Monday, November 30, 2015

IT project success are Business success too, learning from disasters – Part 3

With the CEO’s ratification the challenged implementation was turned around by the CIO along with the business teams; the project eventually delivered more than the original expectation becoming a first in the industry. The big name consultant wisely stayed mum on the episode and focused on discussing other projects they were involved in; the CIO stayed understated in his success letting the Sales team talk about stories from the field. The CEO raised the question, what has been the learning in the turnaround and success ?

The question appeared to be thrown across the room to no one in particular though the individuals who had to fend the query knew that they were in the spotlight. In adversity most find it difficult to provide the facts as they occur; it requires enormous courage to accept that something did not go as planned. Irrespective of the cause, acknowledging and individually or collectively owning up to an unsatisfactory decision is not normal human behavior. People can write reams on what contributed to success, so the ask required brave confessions.

Ensuing silence appeared to stretch time making seconds appear like hours; everyone was glaring at their shoes and hoped the other would start ! Seeing no movement, the CIO stood up to speak, he was waved to by the Sales Head to sit down. Slowly he rose from his chair, looked around the room and nodded to the CEO that he shall apprise the group of the journey that had created lots of heartburn, frayed tempers, and accusations before eventual success. The aggregation of facts, observations and learning took everyone by surprise.

Failures are orphans who no one wants to adopt; people attempt to make them stick onto others shying away from their direct or indirect contribution by the way of their actions or inaction. The position within the organization hierarchy does not matter, everyone hates to acknowledge their contribution to the outcomes. At times failure to act or raise the flag when we see something that does not appear to be in harmony has a cascading effect on the team which accepts suboptimal solutions with a view that it is not my problem.

Disconnect from reality and inability to see from others frame of reference while imposing our views by virtue of rank, position or loudness of voice, leads to reluctant participation by the team despite the gut feel that wants to protest. We take a frivolous stand or approach to some of the mundane detail when presented, wanting to surf at 30,000 ft. thereby not providing the benefit of experience or holistic view that could improve the end result. Patching bad process or automating it hurtles us towards disaster quicker and we blame the technology !

When the downward spiral begins and there is no hope for nirvana, we find scapegoats, which 
typically end up being the meek or the geeks since both are unable to find a voice. We hasten the judgement and move on from the bad news; we rarely want to get to root cause analysis, institutionalized learning. Introspection and internal team review is a scarce phenomenon in the corporate work which does not take failures lightly. Fail fast sounds good in case studies and management books, we don’t like it when it happens in our teams.

I am thankful to our CEO to have raised the question and provide the opportunity to bring out the learning in our project – what rather than who. We all know how we contributed to what happened. Everything that I said happened in this case of our Sales system. We started with flawed assumptions and bad design, we skipped due diligence, we did not connect consistently with the process on the ground. And when the system failed to deliver, we found a scapegoat in the vendor knowing fully well they cannot retaliate.

Our CIO did not flinch during the predicament he faced, he demonstrated maturity that we should learn from, and I thank him for holding it together. I would also like to meet the vendor and thank his team for standing through thick and thin and keeping the faith. Let’s apply the lessons across the company and ensure that we do not falter in any venture, project, collaboration, or cause, by remaining alert to such behavior. I give freedom to every member of the team to challenge constructively to create better outcomes for ourselves.

The management team gave him a standing ovation; he had spoken from the heart which connected with everyone. He had said what everyone wanted to but were hesitant; he personified what they wanted to be.

Links to Part 1 and Part 2

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