Monday, February 01, 2016

Companies take inordinately long to take a decision and then set unreasonable timelines for execution

There was a sense of urgency towards getting the system up and running and rightly so considering that competition had already launched; the industry had seen cutthroat tactics to stay ahead of the game as the gap between similar offerings had reduced to barely a few months. It was thus critical for companies to shed their legacy way of working and embrace agility; this was well acknowledged in however some parts of the organization were unable to rise to the occasion thus slowing down the company, putting pressure on IT to deliver to an unreasonable schedule.

Scenarios like this play out across domains and geographies with disruption not just within the incumbent players but also from digital startups who are turning business models upside down. The universality immerses itself until someone breaks out and creates a scurry of activity by others to eliminate the difference and then again uneasy calm prevails with the cycle repeating itself many times over. In a hypercompetitive world that is a way of life, but unpardonable for business as usual decisions.

The CIO was asked to evaluate technologies for a business problem that faced the industry with regulators breathing down their necks. Cost of non-compliance was high and so was the budget for implementing the solution; however it had a clear ROI of less than two years. Since the project was important, rather than handing over responsibility to one of the team members, the CIO decided to work with one of this trusted team members. They got started with vigor and enthusiasm that pleased the business teams.

Global and local vendors reached out to strut their wares, wanting to impress their differentiators and suitability to the proposed opportunity. The specification document was well laid out on intent and requirement leaving little doubt or ambiguity. The evaluation process started with extensive demonstrations, transparency and rigor, with formal and informal customer reference calls. No one could have faulted the process; vendors, business users, most applauded the professional approach to doing business.

Three months later the CIO and his protégé with the business head presented their evaluation to the Management Committee. They were given a timeslot towards the end of the meeting since there were other important matters to discuss (like the next offsite for the senior leadership, the first item on the agenda apart from the usual monthly sales performance). Delay in the proceedings finally gave them 10 minutes which they accepted as the next meeting would mean a delay which they could ill afford.

As they unraveled the solution the CFO caught a number and decided it was too expensive irrespective of the payback period and asked the team to come up with alternatives. The fact that competition had already deployed from among the suggested solutions did not matter. Resigned to the fact that they will have to come back another day, they thanked the audience and left much to the relief of some of the members who wanted to go home; the CFO’s parting shot to the CIO: find open source options.

Time passed quickly, the following month was the offsite and subsequent month was half yearly results meeting. The CIO and business head decided to approach the CEO for assistance and seek approval by meeting individual members of the Committee. The CEO listened and asked them to get approval from the CFO before taking it to others; few weeks later they were in discussion. The CFO reviewed the proposal, understood the rationale and asked them to refine the numbers and put it up in the next meeting.

D-day arrived, the presentation received the usual slot and were welcomed into the Boardroom with tired smiles. They went through the pitch, the proposal given in-principle approval, the financials to be validated by Finance who were also tasked with negotiations. Vendor Account Manager having moved on, the proposal past its due date, the vendor was unwilling to offer the same price leaving the CIO, Business and Finance teams at a roadblock. So they went back to the Committee to plead for additional funds.

Six months later and a year from the time the project was conceptualized, they concluded the deal. Year-end pushed the start of the project by another month. By this time everyone’s patience had stretched to a break point; so the project plan was trashed with a view that it should be done faster than the original estimate of 8 months. The business wanted 5, the CIO was willing to push for 7, the vendor knew it will take 8 months realistically, but no one wanted to accept reality putting the project to risk.

This predicament presents itself in almost every project across companies !

What happened in the end ? Come back next week !

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