By Julian Ferguson | Jul 5 2020
Increasing certainty in times of uncertainty
One of the lessons of the COVID 19 pandemic for businesses is that the degree of business uncertainty really can be much higher than even the most radical of scenario planners allowed for. Most disaster planning scenarios imagined the impact would be regional. Few, if any, accounted for a sustained, global impact on their business.
Of course, all businesses have to assume a degree of business certainty; otherwise businesses would never do anything or look beyond a quarterly horizon. Moving forward, businesses will place even more focus on minimising risk or, put another way, on maximising certainty of the desired outcome.
This is especially important in areas such as innovation because adapting business as usual to embrace new opportunities whilst adding customer value and increasing productivity brings with it greater uncertainty and higher potential risk. Of course there is no magic bullet, innovation will always carry significant risk but, few companies get the balance right. This is often the case with technology projects.
Businesses expend considerable time and effort assessing the cost and scale of opportunity/need but only a fraction of the time considering how best to manage and build the technology solution so that it achieves the business outcome. Too much of the focus shifts to short term cost and delivery timescales, which in turn leads to quick fixes and compromises on sustainability and scope. There is too little consideration given to the fact that business requirements are constantly changing as market requirements shift.
Lost in translation
Off-shoring the development work to companies based in India or the Philippines is a popular solution because they are cheaper, usually extremely hard working and more than capable technically. That said, managing remote development teams abroad is a particular skill and adds significant challenge to project managers, owners and stakeholders. Time zone differences, cultural and language differences and sometimes overseas developers understandable lack of familiarity and ability to prioritise technical requirements in an industry or market they are not familiar with, can add significant and usually unforeseen risk. The people, within the client business, tasked with managing the project understand the market, the industry and technical requirements. Where they can struggle is in managing a team of developers half a world away where things may get lost in translation. This is especially the case when other business responsibilities closer to home are vying for attention and take priority. In our experience this is where the greatest risk of failure lies, yet it is a factor that is largely overlooked at the outset.
It requires specialist expertise to manage large scale technology projects, especially ones covering multiple geographies. Companies mostly overlook or underestimate the significance of this until the whole project is at the point of failure, and they have the benefit of hindsight. Getting outside help from specialist companies with the leadership, project management and technical expertise, minimises the risks of failure. They have the focus and experience to ensure the technical solution delivers the intended business outcomes on time and in full. Bringing in this expertise adds very little cost but vastly increases the likelihood of success.
Technical complexity is not the problem
When you examine the reasons why technology-driven innovation fails, it is not because the technology needed is not there yet, or that the skills were not available. Invariably it is caused by a lack of people with the right mix of leadership skills in the team. Even when the right combination of skills is present, problems still arise. Too often, the business as a whole has insufficient clarity on the end objective as business needs and priorities change along the way. In cases like large government, IT programs the adopted ways of working lack the flexibility and oversight to allow for changes in priorities as business requirements shift over the course of the project.
For most businesses managing large and even small scale technology based innovation is not their core skill. Therefore it is understandable that the skills required to manage and deliver these programs effectively do not usually reside within the company. These skills are a critical component to success in our view. In the drive at the outset to minimise cost of development and maximise the technical capability, the need the specialist leadership, project management and technical oversight skills gets overlooked or ignored. The result is cost overruns, low team morale and even outright project failure.