.
The starting point for such a paradigm shift is the alignment of all leaders and managers to the new way of working. Don’t expect a solution that does everything of what the business wants and you can have it up and running in say 30-60 days. Refinement can continue over a period of time by the operational team working with part of the project team. Business can start using the solution to fulfill their need and everyone is happy. Off course this cannot be applied to ERP type projects which have different levels of complexity.
A good decision in time is worth more than the best decision if delayed; this maxim applies to the world of IT, IT project management, software development, and in many cases to hardware deployments too. Consensus is desirable but not critical unless the primary stakeholder is not aligned. If you have not moved ahead in your journey, then activity is of no consequence. So stop debating if you have all the data to make a decision, if you believe you have all the critical data, take a decision; that may separate you from being a manager or a leader !