Decide Fast, Learn Fast, Win Fast


Ready to Unleash Your Transformation? Focus on Decision Making.

How many time has this happened to you? Its Monday morning, and you just logged into your weekly staff meeting when you get an urgent call from senior management. They want you to call them immediately, join their conference call or maybe even come to their office to discuss why your company cannot move faster with your projects, change, strategy execution, technology, process improvements, etc.? At least 3 times this month? It happens everyday, and it happened again today. The pace of your change needs to be faster. It will happen again tomorrow! So, what do you do? For starters, I propose you start with your decision making.

A company can only move as fast as they make decisions. The effectiveness of decision making is like the speedometer for your project, change initiative, strategic endeavor, etc. If decisions are slow, your transformation will be slow. If decisions are fast, your company will be able to move forward faster. Decisions create actions that translate into tasks for people in the company to complete. No decisions, no actions, no tasks, no completion.

DecideFastLearnFastWinFastIn Leading Successful Change, authors Shea & Solomon propose to change an organization you need to change behavior. They elaborate further to describe 8 levers of change, one of which they describe as decision allocation. Simply put, think of this as “who decides what, and where?” There are models available to help you structure the decision making process. I personally prefer the DACI model: Driver, Approvers, Contributors, Informed because it is simple and emphasizes accountability in the role of Driver to make the decision happen.

Before we go rushing off to “just make more decisions, faster”, lets consider some drivers behind slower decision making. When companies lack action, they are indecisive. Indecision can be caused for may reasons including but not limited to: not enough information, too much information, and unclear roles and responsibilities. Said another way, people hesitate to make decisions because they fear the decision will not have the required quality demanded by the company.

This balance of speed vs quality can be challenging. Consider the classic 2×2 above to assist with guiding actions to improve your decision making. If you find yourself with fast decision making, but low quality, focus on learning faster from your low quality decisions. If you find yourself with high quality decisions but too much time to make them, focus on deciding faster by embracing more risk.

Make no mistake, if you make decisions faster you improve your company’s ability to move forward faster. Have you heard the old saying “Win Fast, Fail Fast“? While it is very applicable in this context, I prefer “Decide Fast, Learn Fast, Win Fast”. If you make decisions faster, and they truly lack the quality you desire, engage your learning capability and dial your learnings back into a new decision to ultimately win faster.

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Project Canaries


Yellow-fronted Canary (Serinus mozambicus)
Yellow-fronted Canary (Serinus mozambicus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On my way home today, I heard a classic song from my youth, Canary in a Coalmine by The Police. This song reminded me of a book that I have found to be insightful and a concept within Business Transformation that is worth expanding upon here.

The book is Corporate Canaries: Avoid Business Disasters with a Coal Miner’s Secrets, by Gary Sutton. The premise is that just like coal miners used to bring canaries into their coal mines as a form of early detection system for poisonous gas, there are corporate canaries that can serve as a similar form of early detection system for corporate death or failure.

So, on my ride home inspired by The Police, I began to capture some project canaries, or project level warning signs that can show a toxic environment within your project, programs, or portfolios. Here they are in no particular order:

  • The business should make business decisions and technology should make technology decisions.
  • If you don’t have the business defined, you don’t know your destination.
  • If you don’t have a schedule, you don’t know when you will arrive at your destination.
  • If you don’t have “one throat to choke”, you don’t have any accountability.
  • If you don’t have organizational roles & responsibilities understood, you can’t make decisions.
  • The project can only move as fast as decisions are made, and kept.
  • If you don’t communicate, others will define their perception as your reality.
  • If you don’t manage your budget, you don’t have control.

Think of these bullets as canaries in your project. Find the shelf for them to prop them up and watch to see if they keel over. Keep your eye on them as you traverse your project environment, organizational culture, and hallway passages.

Integrating an Enterprise Strategy and “The Agile PMO”


Blue Heron Bridge - Singer Island, Florida

The Agile PMO Role

So how do you integrate enterprise strategy and corporate performance into an agile delivery model? On one hand, the enterprise strategy and corporate performance require stability, predictability, and a high degree of structure, much like the Blue Heron Bridge in Singer Island, Florida. On the other hand, agile techniques are extremely useful with adjusting and reacting to uncertainty by creating highly collaborative environment and pushing decision making into daily scrum meeting / calls between project stakeholders. In my experience and discussions with companies and teams in this space, many view this as a holy grail. The article linked above by Tamara Sulaiman at Gantthead does a fine job of positioning a classic organizational capability, an Enterprise Project Management Office (EPMO) within an agile construct, and offers several ideas on how to make it work.

In particular, what I like most about this article is the clarity around specific activities and capabilities that could be put into place to make an Agile PMO live within a company. The most interesting capability in the Agile PMO is the meta-scrum. The article go on to say “the Meta Scrum is focused on the strategic planning and decisions guiding the program or programs as a whole. Establishing a Meta Scrum with the PMO representative acting as ScrumMaster to plan and facilitate meetings (as well as reporting and tracking decisions and action items) can add significant value in having a program able to rapidly respond to change while staying true to the corporate strategy and objectives.”

If you are leading a business transformation, implementing a corporate strategy, delivering a large program, or managing a project with multiple sprints, I see the following critical success factors for integrating agile within an enterprise strategy:

  • Articulate your strategy in a manner that is culturally acceptable for your company.
  • Decompose the strategy into a series of initiatives / programs / projects / sprints that can be understood by your company with traceability from the top of the company down to the first line employee.
  • Establish enough of a management system that embraces agile concepts at the daily execution level while gathering the basic information that will allow you to answer the hardest strategic level questions from your CEO. Basic elements that I propose include but are not limited to: corporate goals, programs / projects / sprints / tasks, employee hours worked on a weekly basis, & capital vs expense delineations.
  • Define and allocate executive level ownership of the corporate goals, programs, projects, sprints, tasks and associated budgets to move decision making as close to the source as possible.
  • Tooling to implement your management system so that you are not running your business in Excel spreadsheets.

In the end, you want to create a corporate ecosysem, think of this as a culture and management system,  that mimics the structure and stability of the Blue Heron Bridge (aka the enterprise) while allowing the daily variability and agility of the underlying ocean of change to ebb and flow (the people, programs, & projects).

IT Governance Rule #3 of 3 – Deliver Value to the Business


In this last installment on IT Governance (for now), let’s discuss the need for a “closed loop” system for IT Governance. So, far in rule #1 (make sure we are doing the right things) and rule #2 (make sure we are doing things right), we have set up business and IT to deliver successfully on the key needs for their respective company. But, how do we know that the results were actually achieved? It takes more than “earned value” or “customer satisfaction”. As change leaders, I suggest that we need an audit level of detail and proof that the business value was delivered and change was achieved.

I recently heard a statement like “51% of statisticians can convince their audience of a conclusion because they make numbers mean anything they want them to mean”. While this may be humorous to most, there is a thread of truth there. Business cases can contain assumptions, constraints, and goals of all types that are true with rose-colored glasses based on a point-in-time perspective. As projects unfold over time, how do you or your company verify that the results were actually achieved based on a new reality (not-so-rose colored glasses and a new points-in-time). Put your CFO hat on and apply the simple construct of budget, actuals, variance, and forecast across not only costs, but on benefits of a project as well. Try auditing the business case to see if the costs AND benefits (sales, revenue, cost reduction, etc.) were actually achieved, and when. And, don’t do this in a vacuum. Consistent with my previous entry regarding agile change management, get the business involved in proving the results. After all, who better then to ensure you are delivering value to the business, than the business leaders themselves.

Integrating Project and Change Management


On April 27, 2010 project & change management leaders came together in Las Vegas to discuss how and why project management and change management are integrated.

Prosci Global Change Management Conference

I recently had the great honor of speaking as a part of a panel at the 2010 Global Change Management conference hosted by Prosci (www.prosci.com) and the Association of Change Management Professionals (www.acmp.info). My esteemed fellow panelists were from Oracle, the Brighton Leadership Group, & the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and in spite of our varied industry backgrounds, we shared several perspectives on this subject. Whether you are a project manager or a change manager at heart, I think this quick excerpt from our perspective will resonate with your experiences:

  • Know your environment and begin your integration building on core competency. Where is your organizational maturity: Are you stronger in project management or change management? Build on what is already working well; learn lessons from what is not successful
  • Everyone must understand why the integration is happening and what it will accomplish. Answer the question, “What does success look like?”
  • Don’t disband the change team when the project “goes live” some resources need to support the change and manage resistance
  • Integration is not meant to be a tug-of-war
  • Project success depends more on stakeholder perception than on meeting project goals
  • Project completion doesn’t mean everything was accepted
  • Never, never, never stop learning
  • Stay 5 steps ahead of the change
  • Get all stakeholders involved; both supporters and resisters

We had a lively discussion with great participation from the audience including many Global and Fortune 500 companies. In the end, I would assert to you

  • While all surgeons are doctors, not all doctors are surgeons; While all change managers are project managers, not all project managers are change managers, and
  • Like the London tube: “Mind the Gap” – the gap in knowledge and skills. Knowledge of project or change management does not mean you are skilled at either, AND knowledge is a great start.

My thanks and appreciation goes out to my fellow panelists and the 350+ conference attendees for your participation and engagement at the conference.

Stay tuned for more discussion on this topic. In the meantime, what do you think? Agree? Disagree? Why? Leave a Comment.

IT Governance Rule #2 of 3 – Make sure you are doing things right


In article 2 of a 3 part series on IT Governance, if you have a capability to make sure you are doing the right things (article 1), you need to make sure you are doing them right. With this entry, lets assume you or your organization know what matters most, and your focus is  in determining how to make sure your team delivers.

What matters more, an excellent strategy or excellent execution? If you had to pick one, which would you pick? In Making Strategy Work (2005 Wharton School Publishing – Amazon link here) Lawrence Hrebinak argues that execution of strategy is the key, not strategy definition itself. I concur and this means that this second rule is more important than rule #1, and my experience across multiple industries, countries, and economies suggest the same. It is amazing how delivery of solutions or eliminating problems “takes the noise out of the system”. In my consulting days, I was thrust into many troubled situations. In these situations my clients consistently said “if you can’t deliver on what I have already contracted to you, why do you think I would give you anything else?” Makes sense to me!

So, how do you make sure you are doing things right? Some considerations (in no particular order):

  • Project Management
    • How many projects are active? Is it easy to determine the answer? If not, you have an issue.
    • For each project, what are you delivering, when will you be finished, and how much will it cost?
  • People, Process, Technology
    • Do you have the right people in the right roles (as I type this the 2010 NFL Draft is on my TV in the background)?
    • Do you have the right delivery system or processes?
    • Do you have the right technical capabilities, architectures, platforms?
  • Relationships
    • How do the business and IT relate to each other at the enterprise, project and operational levels?
    • What does the business say about IT? What are the 10 adjectives that the business would use to describe IT?
    • What does IT say about the business? What are the 10 adjectives that IT uses to describe the business?
    • What is working well?
    • What would you change if you were King for a day?

To make sure you are doing things right, it doesn’t take a PhD. It’s really more about the basics. And, what is more basic, better said – universal, than a traffic light? Red, yellow or green? English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, or Australian we all understand the basics of red, yellow and green. Use these universal icons to determine if you are doing things right. With this vernacular in place, manage by exception. Be hard on the red items. Watch the yellow items. And, most importantly, determine which green activities are really yellow, and which yellow activities are really red and you will stay 5 steps ahead of your changes.

2010 Prosci Global Conference on Best Practices in Change ManagementBusiness Transformation, change management, conferences, prosci


I will be speaking at the 2010 Prosci Global Conference on Best Practices in Change Management in Las Vegas, NV on the topic of Integrating Project Management and Change Management. I look forward to a lively exchange of ideas and to hearing more thought leadership on the topic.

So, what is your experience with the intersection of project management and change management? I shared some perspectives on this topic in a previous blog post here ->http://wp.me/py1Ni-2I . These perspectives were sourced through a lively discussion via a few of LinkedIn’s group discussions. I am very interested in your thoughts and comments in my guestbook for inclusion at the conference.

For more information, please check out http://www.acmp.info/conference/integrating.htm