Prepare for Technology

October 27, 2008

 

 

 

As discussed in the previous 2 posts , in order to successfully implement a new technology project, or any change for that matter, we must first focus on the process while engaging the people.  We do this all while preparing for the technology. 

 

It is important to keep the big picture in mind, and keep in front of us what it is we are really trying to accomplish.  When an organization decides to make the investment to install a new technology, there is typically a fundamental business rationale behind the decision, other than, “it’s really cool, and we need to put this in.”  No, typically, it is increasing revenue, reducing costs, improving quality or customer service, or some other metric the business finds important.  To pull these off, we’re talking change.  We have to change the way we are doing things, and often times, feel technology will be our savior.  And it can be, IF we approach it properly.

 

To truly change the culture of an organization, the people must change the way they do things – their process.  Then we can implement the technology to “hardwire” the new process.   If the technology “forces” people to perform the steps a certain way, and the people set up the process, then the results will be exactly what we want; maybe even better.

 

Now, here is the important part – these steps are NOT INDEPENDENT.  If they are treated that way, your efforts will surely fail.  Here’s why – Let’s say you focused on the process, and even engaged the people in changing the process.  You have set up a perfectly smooth road.   Now you turn to the technology to pull it all together.  But there’s a problem.  The technology you were planning to implement is an airplane.  Yes, it can work on the road, but it is really not its intended purpose.  How did this happen?  Well there are a couple of scenarios.

 

First, you probably knew what technology you were planning on implementing when you began the process.  It is important, when determining what your new processes are going to look like that you steer the direction of them toward the new technology.  So, you have to keep the end in mind throughout the process.

 

On the other hand, as you were setting up your new processes with your people involved, perhaps they came up with a process that meets your business needs better; not just the current needs, but future needs as well.  It could be better for you to drive than fly.  You didn’t adjust your technology to your process.

 

It really becomes the convergence of a perfect storm.  You have an idea of what your technology will be.  You start focusing your people and processes toward that technology.  As you better understand your processes, you make sure the technology you want to deploy is appropriate for your processes.  You adjust your technology or processes appropriately to meet your business needs now and in the future.

 

Simple, right!

 

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn

 


Power to the People, All the People

October 21, 2008

 

 

While focusing on the process, we need to make sure we engage the people.  We have to get the people who do and manage the processes day in and day out involved in any activities to change the way they do things.  This includes involving people not just vertically, but also horizontally in the organization.  Even though the change might be taking place in operations, the impact of the change could affect departments that provide information to operations and those that receive information from operations, e.g. Sales and Finance.  Otherwise we are asking for disaster.

 

Lots of companies already think they are doing this.  When they are implementing a new technology or change initiative, they go to the people, and ask for their input. They get their feedback. They know what they value.   They might even show them what the final product looks like before implementing.  They launch the new technology and then wonder why it doesn’t deliver the results promised.   Shocking!  Reasons for this are multiple.  Either we did pay close enough attention to the people doing the process, or we did not engage the people impacted by the process.  How many times to we continue our old ways because Fran in Accounting needs a report formatted just so?

 

Or, and this can be even more devastating, we skip a level.  A company truly engages the people – the front line folks, whether they be assembly line workers in a manufacturing plant, or unit nurses in a hospital; the people who are truly adding value to the customer.  The executive team is also fully on board.  But, they leave out the middle managers.

 

Several years ago a manufacturing organization I worked for as a young industrial engineer decided they were going implement the “team concept” in the plant.  After much negotiation, the union agreed, and a contract to change the work rules, using teams was put in place.  A massive training effort followed.  Every member of the hourly workforce went through several hours of training.  The front-line supervisors also had extensive training in how to work in this new environment.  Senior leaders from management and the union went through training on how to work and negotiate with each other in this “new order.”  But, as usually happens in this industry, the calendar catches up, and product must be produced to make money. So the training, and the funding for training started to dry up.  Now you might ask, “But what about the middle managers, the ones who manage the front line supervisors; when are they going to be trained?”  The answer, “They will just have to learn on the fly – we don’t have the time or money.”

 

Well, actually, things started off just fine.  The first few months went really well.  In an environment like this, conflicts will always occur, and they did.  Not to worry though, because when conflicts occur, that’s where the middle managers step in – to save the day!  Well, that they didn’t do.  Not fully understanding the new work rules (they were never trained), and with senior management telling them to let the team work things out, they didn’t know what to do, so they reverted to their old behaviors; they basically managed by the “traditional” contract.  The trickle-down effect of this was enormous.  The front-line supervisor, feeling intense pressure from their manager, started to manage in the old way; this of course, left the hourly workers feeling abandoned and betrayed.   Morale plummeted, as did productivity.  By the time senior leaders of the union and management figured out what was going on, it was too late.  Management blamed the union, and the union blamed management.  What the organization finally settled into was a shadow of the original intent.  Although it was better, it was not even close to worth the time, money, and energy put into the effort.    Millions of dollars spent, and not a lot to show for it.  They left out the middle managers in the training, and it showed in the results.

 

The moral of the story is simple:  make sure we involve ALL the people at all levels in the organization.  Get them engaged in reviewing their existing processes and in creating the new processes.  Keep them informed throughout the project.  Also, remember to constantly follow-up to make sure you are still on the right path.  And, lastly, don’t forget the supervisors and managers who lead the front-line people.  You may think they are too busy, or you don’t have time to involve them.  If you do, you will not be as successful as you could be.

 

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn


It’s the Process, Stupid!

October 13, 2008

 

 

This is the 1st of 3 parts discussing People, Process, and Technology.  Despite the traditional order, I’m going to approach these in the order of importance to truly implement effective change, the first of which is Process.

 

Just like the 1992 election where Bill Clinton so effectively used the phrase, “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” implementing effective change can be summed up in much the same way – It’s the Process, Stupid!  With the plethora of tools, techniques, slogans, buzzwords, etc. being thrown in the face of organization leaders, it is easy to forget on what we should be focusing. 

 

When we begin an improvement activity, the first thing to do is the focus on the process.  The process is what defines the way things get done, and who does those things.  So many times, we want to focus on who does the work, or how we can implement the latest and greatest technology to solve the problem, or improve the process.  What’s frustrating to me is how quickly we forget the basics.  You have to fix the process first.

 

For years I worked in an automotive assembly plant, and each year had to come up with efficiencies to reduce cost, either by eliminating or improving the current work, or integrating in new work without adding people.  Basic line-balancing – or what I would call Industrial Engineering 101.  And as any I.E. out there knows, the 1st step is to methodize the job; look for any improvements that could be made with the current work before adding on or taking away any existing work.

 

How many times have we been involved in technology installations that promised great improvement only to have them fall short of our expectations; expectations we probably were conservative about to start with?  When this happens, the operations folks typically say the technology did not do what it was supposed to do, when in fact, the technology probably worked just as it was designed; it was the process that was never changed, so the results were the same.  If you have a mess and you apply technology to it, all you have is an automated mess.

 

Ever been involved in an initiative that was going to change the culture of the organization?  Ever seen it fail?  Wonder why?  One reason is lack of focus on the process.  If you want to change the culture of an organization, you need to change the people’s behaviors.  To change the behavior, you must change the way people do things – change the process.

 

Does this mean we ignore the people, absolutely not – we must involve them!  More on this next time!

 

Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn


IT2B – People, Process, Technology

October 6, 2008

 

 

We’ve talked about the need for alignment before convergence, and on aligning IT to Business or Business to IT.  But, how do we go about this?  What is the starting point? 

 

In order to start, we need to have an understanding of what it is we are trying to do.  When we speak of aligning IT to Business, what is it we want?  What are we really trying to accomplish?  Regardless of the details, I think it is safe to say that what we want is an IT group that has established a flexible infrastructure that enables the business to rapidly adjust to changing needs in the market.  We want agility.  We also want to make sure that IT is providing strategic insight into the business and providing value beyond keeping email up and the servers running.  We want to make sure Business leaders have a firm grasp and understanding of that IT can bring to the table to improve the organization.

 

 A solid foundation, open, two-way communications, understanding of the business issues, and mutual respect – that’s what we want.

 

To do this, the perception of IT must change.  The perception of IT must change from a cost center to a strategic partner.

 

So now we know what we want to look like, and what we need to change to, but how do we go about it?  Well, we need to start with the basics – People, Process, and Technology.  Most people will find it difficult to disagree that these three areas are crucial to the success of any change or improvement initiative.  It’s the order that gets us in trouble.

 

In the past when we have implemented improvement projects that involve technology, the approach has been:

                Focus on Technology

                                Glance at the Process

                                                Blind to the People

 

However, in order to effectively and completely transform an organization from IT as a cost center to IT as a strategic resource, the approach should be:

                Focus on the Process

                                Involve the People

                                                Prepare for Technology

 

In order to focus on the process, the people who are engaged in the process must be involved.  They are the ones who “own” the process, and make it work every day.  By eliminating waste, reducing non-value added activities and increasing value added functions, the organization can effectively implement the technology that will enable the organization to move forward, setting a foundation for improvement.

 

In the next few weeks, we’ll go a little deeper into each of these areas.  Let me know your thoughts!

 

Glenn