Friday, 28 February 2014

7 Deadly Sins of Process Improvement/Change - #7 Extravagance

My final deadliest sin is that of extravagance. Extravagance is not confined to process improvement, but for many years was something of a feature of the IT industry. Extravagance has two meanings, and both are relevant in this post. The first definition refers to the lack of restraint in spending money or use of resources. The second refers to the excessive use of elaborateness in style, speech or action. Both have a similar impact on resources and money, and both can be resolved through similar management techniques.

Massive improvement programmes are still popular in large organisations. Huge budgets are set aside, an army of internal and external consultants is assembled and the senior management talk about nothing else for months. It's a matter of all hands on deck and a marketing campaign is launched resembling Kitchener's call to arms in 1914. This seems particularly true for such activities as Obtaining CMMI Level 3 or becoming ISO 9000 certified, but more recently for Becoming Agile or Lean.

Behind the frenzy of activities, old timers quietly mutter about the 'last great improvement programme' and the fact that this one won't bring any significant change after making their lives hell for the next two years. Newer members of staff, especially managers, begin to dismantle the good things that did come about from the last great change, in favour of their own pet projects and generally the whole organisation becomes a circus where each and every one of my previous deadly sins is performed in some office or corridor of power.

The problem with extravagance is that the focus of the change moves from being for the benefit of the business and shifts towards feeding egos and personal agendas.

Extravagance isn't restricted to large endeavours either. Small improvement projects can easily lose their scope and expand to fill the number of hours in the day and gobble up limited improvement dollars and staff patience.


Keep It Simple

The old adages are always the best ones. The larger the scope of an improvement or change programme, the greater the risk of it stepping on its own toes as one part of the programme starts undoing the good being done somewhere else - for example a project management status report being streamlined in the PM work stream whilst the management review process is being extended in the Governance work stream. Sub-optimisation is the greatest enemy of large initiatives which fail to take a holistic approach and will cancel out improvement benefits if you aren't careful.

Remember Your Audience

Most people have a limited capacity for change in any time period and over elaboration of an improvement programme will be subject to the law of diminishing returns. If your staff begin to show signs of change fatigue you need to scale back on your ambitions - but better still, show restraint in the first place and package changes into small enough packages that can be managed and implemented without overwhelming people.

Beware 'Just one more thing'

It may have worked brilliantly for Steve Jobs as a theatrical tool at Apple Keynotes but it has no place in an improvement programme. In Jobs' case the one more thing may have thrown the crowd into a frenzy, but in an improvement programme it may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Don't go on cramming more and more into an improvement initiative. Prioritise and move less important opportunities to later phases.

Laws to Overcome Extravagance

1st Law - Keep It Simple

2nd Law - Organisations, teams and individuals can only deal with a certain amount of simultaneous change

3rd Law - Beware the executive who begs "Indulge me" with an additional requirement after all the plans are in place

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