By Stuart Boardman, KPN
In my last post I introduced the idea of “the new now,” which I borrowed from Jack Martin Leith. I suggested that the planning of large transformation projects needs to focus more on the first step than on the end goal, because that first step, once taken, will be the “new now” – the reality with which the organization will have to work. There were some interesting comments that have helped me further develop my ideas. I also got pointed, via Twitter to this interesting and completely independent piece that comes to very similar conclusions.
I promised to try to explain how this might work in practice, so it here goes…
As I see it, we would start our transformation program by looking at both the first step and the long term vision more or less in parallel.
In order to establish what that first step should be, we need to ask what we want the “new now” to look like. If we could have a “new now” – right now – what would that be? In other words, what is it that we can’t do at the moment that we believe we really need to be able to do? This is a question that should be asked as broadly as possible across the organization. There are three reasons for that:
- We’ll probably come across a variety of opinions and we’ll need to know why they vary and why people think they are important, if we are to define something feasible and useful. It’s also possible that out of this mixture of views something altogether different may emerge.
- Changes in the relatively near future will tend to be changes to operational practices and those are best determined and managed by the part of the organization that performs them (see Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model and associated work by Patrick Hoverstadt and others).
- Everyone’s going to experience the “new now” (that’s why we call it the “new now”), so it would be good not to just drop it on them as if this were a new form of big bang. By involving them now, they’ll have known what’s coming and be more likely to accept it than if they were just “informed.” And at least we’ll know how people will react if the “new now” doesn’t meet their particular wishes.
This process addresses, I hope, both Ron van den Burg’s comment about different people having different “horizons” and an interesting observation made by Mark Skilton at The Open Group Conference in Newport Beach that at any one time an organization may have a large number of “strategies” in play.
The longer term perspective is about vision and strategy. What is the vision of the enterprise and what does it want to become? What are the strategies to achieve that? That’s something typically determined at the highest levels of an organization, even though one might hope these days that the whole organization would be able to contribute. For the moment, we’ll regard it as a board decision.
Maybe the board is perfectly happy and doesn’t need to change the vision or strategy. In that case we’re not talking about transformation, so let’s assume they do see a need to change something. A strategic change doesn’t necessarily have to affect the entire organization. It may be that the way a particular aspect of the enterprise’s mission is performed needs to be changed. Nonetheless if it’s at a strategic level it’s going to involve a transformation.
Now we can lay the “new now” and the long term vision next to each other and see how well they fit. Is the first step indeed a step towards the vision? If not we need to understand why. Traditionally we would tend to say the first step must then be wrong. That’s a possibility but it’s equally possible that the long-term view is simply too long-term and is missing key facts about the organization. The fact alone that the two don’t fit may indicate a disconnect within the organization and require a different change altogether. So simply by performing this action, we are addressing one of the risks to a transformation project. If we had simply defined the first step based on the long term vision, we’d probably have missed it. If, however, the fit is indeed good, then we know we have organizational buy-in for the transformation.
Once we have broad alignment, we need to re-examine the first step for feasibility. It mustn’t be more ambitious than we can deliver within a reasonable time and budget. Nothing new there. What is different is that while we require the first step to be aware of the long term vision, we don’t expect it to put a platform in place for everything the future may bring. That’s exactly what it shouldn’t do, because the only thing we know for certain is that we need to be adaptable to change
What about the second step? We’ve delivered the first step. We’re at the “new now.” How does that feel? Where would we like to be now? This essentially an iteration over the process we used for the first step. There’s a strong chance that we’ll get a different result than we would have had, if we’d planned this second step back at the beginning. After all, we have a new “now,” so our starting state is something that we couldn’t experience back then. We also need to revisit the vision/strategy aspect. The world (the Environment in VSM terms) will not have stood still in the meantime. One would hope that our vision wasn’t so fragile that it would change drastically but at the very least we need to re-validate it.
So now we can compare the new next step and the (revised) vision, just as we did with our first step. And then we move on.
So what this process comes down to is essentially a series of movements to a “new now.” After each movement we have a new reality. So yes, we’re still planning. We’re just not making hard plans for fuzzy objectives. Our planning process is as flexible as our results need to be. Of course that doesn’t mean we can’t start thinking about step two before we actually arrive at step one but these plans only become concrete when we know what the “new now” feels like and therefore exactly what the following “new now” should be.
In their comments on the previous blog both Matt Kern and Peter Bakker made the reasonable points that without a plan, you’re probably not going to get funding. The other side of the coin is that these days (and actually for a few years now) it’s increasingly difficult to get funding for multi-year transformation processes, exactly because the return on investment takes too long – and is too uncertain. That’s exactly what I’m trying to address. The fundamental concept of “new now” planning is that something of agreed value is delivered within an acceptable timescale. Isn’t that more likely to get funding?
Once again, I’d be delighted to see people’s reaction to these ideas. I’m 100 percent certain they can be improved.
Stuart Boardman is a Senior Business Consultant with KPN where he co-leads the Enterprise Architecture practice as well as the Cloud Computing solutions group. He is co-lead of The Open Group Cloud Computing Work Group’s Security for the Cloud and SOA project and a founding member of both The Open Group Cloud Computing Work Group and The Open Group SOA Work Group. Stuart is the author of publications by the Information Security Platform (PvIB) in The Netherlands and of his previous employer, CGI. He is a frequent speaker at conferences on the topics of Cloud, SOA, and Identity.