Monday, October 24, 2016

What happens when your CEO chooses an IT vendor without help from IT ?

The company was on the way to recovery after management change which decided to renovate the business and bring it back to relevance to new customers at their terms; products went through a facelift and upgrade to appeal to the younger generation of consumers. The forgotten sleepy company thus began their journey into the big bad world of Digital customer engagement, ecommerce, and compete with the old and new age companies who had already gained mindshare and market share with a head start.

The new CEO had some success to his credit of having turned around ailing business; in his no nonsense style he reviewed and made appropriate changes across various functions inducting fresh talent where required. As a part of the transformation he also endorsed technology enablement of company operations which was executed successfully by the new CIO. Everyone aligned to the vision of the CEO who took decisions swiftly, leveraging old connections and partners from the industry who had worked with him.

With aspirations to make a dent in the global market with digital commerce, he tasked an old friend and known marketing guru with much acclaimed success of having turned around the fortunes of flagging brands a few decades back. Bringing him out of semi-retirement, the CEO believed that he would be successful in the new age too. The old man acquiesced to the request and used it as a launch pad for his struggling digital practice run by the next generation; the project was signed off with broadly agreed scope and timelines.

Months passed quickly as they progressed on the journey with Marketing taking the lead of the new business opportunity. Working with the vendor and market sales team, the HQ Marketing team created a market communication plan, collateral, outreach and activation program, while coordinating with other teams to come together to launch the business. It is then they realized that integration with the new IT systems was critical to launch and sustain the new business; so the CIO was inducted into the group.

By this time the initial deadline had already passed and the CIO was asked to rush through system integration and not delay the launch. Apologetically he agreed to expedite the task and traveled the extra mile to understand requirements from the vendor and provide the necessary help. As meetings progressed, his antennae buzzed that everything was not hunky dory. He dug deep and wide to realize that they were hurtling towards eventual Armageddon with no signed off requirements, project plan, and skills of the developers.

Subtle shift of responsibility, the CIO setup project governance, requested weekly updates that reluctantly started coming as the second deadline passed. Marketing happily deferred to the CIO to take lead in fixing the broken and achieve success; the CEO was apprised of the situation and that the project will slide some more before recovery. Surprisingly, the CEO accepted the status without too much protestation and asked the CIO to keep him informed as they progressed; he justified the potential debacle as a calculated low cost risky experiment.

The CIO intuitively knew that the project will not be able to deliver to expectation if it continued on its current trajectory. Taking external help he educated the team about best practices and what can be with the right set of resources; The CEO unwilling to accept the mistake of having chosen an incompetent vendor continued to push on; he was unable to go back to his old friend to shift the project to an alternative vendor. The project thus continued to flounder for a while, the business losing the opportunity as a result.

This situation of the CEOs pet project continues to haunt companies where decisions are taken based on comfort and past performance even though unrelated; in many cases convenient scapegoats are found. Almost every CXO steps outside their competency to demonstrate value addition beyond their roles, many times with detrimental results. Corporate politics unfortunately does not allow open debate on these matters; power centers get away with suboptimal designs and strategies leaving the organization at loss.

It requires strong leadership to accept a mistake and equally strong leadership to challenge the situation before it gets out of hand. C level teams rarely get into confrontations preferring to be nice to each other and loud mouth managers take advantage of this state of affairs. “I am here to be effective and not popular” was a quip I had heard from one such maverick leader who had taken the company to new heights. Everyone loved him as he bonded the team together on sustained success that he brought to the company.

Where did the project end up ? Coming soon … 

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