We’ve all been there. The technology is functioning. Even if it isn’t functioning with the 99.999% uptime that we would like to see, we are happy, and our service desk folks are able to quickly resolve even the most frustrating issues in a timely manner. Our projects are maxing out the capacity of our IT staff, but for the most part, they are completed on time. But then something happens. It might be that a key resource needs to respond to a family emergency and we lose them for a period of time. Perhaps the unthinkable happens and they resign. Sometimes it’s that regulatory compliance project that we kept putting off and then found out there will now be hefty fines if we don’t comply within a seemingly impossible period of time. It’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. All of a sudden, our already exhausted team of IT professionals collapses. Taking with them all of the business knowledge that exists in their heads, and possibly nowhere else.
Why employees love entrepreneurial companies
Entrepreneurial companies hire the best possible resources, pay them well, and give them the freedom and the authority to do whatever needs to be done to solve the business problem of the day. Employees love entrepreneurial companies and will work through the night to problem solve on their behalf. If we didn’t love to problem solve, we would have chosen a different industry.
But when corporate growth becomes the be-all of the strategic plan, things can become alarmingly challenging. The problem of the day becomes problems of the week, the month, the year. We discover that we have failed to properly document our processes. Most likely because we didn’t have time since we have been so busy putting out fires. Because we lack documentation, we rely heavily on the few individuals who were around to build or repair the existing processes. And there is no more capacity. Of course, we can always hire more people. But it becomes a challenge to train them because processes have never been documented, and nobody really knows how everything is done.
Stopped at the approval gate
Here’s another scenario. You join a large, mature, hierarchical company envisioning a long and lucrative career path. You are assigned your very first deliverable and are ready to dig in and get things done. Immediately the brakes go on as you are advised you must pass through a committee approval gate before proceeding to ensure the spend is justified. You hunker down with the link that has been provided to you advising of the documents to complete and the process to follow. And then you pour yourself a big, stiff drink as you realize none of the verbiage on the website makes any sense to you. As you reach out to your peers to figure out the next steps, you are met with skepticism, cynicism, and you learn that the next approval meeting has already been canceled. You long for the days working with a young, entrepreneurial company where things actually got done. But did they?
We live in a time in which large corporate entities are gobbling up startups to grow via acquisition. Nothing wrong with that. Unless, of course, you happen to be a customer. But that is a topic for a different article. There was a time when immediately following a merger or acquisition, a best practices exercise was undertaken. The intent is to utilize the best tools for every job. Are two ERP systems needed? Of course not! Well, which one is best? Let’s use that one! What we have experienced over the past two decades, however, is such rapid growth in technology that entrepreneurial companies have not been able to take the time to catch up. Technology is implemented, and before we have the chance to properly dot the i’s and cross the t’s, we are already behind with the next implementation. To add a further challenge, the requirements gathered have most likely changed multiple times since the project was approved. We seldom figure this out until we delve into user acceptance testing. The point being, one cannot undertake a best practices exercise if corporate best practices are undocumented or possibly nonexistent.
A big cloud over entrepreneurship in technology
While we have always loved entrepreneurship in technology, the recent tendency to move to the cloud and to utilize vendors that supply tools on a software-as-a-service model has limited our capacity to be unique in our approach to technology and the business processes that drive our technology needs. Historically, it has been the tried-and-true business processes that have driven the configuration and customization of our technology. But that is no longer the case. It may be time to hang up our cowboy hats and embrace the knowledge that there are standardized processes out there that can do the job, are well documented, proven, and are embraced by SaaS vendors and cloud providers. The reality is that we can no longer force standardized technology to fit our very customized business processes. If this is a path we choose to travel, we had best ensure that every change from the standard is thoroughly documented. Otherwise, our world will suffer a horrible blow during the next upgrade.
Enter the world of organizational change management. By embracing OCM, we can make this transition. In fact, we have now successfully embraced this transition in the area of cybersecurity. Granted, we did learn those lessons the hard way. Nonetheless, we have made this change in the world of cybersecurity, and yet somehow, we still believe our organization is unique and must have its own special way of doing, well, everything else. We continue to lean much too heavily on IT to build and maintain the workarounds required to automate and integrate our bizarre business processes. This may continue for a while, but it is not sustainable.
Pegs in a hole, cogs in a machine
Technology is no longer a room full of eager programmers finding unique ways to build technology to fit nonstandard processes. Today, each peg needs to fit into the precisely engineered and matching hole. If we don’t start embracing that philosophy with every new implementation, we had the best plan for lengthy and stressful projects that we may very well not be able to upgrade.
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