What do you do when systems are core to your (service) business but you are not succeeding with your major systems initiatives?
- You can replace the CIO.
- You can recruit or hire-in ‘better’ project or program managers.
- You can recruit top-flight systems-experienced executives to the board to guide and help to increase the likelihood of success.
This organization did all three – repeatedly. Ex consulting partners, ex bank CIOs, ex vendor consulting managers—they tried them all. And failed.
Why did they fail? Because all of these ‘experts’ had the same project/cost based mindset. They all believed in the standard methodologies—therefore, alternative approaches were not considered. They religiously pursued project after project the same way and got the same poor results.
In the end the board agreed to sell the whole organization for less than the cost of the last project.
All of these people-based ‘solutions’ thought that more strenuous application of the orthodox processes and extensive use of brand-name consultants would deliver the goods. They didn’t. Instead they increased the cost and, in the case of the consultants, made sure they weren’t around when the project was discovered to be another disaster.
Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” That is exactly what this organization was doing.
To quote Einstein again, “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive” or, in this case, if project performance is to improve.
Blame the person or the process?
But changing people's thinking is another challenge. Another example of repeated use of a failed process is the use of “Managing Successful Projects” (MSP). A consultant who worked with a State Government said, “Of course, they are passionate users of MSP.”
“Why?” I asked, as so many program disasters had been managed via MSP.
“They don’t blame the methodology for those disasters.”
Do they really believe that these disasters (including this Government’s many own disasters) are solely the fault of individuals or individual circumstances? Apparently yes.
When we wrote a critique of this Government’s use of the Investment Logic Map process, using their own published example, to show how this process took people off in the wrong direction to solve the wrong problem and propose the wrong solution; the response was, “Ah, but, that must have a bad example” not “Ah, maybe we ought to question whether this is actually a good approach.”
Blind ignorance is expensive
Both the original organization and the government are assuming that orthodox approaches are inherently right when the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.
To avoid continued disasters you have to start by accepting reality – however painful. Just as an alcoholic has to admit they are an alcoholic before they can be helped, organizations and governments need to admit they are not getting the results they desire on a consistent basis and start looking for an alternative solution.
It really is that simple.
To discover an alternative solution: