What the Experts Say …

is first and foremost, learn from past experience. So why do you think people continue to ignore that advice? I’d like us to take a look at some instances of stunning stupidity.

Do You Understand the Problem?

Clearly the directors of the UK’s Immigration Service thought they knew it all when, in the late 1990s, they set about trying to re-engineer their business processes and technology. The underlying symptoms were a system that was creaking under the strain of processing vast amounts of paperwork to do with immigration and asylum claims. Rightly a decision was made to do something about it.

That’s when the trouble started. Best practice – I’m sure you will agree – is to make sure you know what the problem is before trying to fix it. Not on this occasion. A range of consultancies pitched for the programme of work costing an estimated £85 million to put things right. Only one of them – in this instance it was Accenture – proposed spending 6 months on-site to work out what was going on. Then, they said, they could design the right solution and make it work.

The directors ignored this advice. Instead they insisted that they knew what was needed – an expensive IT system with image and workflow and they simply had to get it as soon as possible. Then everything would be simply fine and dandy.

Oh dear. Things were doomed from the outset as a system was being built with technology at the forefront that was inappropriate for the underlying problems. What should have happened was process re-engineering to work out the best way for the department to operate and then build systems accordingly. Don’t you agree? Eventually the National Audit Office did. They criticised the directors for their failings in the procurement process and not stepping back to work out what was really needed. The resulting mess was a waste of 10s of £millions on a system that was cancelled after three years in development.

If the Cost-Benefit Case Stacks Up – Shouldn’t You Just Do It?

A bunch of managers in the procurement function for a major retailer were adamant that they had an ideal little project to improve the flow of goods into the warehouses and onwards. It would – so they said – simply cost around £500k and would have a benefit of cost-savings of over £20 million in a few years. Would you have just gone ahead?

The managers thought it should. To them it was a no-brainer and they didn’t think they needed to ask permission to get started. What about the context of this project in the overall business? The truth was that the business was in trouble and a major turnaround programme was in progress. As part of that there was a governance structure (that ought to have been there anyway – but hadn’t previously existed) which required board approval for the expenditure.

On this occasion good governance stopped the little project in its tracks – because the company directors saw a better use for £500k at the time – to get a few other things straightened out that were more immediate in their impacts.

The lesson – don’t assume that just because the numbers look good that it is also a great idea. What else might be done with those resources that has greater benefit or takes the business in a different direction?

When Someone Tells You Things are on Track – Do You Believe Them?

What do you think experience tells us about this? That we should just take people at their word? If so, why? Let’s look at some lessons from business.

In 2000 the directors of Intelligent Finance plc were sitting at the helm of what was to be Europe’s largest internet bank. There was a huge team of consultants, analysts and developers working on it to get the business to launch.

In a meeting in Edinburgh they had over 50 people around the table all responsible for various aspects of the programme. The directors were keen to hit a launch date in September (having previously had to pull the scheduled earlier launch). It was quite clear that this was important to them. Moreover they ALSO made it clear that if they got the green light in the meeting then expensive TV advertising was going to be booked and scheduled.

Should anyone have spoken up to question the wisdom of all this?

The Chief Exec turned to the head of the consultancy running the programme and asked – “Are we on schedule? Are we going to hit the date?” The response was a simple “Yes, we’re going to get there”.

What would you have asked next? As it happened, nothing else was said and the meeting ended.

Experience tells us that you would want evidence in these circumstances. I would have wanted to know how the consultant knew. What proof did he have? As it was, the TV slots were booked and a week later the whole thing fell apart when a major problem surfaced that had been rumbling for some time. The software for the call-centre didn’t work and the phone system kept crashing. The launch was delayed again and this little episode had cost £millions, plus the very public embarrassment of having to delay yet again. Subsequently the directors were sacked (probably for incompetence).

Quite rightly so.

Moral – don’t be afraid to ask for proof. It’s not a crime. Base your decisions on facts not assumptions or opinion.

Post-implementation Reviews are Gold Dust

Whenever a major project finishes, it’s accepted best-practice to carry out a post-implementation review. So why is it that these are documented and then nobody reads them?

Teams who have finally delivered are basking in the glow of success. It is hard to look for failings in how they got there. Yet it is just those nuggets that people ought to understand, otherwise the same mistakes will be made over again.

How do you encourage open and frank discussion of what went wrong? The answer seems to lie in making it an activity that carries high praise if done well. Yet bizarrely most senior executives hardly bother to even get involved, let alone offer recognition for a job well done that might save a small fortune in the future.

Please don’t make the same mistake. It’s a waste of good information that’s at your fingertips if only you bother to capture it.

How Can You Avoid These Mistakes?

Start by talking to people who have been there many times and seen how to avoid them. Get in touch with us and start the conversation. Transformation should include ways that take account of where you are as well as what you do. We’ll help you design a template for going forward as part of a free consultation. If you’d like more information then you can also follow this link.

Rob Wherrett can be contacted at https://robwherrett.com/contact/

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