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  • Writer's pictureMichael Kenny

The "Why are we doing it?" dichotomy.

Updated: May 18, 2021

Some time ago, I undertook a "Reset Assessment" of a very large program ($139M already spent and an estimate at completion of about $250M). Like many large transformational initiatives it had started several years previously with a promise of "remaking the way we do business". Along the way, it morphed into a "product data management" program and finally a "digital transformation". It had all the organizational and technical artifacts one would expect of a reasonably well run program - vision, strategy, business case, steering committee, PMO, agile methodology, strong technical team and good communications. Sure, there were flaws in many areas, the business case was optimistic, the steering committee too large, and the program stuttered as it "transitioned" to agile about nine months after it officially started. Still, if you have been around as many of these large programs as I have, you have to have a pragmatic approach and focus on what is required to deliver and achieve the desired outcomes. In general, it was one of the better structured programs I had seen - believe me, the bar is low.

So with some trepidation, I began to work my way through the "founding documents". Typically, there are three questions you are looking for answers to at the very start of one if these type of assessments. These are: "What are we doing?", Why are we doing it?" and "How are we doing it?" A lot of the time the "How are we doing it?" answer lacks many of the artifacts above and the "reset" is fairly obvious. In this case however, that was not the issue.

There were a myriad of decks and steering committee updates - all good and well put together. In one of the decks I noticed that the program objective was "Better, Faster, Easier". This was the business "sell" deck. In another deck, I read the program objective as "Creating the information backbone of the future". This was the technology "sell" deck.

After more research and conversations with both business and technology executives it became clear that there were actually two sets of objectives and virtually two projects . One focused on the end-user experience of "Better, Faster, Easier" and the other on the technology objective of "Creating the information backbone of the future". If your objective is "Better, Faster, Easier" your focus is on the end-user and the user experience. If your objective is "Creating the information backbone of the future" (how many times does technology get a chance to do that?) then the user experience may have to wait.

While there were many other issues, this was the key to the "reset". In this particular case the solution was to move the center of gravity of the program towards the business and obsess about the end-user. This is where all the misalignment was and where the program was failing.

Was this just an executive and leadership alignment issue? It is hard to know, but I bet you a real alignment define-measure-improve approach would have unearthed this dichotomy before $139M was spent. Finishing it by the way - after the "reset"- was going to cost about $350M, $100M more than anticipated!

What is alignment? How do we align around an initiative? How do we know we are aligned? These are really hard questions. Questions we are answering at AlignedAround. I would welcome your thoughts.

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