Friday, February 29, 2008
Mountains, Mole Hills & Dead Buffaloes
When the going gets tough, the tough get going!
Just over a week has passed since Pink’s 12th annual ITSM Event in Las Vegas and I have to say it was the most amazing event of my Pink Elephant journey. Having had the privilege of being at all 12 of our annual shows I can say categorically that this was the most impressive and down right fun on all counts. It was my pleasure to have spoken at several sessions and many of the readers of this Blog came up and introduced themselves with a thank you, and a kind word of encouragement to keep on trucking so to speak.
The topics of my sessions ranged from the lofty heights of IT Governance down into the technical geekdom of federated database strategies. However, I have to confess that my favorite subject to speak about is Culture and Organizational Change. It also seems to be a favorite subject of many of the conference attendees since the room was packed with over 200 people and the doors had to be closed to the frustration of many who came later.
So why is this topic so important to so many people? In my view it is because the true difficultly in implementing IT Service Management is not a lack of knowledge, resources or tools but it lies in the heart of IT culture, politics and lack of people resources. I wrote of this a while back in a blog post I called “The People, Process Technology Flaw”.
The reality is that most organizations which fail to in their initial attempts at adopting ITIL best practice do so because of an underestimation of the task. The design of a process flow and the documentation of policy and procedure is really not that hard. You can take several smart people, disappear into a meeting room and emerge with a fully documented process in a couple of days. Especially if you leverage a great tool like PinkATLAS. Ok I am guilty of a little up sell here, but I am very proud of this service
So why does it take several months to even begin to deploy this process? That is because, process design is not the hardest issue you face. While changing work practices is difficult you have to also layer on top of that task the requirement to change (beliefs, values, behavior, tools and management reward and incentive structures.) We might as well realize that what your are really doing is re-structuring the DNA of your organization on a shoestring budget.
Once we realize the true size of the task before us we can start identifying all the issues, risks and road blocks that can potentially cause the project and change effort to falter, stall and fail.
As a wise man once said: “A problem defined is a problem half solved”
Early in my consulting career I came across an excellent exercise to identify and develop a strategy for these types of issues called:
Mountains, Mole Hills and Dead Buffaloes
The premise for using this exercise is that you have just formed your new project team and described the vision and scope of the effort to them and you see in their eyes the wordless (and sometimes not so wordless doubts) that plague your own mind. Rather than denying these doubts and gaining an ulcer it is better to get them out on the table so to speak, classify them as fact or fiction and then develop a plan to deal with them.
However, before we go further we need to baseline a few definitions:
- Mountain:A risk with a large impact and high probability to negatively impact to project success
- Mole Hill: A risk with a smaller impact and probability to derail or damage the project effort
- Dead Buffalo: An issue or risk that is perceived or real. However, no one is willing to name it due to political or social risk but it is present in the room like a stinking carcass of a dead animal. (These issues have to be identified and dealt with and hopefully shoveled out the door since they are very unpleasant to have hanging around the room)
To do this I suggest the following team exercise
Duration: 30 Minutes (longer and you risk a spiraling discussion of discouragement)
- To provide an opportunity for creative risk identification and classification for issues that will potentially cause the project to fail.
- To separate fact from opinion
- To define high priority issues and risks. The exercise is not intended to solve issues only name them and place them in perspective.
Method: Using brainstorming techniques discuss all the issues that the group sees as a dead buffalo, mountain or mole hill to achieving a successful process implementation. Each statement must be placed within the following table. (sources of risk: people, politics, resources, time legislation, environment, technology, funding, competing projects….)
Define what constitutes “Fact” (group, consensus, historic, documented, measurable?)
Define what constitutes “Opinion” (group disagrees, difficult to measure, not documented)
- High Risk - Fact Based: Document these risks in the project charter and request the project sponsor / steering committee to provide leadership and guidance. (this is their job)
- Low Risk - Fact Based: Capture and monitor these issues in your project management risk log with mitigation strategies and continue to monitor them as potentials to turn into high risks.
- High Risk - Opinion Based: Assign each of these issues to a team member for further research and follow up to translate them into one of the other 3 categories for the next meeting.
- Low Risk - Opinion Based: Life is too short to worry about everything so drop these off your radar
With this useful exercise you have accomplished some key objectives.
You have provided a forum for your new team to begin their team bonding by sharing concerns
You have allowed your team to voice their concerns in the open with a constructive output
You have identified and set actions to key project risks
You have hopefully named and dealt with those nasty dead buffaloes
Troy’s thoughts what are yours?
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” ~William Blake