Snowflakes Are Unique

Thought this was an interesting analogy. 


A colleague refers to some customers as snowflakes.


At first, I didn’t get it. 


Then I understood. 


Every snowflake is unique. 


Based on how the ice crystals fall to the ground through different temperatures, moisture levels, and atmospheric pressures, the shape of every snowflake is different. 


Sometimes when it comes to project management, customers too think they are unique, different, and special.


They think that solutions that work industry- or enterprise-wide could never work for them and their wholly distinct ways of doing business. 


Hence, as I learned, the term snowflake. 


For those of us who have been around the project management block a few times, we know that while there are specific customer requirements, most of them are not all that unique. 


And when some customers simply don’t want to do things differently than they’ve done it before, there can be greater resistance to change. 


Hence, the “We’re special. We’re different” reframe along with the standoffishness, doubting, circling the wagons, throwing up obstacles, or just refusing to fully participate. 


Obviously, it’s a lot more difficult to modernize and transform through technology and business process re-engineering when your customers aren’t on board. 


So it is critical to manage organizational change, address the questions, the fears, and elements that are truly unique, and bring the people along as true partners. 


Not every requirement is a snowflake and neither is every customer, but we have to manage the similarities and differences in every project and make sure it improves performance and meets the needs of the customer and the organization. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

I Like That Technology

I Like That Technology

Christopher Mims in the Wall Street Journal makes the case for letting employees go rogue with IT purchases.

It’s cheaper, it’s faster, “every employee is a technologist,” and those organizations “concerned about the security issues of shadow IT are missing the point; the bigger risk is not embracing it in the first place.”

How very bold or stupid?

Let everyone buy whatever they want when they want–behavior akin to little children running wild in a candy store.

So I guess that means…

Enterprise architecture planning…not important.
Sound IT governance…hogwash.
A good business case…na, money’s no object.
Enterprise solutions…what for?
Technical standards…a joke.
Interoperability…who cares?
Security…ah, it just happens!

Well, Mims just got rids of decades of IT best practices, because he puts all his faith in the cloud.

It’s not that there isn’t a special place for cloud computing, BYOD, and end-user innovation, it’s just that creating enterprise IT chaos and security cockiness will most-assuredly backfire.

From my experience, a hybrid governance model works best–where the CIO provides for the IT infrastructure, enterprise solutions, and architecture and governance, while the business units identify their specific requirements on the front line and ensure these are met timely and flexibly.

The CIO can ensure a balance between disciplined IT decision-making with agility on day-to-day needs.

Yes, the heavens will not fall down when the business units and IT work together collaboratively.

While it may be chic to do what you want when you want with IT, there will come a time, when people like Mims will be crying for the CIO to come save them from their freewheeling, silly little indiscretions.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

>Strategic Decision Making Trumps The Alternative

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A strategist frequently has to temper the desire for structured planning and strategic decision making with the reality of organizational life, which includes:

· Organizational politics (who has the power today to get their way).

· Subjective management whims (I think, I believe, I feel, but mainly I want—regardless of objective facts).

· Situational knee-jerk reactions (due to something that broke, a mandate that came down, an audit that was failed, and so on)

· People with some cash to throw around (they have $ and “its burning a hole in their pockets” or can anyone say “spend-down”?).

The result though of abandoning strategic decision-making is that IT investment decisions will be sub-optimal and maybe even big losers—some examples includes:

· Investment “shelfware” (the seals on the packages of the software or hardware may never even get broken)

· Redundant technologies (that drain limited resources to operate and maintain them)

· Systems that are obsolete by the time they make it into production (because they were a bad idea to begin with)

· Failed IT projects galore (because they never had true organizational commitment and for the right reasons)

Why does strategic decision-making help avoid bad organizational investments?

1) Having a vision, a plan, and an enterprise architecture trumps ping-pong balling around in the firefight of the day, because the first is goal-oriented—linear and directed, and the second is issue-oriented—dictated by the problem du-jour, and generally leads to nowhere in particular.

2) Having a structured governance process with analysis of alternatives and well-thought out and transparent criteria, weightings, and rankings trumps throwing an investment dart into the dark and hoping that it hits a project with a real payoff.

3) Taking a strategic view driven by positive long-term outcomes for the organization trumps an operational view driven by short-term results for the individual.

4) Taking an enterprise solutions view that seeks sharing and economies of scale trumps an instance-by-instance approach, which results in gaps, redundancies, inefficiencies, and systems that can’t talk with each other.

5) Taking an organization view where information sharing and horizontal collaboration result in people working together for the greater organizational good, trumps functional views (vertical silos) where information is hoarded and the “us versus them attitude,” results in continuous power struggles over scare resources and decisions that benefits individuals or groups at the expense of the organization as a whole.

Certainly, we cannot expect that all decisions will be made under optimal conditions and follow “all the rules.” However, as leaders we must create the organizational structures, policies, processes, and clear roles and responsibilities to foster strategic decision-making versus a continued firefighting approach.

Understanding that organizations and people are imperfect and that we need to balance many competing interests from many stakeholders does not obviate the need to create the conditions for sounder decision-making and better organizational results. This is an IT leader’s mandate for driving organizational excellence.

While we will never completely get rid of the politics and other sideline influences on how we make our investments, we can mitigate them through a process-driven organization approach that is based on a healthy dose of planning and governance. The pressure to give in to the daily crisis and catfight can be great that is why we need organizational structures to hold the line.

>Transformation That Can Succeed

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Many organizations seek transformation. They are mired in paper even though we as a society have long moved to a digital age. They are organized around silos, despite the revelation that enterprise can function more effectively as one. They are overcome by day-to-day operational issues and are busy fighting fires, instead of focused on long-term strategy and execution. These are just some of the dysfunctions organizations seek to transform from.

But many transformations fail and they do so big time, leaving dispirited employees, disgruntled managers saying I told you so, and organizations hobbled in outmoded processes and legacy technologies, with the rest of the world seemingly passing them by. If they do nothing, they risk becoming obsolete, irrelevant, and a mere artifact of history.

Why do so many transformations fail and how can we help to convert these failures to successes is the topic of a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled “Accelerating Corporate Transformations (Don’t Lose Your Nerve)” by Robert H. Miles in January-February 2010.

Here are some of the major hurdles and what we need to do to overcome them:

· Self Interest (or the “I” factor): Those who control the most resources or institutional assets tend to monopolize discussions, trump new ideas, and strong-arm decision-making, thereby reinforcing the status quo” and the security of their own corporate kingdom. I personally think this is one of the most difficult challenges to organizational change, because you have managers (i.e. they are not genuine leaders!) whose self-interest trumps organizational progress. The author calls for compelling all executives to confront reality and work together, but this isn’t a prescriptive answer, rather it is more of a wish. In my opinion, the mandate for change must come from the very top and everyone needs to be held accountable for genuinely helping the organization changes succeed.

· Organizational capacity to change—“In most cases, the day-to-day management process is already operating at full capacity…there isn’t room within the established systems to plan and launch a transformation.” The author calls for a parallel launch with small visible victories. While, small victories are good, this doesn’t really address how the organization can carve out the time, resources and commitment in the face of already stressed people, processes, and systems. I believe that you must make the investment distinct from your regular operations (this is not a collateral duty!) and form a high-level transformation office that reports to the senior executive. The transformation office is elevated from the organizational silos and works horizontally to make change happen. This means that traditional organization boundaries become transparent for process improvement and technology enablement. However, this cannot be a proverbial, ivory tower effort, but it must be well thought out, focused, and inclusive. The transformation office must engage all stakeholders across the organization in visioning, planning, and executing change initiatives.

· Change gridlock—“Workers capacity to execute will become a choke point if the programs are not prioritized and sequenced.” The author calls for limiting change initiatives to 3 or 4. This creates organizational focus. While I agree that you do not want to overwhelm the organization with too much change too fast, I find this somewhat at odds with the authors notion of “launches must be bold and rapid to succeed.” In my mind, it is not the launches that must be bold and rapid, but rather the goals that must be bold and the transformation should be allowed to proceed in a logical sequenced phases so that the organization can achieve learning, proficiency, and sustainability. Last thing we want to do is build a house of cards. At the same time, I don’t believe there is a magic number of initiatives, but rather that this is dependent on the resources available, the size and complexity of the change initiatives, and the organizational readiness and capacity for change.

· Sustaining transformation—“The more intensive and engaging the transformation launch, the harder it is to sustain the heightened levels of energy, focus, and performance.” The author recommends a “launch redux” to continue the transformation. I’m not convinced you need an annual or periodic revival of the initiative, but rather I believe that’s what’s called for is the following: leadership continuity and commitment, the continued development and nurturing of a shared vision of what transformation means, and ongoing performance management and measurement to see the change through. I believe that people will support the change process if they can see that it is purposeful, reasonable, inclusive, and that the commitment is real and sustained.

The truth is that no major and meaningful change in our personal or organizational life is short or easy. If it were fast and easy, it probably wouldn’t be so darn pivotal to our future.

Transformation is a risky, but necessary endeavor. We should not be afraid to make mistakes and learn from these. The greatest change and growth comes from the striving itself. As others have noted, it is the journey—to the destination—that is truly critical.

>Organizational Politics and Enterprise Architecture

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Organizations are intrinsically political systems, “in the sense that ways must be found to create order and direction among people with potentially diverse and conflicting interests.”

“All organizational activity is interest-based…an organization is simultaneously a system of competition and a system of collaboration.” Because of the diversity of interests… [the organization] always has a latent tendency to move in diverse directions, and sometimes to fall apart.

Organizational politics is founded in Aristotle’s idea “that diversity of interests gives rise to the ‘wheeling and dealing’, negotiation, and other processes of coalition building and mutual influence that shape so much of organizational life.”

“Organizational politics arise when people think differently and want to act differently. This diversity creates a tension that must be resolved through political means…there are many ways in which this can be done: aristocratically (‘We’ll do it this way’); bureaucratically (‘We’re supposed to do it this way”), technocratically (‘It’s best to do it this way’), or democratically (‘How shall we do it?’). In each case the choice between alternative paths of action usually hinges on the power relations between the actors involved.”

Power is the medium through which conflicts of interest are ultimately resolved. Power influences who gets what, when, and how.” Organizational power is derived from formal authority, control of scarce resources, control of information, use of structure, policies, and rules, and so on.

(Adapted from Images of Organization by Gareth Morgan)

Recognizing the importance of organizational politics—individual, group, and special interests, as well as the resulting conflict, and resolution through the levers of power is critical in User-centric Enterprise Architecture.

EA works within a diverse organization, takes competing interests and organizational conflicts, and turns it into common objectives and goals and the striving towards their achievement.

Enterprise architects work across organizational boundaries to synthesize business and technology to create interoperability, standardization, efficiencies, enterprise and common solutions, and integration.

Through the target architecture and transition plan, EA seeks to transform the organization from its intrinsic conflicts into a force with unity of purpose and mind to achieve ever greater accomplishments.

>IT Consolidation adds Up To Cost Savings and Enterprise Architecture

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For CIOs, one of the secrets of the trade for building cost efficiency is consolidation of IT assets, such as data centers and help desks. Of course, to accomplish this you need to executive commitment and user buy-in.

The Wall Street Journal, 29 January 2008, reports that “H-P Hits Snag in Quest for Savings through System Consolidation.”

“Since July 2005 [the Compaq merger]…the firm [HP] has been in a project to cut the number of computer program is uses by more than half [from 6000 to 1600], and reduce the number of its data centers…to six from 85.”

Have the benefits of consolidation been documented?

In a survey of 1500 CIOs by Gartner last year, “reducing costs through IT consolidation and other means is one of their top ten priorities.”

Further, according to Forrester Research, “the benefits can be significant” In a survey, last fall, of eight companies that consolidated IT, “nearly all ‘lowered …overall operational costs by at least 20%.’”

What are some of the critical success factors?

  1. User buy-in—“vice president often aren’t used to taking order from the chief information officer on what computer programs they can use. ‘It’s about politics.’” The way to get around this and develop buy-in is to set the targets with the CEO and CFO, but let the users decide which systems to keep and which to fold into the consolidation.
  2. Executive commitment— “The solution is to get management support from the top. ‘Getting the CEO lined up is hard, and that’s the key person.’” At HP the CEO “threatened some with termination” that didn’t follow along with his commitment to consolidate.

From a User-centric EA perspective, IT standardization, consolidation, and cost efficiency are important goals. Of course, this needs to be done in the context of developing a sound, secure, reliable, state-of-the-art IT infrastructure. Achieving cost effectiveness must involve building enterprise solutions, merging disparate data centers and help desks, consolidated purchasing, and otherwise standardizing products and streamlining operations. Of course, user buy-is a prerequisite when using a User-centric EA approach.

>Globalization, Localization, and Enterprise Architecture

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The world economy is globalizing, but sales and marketing is still a local activity.

How should organizations architect the way forward to address the duality of globalization and localization?

The Wall Street Journal, 23 January 2008, reports that “Disney Localizes Mickey to Boost Hong Kong Theme Park.”

Disney has gone global and extended their famed theme parks to Asia. However, the first couple of years have not been a success. “Since it opened in 2005, Disney’s Hong Kong park, the media and entertainment company’s flagship for the booming Chinese kid’s market has struggled to connect with consumers. The park a joint venture with the Hong Kong government, missed public targets of 5.6 million visitors for its first year of operation, and attendance dropped nearly 30% in the second year to about four million.”

Where did Disney go wrong in going global?

Disney did not localize their brand or product to their foreign consumers. Instead, they expected the global consumer to behave the same as their U.S. counterpart with no differentiation for culture, nationality, beliefs, values, and so on. “In the past, it was the Chinese consumer who was expected to understand Disney, or so it seemed. Chinese tourists unfamiliar with Disney’s traditional stories were sometimes left bewildered by the Hong Kong park’s attractions.”

Disney also did not tailor their marketing to the local Chinese consumer, in a big snafu. “Disney’s marketing efforts also have misfired. A Hong Kong Disneyland ad in the summer of 2006 featured a family of consisting of two kids and two parents. China’s government, however, limits most couples to just one child.” Ouch!

So how is Disney changing their Mickey Mouse tune?

“Now, Disney is going on the offensive by going local. Its first big opportunity on the front is a stroke of astrological fortune. In the traditional Chinese calendar, it will soon be the year of the rat. As the Feb. 7 New Year holiday approaches, Disney is suiting up its own house rodents, Mickey and Minnie, in special red Chinese New Year outfits for its self-proclaimed Year of the Mouse.” This sounds good, though I’m just not sure Mickey and Minnie mouse appreciate being equated to rats, as in year of the rat.

Disney is also changing their park exhibitions to address local tastes. “Inside the parks, vendors hawk fried dumplings and turnip cakes. The parade down Main Street, U.S.A., is being joined by “Rhythm of Life Procession,” featuring a dragon dance and puppets of birds, flowers, and fish set to traditional Chinese music…” This also seems good and local, except shouldn’t this be Main Street, Hong Kong or China and not U.S.A.?

Anyway, according to Disney, they are going local all the way to their brand. “We are working as the ‘Chinese’ Walt Disney Company—ensuring that all the people who work in Disney understand the Chinese consumer to forge a deeper emotional connection with the brand.”

From the perspective of User-centric enterprise architecture, we need to focuses on the end-user and stakeholders. Going global and ignoring localized culture, nationality, beliefs, and values may be a cost conscious approach, but a poor architecture one. EA must respect individual, national, and cultural differences, and promote trust, respect, and integrity in doing so. A unified, consistent brand is good, but outreach to consumers based on their localized needs and requirements is absolute. Whether we are dealing with product, process, marketing, brand, or technology, EA must on one hand develop standards and seek out enterprise solutions where possible, but on the other hand, must tailor the enterprise’s offering to local tastes and requirements. It’s not always a one size fits all.