Monday, December 26, 2016

Taken for a ride: the preferred vendor or the enterprise ? 2 sides of the coin !

It was a great journey working with you and the team to design the solution … regret, unfortunately we are unable to proceed with the engagement and would like to thank you for offer; we wish you all the best in your future endeavors ! After unsuccessfully attempting to shift the blame from himself, the CFO gave in and agreed to recall the vendor and accept their last provided offer to move ahead. It was a tumultuous ride that had culminated in the imbroglio the enterprise found itself in with the vendor shortlisted by the business and IT. (see earlier post)

The delay had almost cost the business the early mover advantage; they required the solution to be primed within a time window for which they will now have to super stretch. Regulatory deadlines can be unforgiving to business and the Business Head was thus on tenterhooks. He sensed that the wounded ego will not take kindly to the decision; the scorned CFO should have been his ally, after all they had a good working relationship in the past; the CIO was a political outcast with his neutrality now going against him.

With a letter of intent the project was kicked off, the contracting took a while; each and every clause was scrutinized and fortified to put the vendor in a precarious situation should the project suffer any kind of deviation. To safeguard his interest, despite undue pressure the vendor did not commit full resources until the paperwork was completed. The business team watched the drama as it played out waiting to get started; the CIO continued to counsel the vendor with a mix of pragmatism and spirit of the now fragile partnership.

Starting on perceptibly shaky foundation, the project got off to a fair start with all sides putting in the rigor required to make up lost ground and deliver to promise; review meetings were used for course correction as the steps taken were firm and steady thus covering the halfway milestone with time to spare. The first process prototypes were approved for build and the finishing line appeared to be within reach. Everyone was charged and they were progressing in perfect unison, an example out of the textbooks on project management.

Next review meeting had an uninvited yet powerful participant who wanted a personal assessment of the good news that the project reports were portraying. He tested the patience of the team with his questions that attempted to elevate the highly improbable to highly likely even though it did not make any sense to build for probability of events that may occur beyond the six sigma. The system design not addressing the probable though not possible kept recurring as a theme and he declared an emergency by the end of the meeting.

No one had anticipated the CFOs active interest in the project considering that after finalization of the contract they had not heard anything from his offices. So the new found interest made everyone a bit uncomfortable, wondering where it was headed. By the end of the meeting it was evident that it was a blatant attempt to derail the project by challenging the team credibility to have thought through the processes and design a solution that addressed all use cases; the team went into a huddle to find a strategy to overcome the new challenge.

The vendor provided referenceable material on global best practices and how they had addressed similar scenarios in other markets; the CIO reached out to the subject matter experts to list down occurrences of exceptions over the history of the company rather than work on hypothesis of an eventuality hitting them. All the material thus collated clearly vindicated the stand the team had taken and the solution they had architected which appeared to be adequate to counter the new threat to their project.

Such distractions they could do without and they could not have taken on the CFO headlong; so they decided to use the CIOs connections to get an external consultant – an acknowledged authority. As providence would have it, the next meeting was the Steering Committee which had all stakeholders. The Consultant gave an independent critical analysis of the project pointing out a few observations where the team could improve outcomes. The CEO applauded the audit report and endorsed the team to move with full speed.

Contracts protect enterprises from external risks, how do we stay protected from internal mischief ?

Monday, December 19, 2016

What do you do when your preferred vendor walks away from the deal ?

It was a great journey working with you and the team to design the solution; the innovative concept outlined is path-breaking and definitely an industry first. We learned a lot during interactions and refining the architecture; we are thankful for the opportunity. We have discussed the project and debated the immense value it brings both of us with the partnership. Regret, unfortunately we are unable to proceed with the engagement and would like to thank you for offer; we wish you all the best in your future endeavors !

Above is the gist of email received by the CIO from one of the large IT vendors who came up with the best technology solution to the opportunity. It was not a surprise even though collectively they had invested over two man years into the project which had the Board’s blessings as well as eye of the CEO. Just a few months back the leadership team from the vendor had visited them and provided the right messages to the CEO on their commitment to the project; he decided to break the news to the CEO – his manager.

The company had lagged behind in some technology solutions that had given an edge to their competitors; not that it made a significant difference, it did score brownie points with customers. Solutions in question were investment intensive and required lot of rigor to sustain; the big players were always competing on such differences in capability. Global competitive benchmark required a multiplier on the investment that none had made in the industry thus far; the company saw this as an opportunity.

So the net was cast far and wide to evaluate best in class solutions; the laggard reputation preceding the company did not evince excited responses from the providers. The CIO used all his reputation to nudge them into action, the serious face put forward by the cross-functional team made up for the rest of push required. Activity levels rose through the process reaching a crescendo as they arrived at a well-informed conclusion in an open and transparent assessment to select the best option for their global aspirations.

Recommendations were presented to the Management and the Board; everyone acknowledged the thorough nature of the process, metrics and weightage in the calculations. The project was accorded approval with a fair budget and the task shifted to financial negotiations which was not perceived to be a hurdle towards closure. Purchase under the tutelage of the CFO was thus handed over charge of expeditiously moving ahead to keep the momentum going and give the company the much needed impetus towards glory.

The shortlisted solution provider recognized the energy infused into the discussions with necessary approvals sought to strike while the iron was hot. With global leadership team’s presence, they reinforced their commitment to the company vision, the project and committed execution with best of resources. After ensuring comprehensiveness of the Bill of Material, terms and conditions, clauses defining inclusions and exclusions, Finance/Purchase and the vendor finally started looking at the numbers and the total cost of ownership.

They went back and forth from unreasonable to the outrageous, the game of negotiation began with each attempting to maximize their value. As time passed by, the business team began to feel uneasy on outcome of the protracted exercise which threatened to break up the positivity that prevailed prior to going into the financial discussion. The CEO was dutifully informed of the ongoing progress as the weeks flowed into months; the impasse was now also hurting the vendor who had put their best foot forward.

The CIO along with the business head attempted to reconcile to the situation while impressing on the CFO the need to progress; competition had already picked up the ball and started moving in the same direction ! The CFO brushed aside their pleas with the view that he cannot pay more than what he perceived as value for the solution. Business teams withdrew active follow up and left the baby in the lap of IT; the CIO realized that ego had overpowered rationale thought and asked the vendor to decline the business.

In the meeting caught unawares, the CEO sought details which the CIO provided in the presence of the Business Head who was not party to the game. An urgent meeting was summoned with Finance, Purchase, Business and IT heads to analyze and find a way to recover the situation. The CFO who was handpicked by the CEO found himself in a compromised situation; he unsuccessfully attempted to shift the blame, finally sheepishly agreeing to recall the vendor and accept their last provided offer to move ahead.

Happy ending ? For next time …

Monday, December 12, 2016

Old proverb “Silence is golden” does not apply to the corporate world !

He was much sought after due to his position in the industry built over a period of time with credible success across his stints in various industries. The companies he collected were big brands that added value to partners who provided solutions and basked in reflected glory. The industry loved him for his articulate style and ability to engage in discussions across a wide range of subjects. Oft quoted and a frequent speaker, he build a brand for himself which also brought him accolades internally and externally.

People reached out to him to seek advice, listen to his lateral thoughts, introduce new ideas and solutions, bounce off theories and hypothesis, new startup pitches; the flood of requests ensured that his time was always packed from dawn to dusk. His Assistant acted as a gatekeeper to whatever extent she could, a task made difficult because of his popularity and direct access that he allowed to many. He always responded back to cold calls, unsolicited emails, or requests received through the peer network.

It did not matter whether the company was big or small or a startup, same applied to whether the solution was relevant to his industry and company; he empathized with the troops of sales people who were always in a spot when attempting to approach CXOs. He gave them half an hour to present their pitch, listened and gave them candid feedback on applicability of their wares to his company and industry. He was approachable but at the same time maintained professional distance in his dealings.

She was always busy and rarely had time for anyone – internally or externally; her career of similar length had been built without any fanfare or evidence of noticeable contribution. And then suddenly she was in a position of high visibility which required her to connect across levels and participate in industry gatherings to represent the company’s interests. Speculation was rife on her rise while her past remained a mystery, in the position she now occupied she was expected to learn the ropes and hit the ground running.

Business leaders within her company sought her audience to discuss new opportunities, solutions to existing problems, solve operational challenges faced with her team; she was always accompanied by another team member who was left to field the questions and face the heat while half way into the meeting she would disappear as the phone rang. It is not that she did not have the expertise required for her function, her colleagues realized that her unorganized way of working resulted in double booking and general chaos.

Vendors, partners and solution providers too did not have any success, she was reluctant to meet with them and whenever she did, they met with similar fate ! She rescheduled or canceled meetings at the last moment, or she would turn up late to the meeting and then again excuse herself with the phone coming to the rescue. The smaller vendors hungry for the business continued their attempts at getting her attention, the larger players decided to focus their attention on other more professional customers.

Industry events fared no better with token attendance at best in a rare appearance; her company was one of the leaders and thus there was always participation by other functions in their relevant meetings. Unfortunately her team was also rarely found in such gatherings following the example set by her and the infrequent approvals for the same. The enigma lived on with resultant adverse impact on the company reputation and ability to leverage the innovation network that competition gained from.

The two personas represent stark opposites with some exaggeration to bring out the differences; the former is not someone you find easily while many traits of the latter exist in the corporate world. Unanswered phone calls and emails – especially cold calls and emails – have become the norm for the busy executive who is largely running from one fire to another or shuffling priorities between the urgent and the important. This results in overcrowding of mail boxes with reminders and follow ups from the seekers.

1.      Best way to avoid a meeting ? Don’t respond !
2.      Don’t want to do business with someone ? Don’t answer calls, messages, or communication !
3.      Confirm when someone is insistent, back out later citing urgent/important exigency !

The list can go on; in a hyper connected world, communication failure is rampant ! Respect for time is disappearing. What is the impact of this on corporate performance, cost of follow up, cost of waiting for others to turn up, opportunity cost, and finally individual credibility and reputation ?

Monday, December 05, 2016

Politicking can kill not just projects, but damage enterprise value systems !

It was an opportunity of a lifetime for the newly appointed team of the entity formed as a joint venture between two behemoths; anyone would have vied for a part of the action, the team was handpicked with high performers in their respective fields. They collectively created an audacious vision for the project with many pioneering steps none of which had been successfully executed in the past. The endorsed vision required engagement of experts from various disciplines to be brought together for specific activities.

Well-funded, they sought the best in each field to take charge of the tasks and forge ahead to fulfil the vision – a talking point within the industry. The best felt a sense of excitement at attempted the almost impossible, they came onboard easily; the energy of the team was infectious and recruited others with ease. Surprisingly the team of experts did not cross swords with each other and rather collaborated happily with each other, the glue being the leader and success that would deliver self-actualization.

One such duo comprising strategic and operational excellence was on boarded to shape the systems, process, and technology, a necessary foundation for success. Both were industry legends in their own right, their collaboration was expected to bring the necessary magic required. They hit off well with the veteran providing experience to rein in youthful ambition and risk taking; the project thus took off with the industry amazed at the quality of inputs and discussions based on the benchmark beating framework conceptualized.

Well and ill-intended pressure notwithstanding, the team delivered a path breaking schema at which everyone gawked at in disbelief. Global interest kindled, the battle was well fought among partners who wanted to be part of the now much discussed project. Surprisingly for everyone, the underdogs went on to impress the evaluation team to win the project much to the dismay of few sore losers who attempted to undermine the credibility of the winners; with time the pressure eased off and the team started execution.

Emboldened by success, the organization retained the consultants for further definition of tech based projects, evaluation and award to thus selected partners. Transparent evaluation criteria was the hallmark of past success where aspersions could not be cast on any step or player; the second project too benefited from similar governance thus cementing the relationship between consultant and company. The industry applauded the partnership and spread the good news around for others to emulate.

The organization had now got used to the best and success that came easily riding on the experience of the consultant. The third project of reasonable complexity had multiple solution possibilities and thus many providers who could have executed with varied degrees of success. Lobbying started from the inception and announcement with providers and integrators, big and small, pushing for change in specifications and dilution of qualification criteria, and leniency in the evaluation process to give a chance to every aspirant worthy only in their own eyes.

Business team faced pressure; influencers of all types – good, bad, ugly – pushed the team to accommodate vested interests. They met the consultant, cajoled, threatened, and attempted every trick to swing the decision making criteria in their favor. Some of the changes were forced to accommodate additional vendors with clout with senior management and the Board. The consultant uncomfortable through the process, continued to work in the interest of the project and the relationship with the team that had brought success.

The bids were finally accepted after multiple changes and timeline extensions; many bidders were beginning to lose hope smelling something fishy. The consultant remained tight lipped and started evaluation of the submissions and turned in his recommendations. After that days became weeks and months with no announcement as the partners hounded the Consultant for updates. Clueless he redirected everyone to the evaluation committee head, who steadfastly maintained that evaluation was still on.

Unknown to the Consultant, the lobbying with the management had taken its toll; some of the new staff members were willing to bend the rules in return for favors. They poisoned the effort and proclaimed inadequacy of specifications as well as evaluation by the Consultant, recommending scrapping the project, which unfortunately was accepted. Aghast the Consultant exited the relationship which threatened to compromise the value system on which the relationship was built, and damage his credibility.

It is evident what went wrong, some of which was controllable, and some probably not with vested interests holding power over decision makers. The collapse of the value system unfortunately polluted the rest of the enterprise which prided itself on its professionalism and lofty audacious goals that they had proclaimed, attempted and completed successfully. A year later, the company was looking no different from any other in the industry, the magic was lost and the high performers had moved on !

People build companies, people destroy companies too !