Insights: Meetings

Occasionally I have the luxury of sitting back and watching project meetings as an FYI attendee rather than a active participant.  During a recent meeting that was to set context for a direction change and gain buy-in from stakeholders I watched as the two meeting leads followed a careful script crafted the previous day gradually spun off track.  These were two seasoned professionals with more than a few years experience.  People I highly respect. So what happened?

Like so many other group meetings, both the pre-meeting developing the script for the buy-in meeting and the buy-in meeting,  understanding the roles at the table and there agendas was not prime on the mines of the participants.  Often in meetings I find we –and I’ll include myself in this pattern– are more interested in our own specific agenda than achievement of the overall goal of the team or scoring points in intellectual arguments on detail procedures rather than outcomes.  While the pre-meeting had established its goal of gaining buy-in from the stakeholders the approach to gaining such was less thought out.  The team spent time creating a logical agenda to present what and why we were going to do differently.  This was done optimistically or blindly in the believed if the logic was correct we’d get buy-in.  While we got some agreement, the buy-in meeting slowly drifted away as stakeholders 1) raised issues that were not covered in the presentation but were of importance to them and 2) had a different understanding of terms, concepts, methods and how these are combined for results.  Even the outcomes expected generated controversy.  The goals of each stakeholders were different than the goals of the project or rather achievement of these stakeholder goals were not necessarily supportive of the overall goal of the project.  That is not to say these goals were counter to achievement of the project, but these needed to be aligned in context of the overall project.

Which brings me back to the corrective action we should have taken during the pre-meeting.  Years ago I brought to the attention of my management an article in Sloan Management Review : A Framework for Managing IT-Enabled Change,  Summer 1993 July 15, 1993 Robert I. Benjamin and Eliot Levinson.   I was promptly told to bury the article, we don’t do that here in this company.  Such effort would be seen as manipulation rather than good leadership practices.

In that article they had an approach towards visually planning gaining stakeholder buy-in which would have served us well.  However, while some progress in language regarding gaining stakeholder buy-in has improved in the IT profession, considered focus and concern in that direction are still merely a follow the numbers activity.  Would the meeting have been different, more productive, and gained agreement -no commitment- faster had we used this approach.  I don’t know for sure.  I expect it would as it had worked for me very well at other companies, but I would have like to have seen it tried.

The other insight gained from the meeting was really a reminder that terms and concepts are not always understood by everyone in the same manner  These are influenced by the context and role people play within a particular situation. This is especially true in the business process domain which is very abstract and often leans itself to multiple interpretations to terms, many times drifting off as a new label to old ways of doing business rather than the new approach it was suppose to be.


Structure in Threes: Risk Management as a component of Portfolio Management

Continuing to research risk management as a component of the Modern IT Portfolio Management methodology this morning.  Starting to investigate unexpected loss and uncertainty aspects.  Will be rereading Shoemaker’s “Profiting from Uncertainty”.  Looks like the financial risk management risk research I’ve been doing, is confirming the Real Options application research to portfolios I had previously developed two years ago.  The key element that most of the PMP risk management activities track are around identifying and managing known risk (expected loss).  Typically, this is not the area that causes the most problem unless the risk management plan is just pencil whipped (i.e., just a form competition exercise).

Ensuring that both expected, unexpected, and cascading or interconnected risks are addressed as more than just a side activity is a cultural aspect I’ll need to add to the adoption section of the book.  I expect similar aspects of adoption management I used before for Strategy and Market Planning process deployment will be used here.  I’ll relook at Kotter’s, DAGMAR, and ADKAR models for change next month when I detail out the adoption management methods and chapters.

In the meantime I’ll go back to researching risk today.  On today’s agenda is investigating process failure risk components and cascading risk and failures.  The later, cascading failures, should be more application than primary research, as standard engineering practices such as FMECA, RCA, and FEM have network analysis frameworks that I’ve adapted before with great results..  Right now I really miss all my White Boards.  I’m looking into a paint that turns walls into white boards –it would be great if I could get touch displays the size of walls.  I’d really build a think tank 🙂

Structure in Threes: Risk Management

Early wakeup this morning.  Researching advanced risk management practices for Modern IT Portfolio management workshop.  Interesting to review previous company practices in the area and how disconnected these are from strategic and project planning.  While the simple models make calculations easier, they also lull staff and executives into thinking they’re covered what’s necessary.  Tomorrow I’ll add risk management justification points to why Portfolio Management section of the workshop and continue to integrated the risk components into the Portfolio methodology.

Structure in Threes: Modern IT Portfolio Management – Establishing a Portfolio: Step One

While the typical rational for Portfolio Management  is closely associated with finance.  I think because that is the easiest domain to track; the finance concept has a developed measurement system.  Other intangible goals are harder to track as these don’t have well established metrics.  There are not well published and accepted coordinate systems for risk, happiness, wellness, etc.  The systems of measure I’ve found through research so far are very subjective.

One example of note that illustrates this point; risk.  Risk as defined by William Rowe is a fairly simple mathematical formula Risk = Probability of Loss x Quality of Loss.   While the formula is fairly simple is appearance two aspects cloud the issue:

  • First, obtaining the Probability of Loss; this is not a generally well understood or robust activity.  Ask the average corporate employee about the probability of an event and you are likely to get a very vague answer or inconsistent answers all over the spectrum
  • Second, the assessment of risk or risk tolerance.  Is a risk of say $1,000 dollars high, medium or low?  This tolerance classification is very subjective and conditional.  Factors such as past and current economic conditions effect the psychological state and thereby tolerance levels.  An example in the investment domain:  Someone that has a portfolio of hi-tech stocks or mostly hi-tech stocks would be considered to have a high risk tolerance; One because it is heavily weighted in stocks and two because the investments are in an industry that is very volatile.

These two issues make risk measurement less concrete in the minds of average employees compared with every day finance.  While there are aspects of risk people inherently are aware of (not a good idea to jump off a building) these are internalized and typically a explicit conscious decision process (e.g., if I jump off the building the probability of survival is x percent…)

Applying intangible goals to IT Portfolio Management thus becomes an exercise in not only creating the goal, but the measurement system for monitoring achievement to that goal.  While on the surface this too sounds rather simple to execute.  Again appearances can be deceiving.  Example; make an unnumbered list of ten nonfinancial priorities for yourself, project or company.  Duplicated the list and circulate to a dozen or so people around you in and outside of your workplace.  Ask each to prioritize the list 1 to 10, without consulting anyone and return the list to you.  It is likely you will find that not everyone agrees with each other on priorities.  Without discussing priorities which are strongly tied to value systems within a corporation setting and measuring intangible goals will be frustrating at best.

Thus the first step in establishing a an efficient and effective Portfolio is to discuss values and priorities of the firm and obtain alignment of the stakeholders.  A word of caution, like other concepts above, this is easier said than done.  Using a workshop, surveying, and applying Bayesian logic to assist in weighting the consensus outcomes is likely to give you a higher probability of Portfolio success or at least know what success looks like to everyone.

Structure in Threes: Modern IT Portfolio Management

This morning I’ll tackle the rest of my wiring closet, then local phone company to come by to determine why primary line is continually business which is what kicked off relocating and revising wiring closet.  In the meantime, I’m back to researching using Candlestick Charting as a means for the Modern IT Portfolio Management concepts I’ve been developing the past years.  I’ve been keeping tabs on the options theory materials I’ve deployed at former employers and clients.  The results infer the approach works well; the clients that I monitor have been reporting increased business capabilities at a faster rate than prior and improved business results in the line of businesses that were supported.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying this is conclusive evidence that the portfolio approach I deployed was causal for improved business results –some of the contribution loop training I received long ago– but I do see a correlation and would conclude effective IT Portfolio Management contributes to improved business results.  The South African engagement I supported remotely for a client would have been a good test case; however, we didn’t have the time nor client have the funding to do a baseline for analyzing the effects creating BI and Collaboration capabilities in the enterprise.  I did specify how they could automatically track results and use predictive analytics backwards to create a baseline for analysis later.  I’d be interested in tacking a trip there one day to see the results and add the marketing analytics they wanted to do in phase two.  In the meantime its off to brainstorming about what indicators to use for IT Ecosystem Candlestick charting.

Structure in Threes –Modern IT Portfolio Management: Research

Spent today on a variety of tasks; home and career.  Finished pressure washing back porch, put final coat on souvenir cup rack I built on Sunday, and started brainstorming how I could apply Candlestick Charting to managing Business and IT Portfolios.  I reason that if you can follow trends in the market, a similar set of dynamics may be at work in the business and IT ecosystems.  So far the portfolio research I’ve been doing relating IT functions and its components to business capabilities is proving out.  Last week I when through my project achieve to review the properties and attributes at play in the various reengineering projects I’ve done.  I’ve noticed a few patterns surfacing and now I’ll be working on analyzing these for correlation, then cause/effect.   The results should enhance the Modern IT Portfolio Management methodology I’m writing about.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to reviewing book outline and detailing it to the next level.  Been away from the project long enough to have fresh eyes looking at it.