Monday, July 14, 2014

6 Blind men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant,
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation,
Might satisfy his mind.

So goes an old parable from a few centuries back which has many even older variations across countries with their cultural nuances thrown in. While the object of curiosity does not change, the number of people in the group does and so do their inferences. Conclusions derived too have varied by context of the narrator and the reader or listener though they all end up pointing to one key aspect of human behaviour, i.e. people jumping to conclusions based on their frame of reference and global ignorance.

Corporate world experiences elephants in the room, often leading to embarrassing and hilarious situations for those involved including instances where the elephant was never discovered. My friends have narrated many instances of the sum of parts being larger than the whole; differing frames of reference like the blind men in the fable have frustrated much intent to progress with incessant harping on their version of truth. Then off course there is the wise owl consultant who ends up painting a different animal farm.

The project was critical to the company impacting every function directly or indirectly. There weren’t any alternatives which is why it was a project that everyone agreed to unanimously. The CIO was happy that there was consistent alignment and endorsement of the project with hardly any resource constraints. Mood in the air was exuberant and success was perceived inevitable; everyone involved agreed that it could not have been done better with the transparency in decision making and setting expectations.

Few months into the project the CIO met with his peers to get feedback and inquire if he was missing anything real or perceived. Everyone had a fair view and appreciation for the flawless execution that had followed the project kick-off. Satisfied with the responses he forged ahead full steam; completing one phase and while moving to the next he hit some rough weather. With choppy seas and a pronounced roll, he again went back to the CXOs to check if course correction was required. What he discovered…

First stop Finance, he queried the CFO; everything is fine, it is a great financial accounting tool but… the indirect taxation model is not suitable and we would like to retain the old solution. Head of Supply Chain quipped that Sales & Distribution were good to go but… the planning part was not good enough and he would like to build a custom solution to meet the need. Manufacturing felt that their needs would be met at the basic level however… it did not address the stores and repairs current processes which would require additional solutions.

Marketing was non-committal in their response, master data needs to be fixed by someone before we can comment. Fortunately the Purchase team took to it like fish to water; they loved the solution which they believed will give them wings. Human Resources did not believe that they needed to change whatever they were doing; they were averse to change and closed. Fearing the worst he spoke to the IT team only to realize that the team was toiling away to keep everyone together moving in the same direction.

The disjointed and independent frames of reference portrayed a different view and plane; connecting the dots provided a picture that was far removed from reality. Everyone took a view based on what they saw and how it impacted them; there was no effort to stitch together a bigger or holistic picture. The original dream and expectation appeared a faint memory. Their views reflected a myopic vision in their risk-averse mindset and no one felt like challenging it. I know how to manage my part of the elephant.

The CIO realized the elephantine proportion of the problem where everyone in the functional teams saw a part of the animal they were exposed to and made preparations based on their conclusions. The IT team was left holding the portrait that the solution was expected to be. He contemplated different options and finally decided to leave the incomplete picture as is; he believed that he knew the elephant and how to tame it. After all this was not the first time he was in this situation.

And so these men of Indostan,
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion,
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Was this the best option for the CIO ? What would you do ? To be continued…

Link to Part 2

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