Can consultancy lead to leadership?

The key challenge that I envisage in transformation of a consultant into a senior manager is that professionals find it difficult to find a balance between persuasion and power respectively.

This is based on the my first hand experience in the past few years. Having been in the management role for a while and then in an ivy league business school, followed by consultancy in productivity, motivation and predictability coaching to various fortune 300 organizations, I have no doubt that the answer is very subjective.

Being a consultant, the objective is to assess, strategize and persuade towards execution of strategic direction. Without power, it is a completely different ball-game. If done for too long, consultancy can lead to a innate personality change and egalitarian mindset.

Management on the other hand is about maintaining the direction given by leadership and fresh pair of eyes (consultants). If done for too long, the mindset shifts to authoritative and power struggle starts hindering results and performance.

Finding a right balance between consultancy and management could possibly result in a perfect recipe for a senior leadership role. However, it all depends on the personality type - in addition to the challenges experienced in career progression in the past.

The answer to "what the right combination is?", is - "who knows".

Time will tell...

Is the iron triangle ironic?

The triangle of basic business complexity based on ScopeTime and Quality has been manipulated in many ways to accommodate an ironic "Fixed Scope & Fixed Cost" paradigm in software solutions industry.

On one hand, business leaders directly correlate revenue projections to software features. Hence delivering on time with committed scope and quality will provide better budget projections to the stakeholders. However, on the contrary, it is considered as an industrial norm that software is delivered late, has lower quality (than anticipated) and curtailed scope.

Inherent mistrust between business and software solutions department is the fundamental of current organizational realm.

Having been involved in optimizing numerous organizations, i’ve been associated with large fortune 300s (ranging from 6 to 300), there is no doubt that business departments do not trust the development organizations. Denial, blame, justification and general dysfunction in such organizations is considered as a norm.

The irony behind this chicken and egg situation is that without visionary leadership, the trust can never be established. In the current economic crisis, once the business stakeholders can count on the commitments, the status quo demands that they start doubting the current forecasts. This is based on the basic assumption that "how could you if you are delivering on time?". This implicitly results in over-commitment and end-user expectations are raised accordingly.

 The basic measure of success is based on some of the following attributes:
  • Motivation
  • Innovation
  • Predictability
  • Productivity
  • ....

Not only is this unbalanced state - a significant challenge for most organizations, but available methods for improving predictability and productivity features over time are not readily available to most technology leaders. Morphing development organizations can accurately predict their delivery in time, scope, and total quality while continuously finding ways to improve their productivity.

Some basic recommendations that have been nearly fruitful to mitigate the situation include:
  • Bringing the business and solutions organization closer by face-to-face communication,
  • Having regular life feedback sessions with the development team,
  • Sharing simple metrics in addition to live demos,
  • Running continuous improvement (retrospectives) as a combined group.
  • ....

Can we have Time, Cost and Quality fixed and still maintain good business vs solutions delivery relationship? Some questions are better left to luck while hoping for the best...

Using the 'Resistance to Change ' to your advantage

Using the 'Resistance to Change ' to your advantage

Hidden conflicting agendas, misaligned priorities, and endless pursuit of personal goals are some of the symptoms of office politics that frustrate the workforce. However, these issues are impossible to avoid. Instead, you need to manage them. Here are some of the proven ways to make the most out of the situation and utilize it to your advantage:

Identify key decision makers and opinion leaders:
Start by understanding all of the stakeholders involved and how they are connected. This will help you navigate issues as you try to make change or simply do your job.

Facilitate transparent discussions:
When politics arise, engage parties in a transparent dialogue with each other. Organize a meeting or invite people with different views to lunch and make it safe for all by defining the casual limits.

Define decision making rules:
Clearly choose one of authoritative, consensus, consult or democratic methods before embarking on a group discussion. Identify the decision making process to be deployed and explain how it will be utilized according to the given context.

Explore win-win options as a group:
Create a plan for building alignment. Talk to people who would object and figure out how to respond to their concerns. Ask people in your camp to influence others through personal, social and structural motivation.

Having key stakeholders positively engaged, team members involved, decision making rules defined - you are all set to embark on an effective change initiative. By sharing the vision and following up with a road map, the change inertia can be utilized to your advantage.

Catalysts for a balanced agility

The question of engaging the teams affected by a change initiative is like discussing the value of oxygen in our breathing process.

To identify, inspect & adapt - don't view any of the transformation initiatives as one time event or a point to be reached. Rather, view it as a work in progress that will constantly need modifications. The following three steps will help you focus further:

Continuous Improvement

The two extremes:

Change strategists in the past have either focused themselves completely for top-down approach or an exact opposite. While there is value in getting reviewed by a fresh pair of eyes and focus on outside the box questioning, there is proven higher rate of success when a contextual and balanced approach is deployed.

Reality on the ground:

Irrespective of the high level strategic initiatives - engagement with the reality on the ground is crucial, critical and highly effective. Especially in such instances, it is imperative to get people affected by a change to help define the problem and design a solution (e.g. brainstorming, affinity/ KJ Analysis).

Rewards & Accountability:

Once the ground reality is established, gather the appropriate and focused (narrow) metrics. Base your change on hard data that everyone has access to and enhance multilevel transparency. Institutionalize the change by starting with a single project with a group of passionate influencers. Then move to consistently apply repeatable light weight and outcome driven objective processes across the rest of the organization. Build accountability into such processes.

While combining the above three steps, create interlocking dependencies between different parts of the organization so that they have a mutual interest in sustaining the change.

External forces require a company to constantly change, and a successful culture has a well disciplined methodology that allows it to do that.

Unleash your creativity

Get your creative juices flowing

Joining the dots among disparate ideas is a key innovator's skill.
The habit we need to develop demands careful (yet accidental) associations of complex factors of a given challenge.

Here are the three basic recommendation on how:
  • Think-Do cycles: Keep asking the core question of why the dots seem unrelated. Like the media and its point of view, there is another untold story in the background. We have to keenly defer our gratification by not accepting minor successes end goals. Instead - treat them as milestones towards a bigger objective.

  • Distractions: Try to intentionally take your mind off a topic for some time and then switch back with a fresh pair of eyes. Some new potential connections might have become visible while the mind processes the information in the background.

  • Repetition. Research shows that consistent & persistent associational thinking in complex scenarios plays a vital role in energizing rather than fatiguing. 
Use cycles of creative thinking with breathing spaces to allow creative juices to flow.

UK Govt's Agile/ Lean Transformation - a journey from horrors of NHS integration to the DWP's - award winning agile UC

UK Govt's Agile/ Lean Transformation - a journey from horrors of traditional NHS integration to the DWP's - award winning agile Universal Credit:
Earlier this year - I was contributing (in a team) towards developing a strategy and agile/ lean transformation methodology for Department of Work and Pensions (DWP)'s huge programme called Universal Credit (UC). This is approximately similar in size as to the NHS integration initiative.
Like the NHS, the objective of this three year programme is to combine all the disparate benefit systems. This will enable the UK Government to centralize all the key information about the recipients of welfare benefits and reduce the inefficincies due to out of synch departmental systems (especially HMRC).
The overall programme is extremely complex and involves ministers, huge external suppliers, multi-site design teams etc.

Change Conflict is still one of the biggest challenges on the horizon as it involves passing of welfare reform bill, input from the cabinet, the opposition and ultimately (if all went well) input from Her Majesty's think tanks. Any change during this process (which is inevitable) used to result in extra spending of millions of pounds of public money.
The biggest and most critical support that our transformation strategy team got was from the top executives and extremely dedicated and passionate programme directors.
It is too early to benefit from the fruits of this engagement - however, one thing is for sure; UK Govt's IT Programmes will never be the same again as they sincerely want to succeed. The methodology is now well on its way and is proving to be extremely adaptable and results oriented. Thanks to the refactorable/ test driven development - the policy level changes are actually pluggable via a rules engine and helps the Govt representatives to make informed decisions.
The proud moment for all this is shown on Agile Awards 2011 for "Best Use of Agile in the Public Sector"
"Department of Work & Pensions - DWP will change the way government works forever, and there are not many projects that can make that claim. ("
Crux of the matter is - all is not doomed; the UK Govt is trying and trying really hard in a positive way. After all the horror stories of huge failing programmes in the past - it is the UK Govt that is really deparate to succeed. Along the way on this agile/ lean journey - the whole society would benefit.
Time will tell...

Re-inventing innovation

Innovation is a buzz word these days - fancy for some and passion for others. In this compounded recession - teams are facing a dramatic challenge of programme delivery pressure and the need for innovative (yet customer centric) problem solving at all levels. 

The simple principle of "It is our responsibility to sell (honestly) and not their responsibility to buy", holds true across most of the organizations and at multiple levels.

Organizations worship efficiency, are hostile to variability and love conformance. In product development context. With these implicitly ill intentions, organizations try to focus far too much on the formal process where powerpoints are presented and filtered at multiple levels before they reach the real decision makes. 

Senior executives by definition are always short of time and this filtration blinds the vision about novel ideas. If you struggle to find new ideas in your organization, don't assume there aren't any!

If the ideas are revised, debated, screened and formalized before anyone with authority sees them - mark it down as stepping into a vicious circle towards death of innovation.

Instead of thoroughly vetting ideas before they reach senior management, find ways to expose decision hubs to ideas when they're raw. Skip the PowerPoint presentation—it only creates high expectations for a slick, refined idea. 

Remove the well-intentioned gatekeepers from the process . 

Some recommended steps towards augmenting innovation:

Brainstorm: Create a forum where team members get together and use affinity (KJ analysis) or any similar brainstorming technique that includes free thinking format. Ensure that the individuals get a chance to contribute individually before the thought share. Allow the team to anchor their thoughts around grouped ideas. 

Engage change agents: The teams have to find the right change agents who are passionate about innovation. It will then serve the purpose to the team to create informal opportunities for the raw & fresh ideas to be shared outside the ring fenced teams.  

Create an idea sharing forum: Try to create open forums that allow transparency and look at the ideas' processes before they're presented. Ensure that the ideas are presented  in their earliest stages as raw or on poster board to a room of mingling executives who can stop to discuss ideas that catch their attention.

Radiate the passion: Engage the enthusiastic and artistic team members to prepare thought provoking banners and spread the energy by inviting other teams to the brainstorming and demos.

Recipe for success

"It's not what you know, it's who you know" is truer than ever in today's truly challenged organizations.

The fundamental question then is - how do you know whom to know?
Personal support, purpose and work/life balance play a vital role in the filtration of whom to know.

A paired coach or a close friend proves to be priceless in situations of extreme uncertainty of bad days.

A solidarity driven objective based culture tries to take the human factor out of the equation. Pairing                     with more sociable personalities helps drive the broader meaning of work.
An honest friend will help you bring consistency into positive attidues including spirtual well-being,                                                         dietary habits and physical health.

With these three key filters at hand - try to choose influential and passionate change agents around you.
Having the right people around you - try to focus on learning (with passion) and success is inevitable.

Compete with yourself!

In these lean mean times where agility is mandatory to stay profitable with productive, motivated and innovative team - the most valuable brand in the world (worth approx $40 bn) decides to compete with itself in order to stay competitive.

Just came across this interesting viewpoint about why google had to buy motorola to rectify its earlier challenges:

"...with Motorola, Google got a hold of the vehicle through which it can create and sell integrated products. The company is thus no longer just a plumber but also a house builder and real estate developer. It can now build showcases that demonstrate the value of its services. The challenge then is how it will sell plumbing to contractors while it also competes with them by building houses..."

Further reference: Google's Strategic Mistakes Drove Motorola Buy

Preparing for the unexpected

As the saying goes - forewarned is forearmed.

Having risk and issue mitigation plans is good for concrete and challenging situations. However, there are subtle situations that cannot be captured in any form of documentation. In order to respond effectively to the crucially challenging scenarios - the intricacies of human interactions based on the team's personality need serious attention.

When things are running smoothly - the team can play it forward by role playing the potentially conflicting and likely behaviours. In this way, when the unexpected actually arrives at your team's door - it is well prepared and has experience of using the right tactics.

Trying to predict the future is debatable. An alternative approach is to be prepared to respond by giving value to the soft skills. A simple framework is to 'Stop', 'Explore' and 'Respond'.

Stop: Don't fall into the trap of hasty decisions. The lean principle of 'Decide as late as possible' holds true as long as this very decision is based on values and principles. This delay sometimes is the perfect opportunity to stop and think before acting.

Explore: Blaming the perfect storm is one of the easiest escape goats in blame culture. Think about synergy and best outcome in a given situation, the hidden information, empathise with positivity, and give fair consideration to the potential constraints. Then lay out your options.

Respond: Make an honest decision based on principles and values rather than allowing your hard-wired decision making to push you into a specific direction. Make a decision and commit. Even if the decision isn't ideal, accept that it's the best under the given circumstances.

Defibrillate your confidence

Defibrillate your confidence

Succeeding without self-assurance is a daunting challenge; and so is the innate feeling of insecurity.

Try these to regain confidence at those weak moments with the following simple stop-start practices:

•Stop over-criticizing - start recognizing: Recall those moments of passion that give you goose bumps when you learn something extra-ordinary. Zoom out and take a note of what you need to learn for the current situation to get that energetic feeling. With an accurate assessment of your abilities you can tell the difference between over-confidence
and lack of skill/ knowledge.

•Stop worrying - start practicing: If there's a job or task that you're worried about, practice doing it. Preparation builds both skill and confidence.

•Stop strengthening - start experimenting:
Embrace new opportunities. Playing to your strengths is smart, but not if it means you don't try new things. Experiment on novel challenges - fail early and learn from the mistakes to remind yourself what you are capable of.

With these simple defibrillation techniques, we can stop fretting and start performing to our true potential.

Manifesto for Agile Software Development +

Is the 'Manifesto for Software Craftsmanship' a logical next step from 'Manifesto for Agile Software' Development?

Here they are - side by side for easier comparison:

Popular Posts