Delivery is about people and teamwork…obviously!

As an 18-year old, some months before leaving home for University, the Badger broke a leg playing rugby. It put paid to playing, but it has never blunted the Badger’s passion for the game. These days the Badger’s very much a spectator, either in the stands at Twickenham or the Stoop, or when games are on television, and admiration for those that play at Premiership and International standard has never diminished. So, when England won against New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final last weekend, the Badger was thrilled – to say the least!

In the afterglow, the Badger was struck by the parallels between England’s performance and his own learning from a career in the IT sector focused on ‘delivery’ and driving large project teams to succeed. The England camp had a plan and everyone – coaches to players – were fully aligned and believed in it. The plan wasn’t thrown out of the window when events on the field put it under strain. The England team played for each other, stayed focused, held their discipline when confronted by difficulty, and they were all hungry to be winners. If you can achieve the same dynamics in a team that is developing, integrating, testing and delivering software and IT systems for clients under tough contracts then the chance of success is high.

A Project Manager (PM) once told the Badger that leading IT intensive delivery was all about process, numbers, planning tools, measurement, and having a leader who is direct and intransigent. The PM had these attributes and claimed to be a good PM. The Badger, however, pointed out that the evidence was that the PM’s projects failed more often than succeeded, and drew the PM’s attention to the following quote by Sir Clive Woodward, Head Coach when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003:

‘Concentrate on measuring performance and winning will take care of itself’. That is a brilliant excuse for coming second’.

Not long afterwards the PM changed career.

In the Badger’s experience, the best delivery leaders know that teamwork rather than individuality is crucial for success. Michael Jordan has put it aptly:

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

Delivery is about people and teamwork, and the latter needs more than just the skills and talents of individual people. It needs everyone to have a common motivation and mindset even though they are individuals with unique personalities.

So, if you aspire to be an IT delivery leader then firstly remember that success is not determined by you individually, it’s determined by the creation of an ‘us’ mentality in all the people involved. Secondly, put as much effort into the psychological development of your team as you do into plans, process, measurement and numbers. It will pay dividends. Embrace these two points and you will have awesome job satisfaction when success happens, just like the England team if they win the Rugby World Cup on Saturday!

‘A flock of corporate seagulls arriving from abroad’…

Periodically the Badger catches up with the BOFH column in The Register. It’s a longstanding, insightful and amusing column, and if you’ve worked in IT you’ll relate to the content no matter what your role. A piece from a year ago relating to the arrival and manipulation of auditors has triggered the Badger to start thinking about his own audit and review experiences. That thinking, however, as been interrupted by a call from an ex-colleague in a tizz because their project was to be reviewed by a ‘flock of corporate seagulls arriving from abroad’. The Badger simply recounted the following to establish some calm.

Many years ago, the Badger’s employer was a subcontractor to a US IT prime contractor running a £500m UK IT programme. Prime and subcontractor teams were largely co-located, but relationship, commercial and cultural tensions meant things were difficult. One day the prime’s Programme Director announced that three ‘experts’ from his US head office were flying in to conduct an ‘audit’ to help improve matters. The Badger was to be interviewed during the audit.

The one-hour interview happened 48 hours later. The visitor spent 20 minutes emphasising his seniority, experience, and that he had a direct line to the US CEO, the next 35 minutes asking questions from a standard checklist, and the last 5 minutes double checking he hadn’t missed any. The Badger was unimpressed, but pleased. Why? Because the auditor did 75% of the talking!

Three days later the audit team fed back to the prime’s Programme Director and subcontractor leads in a sparky meeting. Their message? Fix non-compliances with company policies and processes and all would be resolved. No one believed it! The Programme Director openly called them ‘valueless seagulls flying in to get the airmiles and to crap on my team’. The Badger might have been a smidgen more diplomatic, but not much. The auditors said they’d report him to the US CEO! They did. Nothing happened. Their final report was shelved.

The Badger took this from the experience. If you’re interviewed by a ‘corporate seagull’ you’ve never met, then assess if they’re any good in real-time during the interview itself. It’s easy to do. Don’t be in awe. Watch for an ego, the priority given to structure and process, listen closely, and stay silent as much as possible. Only answer the questions you’re asked – don’t embellish, elaborate or offer opinion. You’ll quickly see that a poor seagull will focus on the interview process or themselves and not you or your tactics. A good seagull, however, will quickly see you as a challenge, dynamically adjust their approach, and try to run off with your chips! Stay steadfast to your tactics in both cases.

The Badger’s ex-colleague called back this morning. They were disappointed. Why? They were expecting seagulls but what arrived were sparrows. Where’s the fun and value in that, they asked…

‘The arrogance of acquisition’…

The Badger’s following the legal battle relating to HP’s acquisition of Autonomy in 2011 with interest. It’s providing a fascinating insight into many facets of the acquisition process and the dynamics once the spotlight moved from deal closure to integration. The Badger’s interest stems from having had some involvement integrating three or four acquisitions during his career, and one experience of being ‘acquired’.

The failure rate for acquisitions apparently sits well above 50%. That’s unsurprising given the diverse factors involved. Bringing large groups of people together with different personalities, ambitions, behaviours, cultures, working practices, and IT and financial systems across multiple offices and geographies is always risky! Doing the deal is one thing, but it’s the subsequent integration where the rubber hits the road, workforce hearts and minds are won or lost, and success or failure is determined. One point the Badger learned early in his acquisition-related experience was that people in the acquiring company always unwittingly radiate ‘the arrogance of acquisition’ which conveys that they know best! This can quickly alienate ‘acquired’ people and make the road to success bumpy.

The Badger’s first post-acquisition integration experience involved presenting to a group of ‘acquired’ business leaders on how to manage risk on their delivery contracts. The body language of those present and absence of questions suggested something had not gone down well. After the meeting ended, the Badger approached the most senior attendee for feedback and was told ‘you were trying to teach grandmothers to suck eggs and they felt like second class citizens, which they are not – they are mature and very experienced professionals’. The Badger quickly realised they were right! Talking ‘to’ them rather than communicating ‘with’ them was unwittingly arrogant and never going to win hearts and minds. The Badger adjusted his approach to be inclusive, to listen and be respectful, and everything subsequently went smoothly and successfully. The Badger learned to avoid ‘the arrogance of acquisition’ when dealing with people during integration activities post-acquisition!

Which brings us back to HP and Autonomy where the likelihood of a successful integration looks to have been low from the outset. In this case ‘the arrogance of acquisition’ mixed with post-acquisition leadership disagreements will have created a particularly challenging, polarising and uncomfortable environment for the workforce. Shame, because winning people’s hearts, minds and allegiances is central to the success of an acquisition, and it’s also people that bear the brunt when an acquisition is a failure. So, does the Badger have any view about what individuals should do in the integration post-acquisition? Yes. Watch for the ‘the arrogance of acquisition’ and call it out. What happens in response will provide an insight to the future ethos of the fully integrated company and the next career decisions you should make…

Electric and self-driving vehicles for the masses? One day, but perhaps not soon…

The Badger’s considered changing his trusty but aging car for something more current and greener. There’s plenty of choice in the market so it should be easy coming to a decision, shouldn’t it? Err, No.

Why not? Because if you want to spend your money wisely then you have to recognise that entropy in the transportation world is rising dramatically! Entropy, by the way, is a measure of disorder and it always increases with time (as per the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics). The Badger has certainly observed the world become increasingly disordered over his lifetime and this isn’t going to change in the future.

Disruption and disorder in the transport world are easy to see. For example, UK government policy is to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Electric vehicles (EVs) are deemed to be the future, even though their climate credentials aren’t quite as positive as you might think. Car manufactures are pushing ahead with EVs swiftly, but with a current market share of ~3% across Europe there’s much to do to overcome their limitations and convince the public. In addition, of course, technology marches forward and – if you believe it – self-driving cars will be common on UK roads from 2025 and might improve traffic flow by 35%. Hmm. These are all things to think about if you’re thinking of buying a car today and want to spend your money wisely.

The Badger cogitated and has concluded that the timelines for establishing EVs and self-driving vehicles for the masses on UK roads are very optimistic. Why? Firstly, progress on addressing EV range limitations, charging infrastructure, and take-up by the public is still slow (but improving). Secondly, there’s about 1 billion lines of software in a self-driving car which means there’ll be many bugs when operating and ‘integrating’ with other conventional and autonomous vehicles at scale in the real-world. Thirdly, while the UK government is to report on the autonomous vehicle regulatory framework in 2021, legislation moves slowly and political objectives are rarely met on time, especially at a time of political disorder. And finally, the ‘Introduction to Service’ phase of any programme that changes personal and societal behaviour always encounters difficulties and delay. It took decades for motor vehicles to replace horse and carts, and it will be a similar story for EVs and self-driving vehicles overtaking today’s conventional vehicles. It seems naïve to think otherwise.

So, what did the Badger decide about changing his car? Not to! Because if you do the analysis, currently that’s actually the cheapest, greenest and most future proof option as entropy rises further. Electric and self-driving vehicles for the masses will happen one day, but perhaps not as soon as the hype suggests…

Smart Meters; Hardly a success…

If you’ve worked extensively on major technology-intensive programmes then you’ll know to expect bumps in the road as new hardware, software, communication networks and processes are introduced to users in the real world. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the UK Smart Meter programme is in the press again!

The target for every UK home to have been offered a smart meter by the end of 2020 isn’t going to be met. Rollout is stalling. Just look at the Q1 2019 rollout numbers! It isn’t credible that the target can be met, but the relevant government department ‘remains committed to ensuring every home has been offered a smart meter by the end of 2020’. This has to be taken with a pinch of salt when even the CEO of Citizens Advice – a charity helping citizens resolve life difficulties with free, independent, confidential advice – thinks the target is unfeasible and must be delayed to ~2023!

Delay means more cost, and the published estimates of consumer bills reducing by £300m/year in 2020 and £1.2bn/year by 2030 will inevitably be revised down. Who pays? The consumer. Although many technology professionals have worked very hard on this programme to get the new software, hardware and communication networks in place, the overall programme has the whiff of white elephant territory and it’s a struggle to see it as a good advert for major ‘Smart’ government initiatives.

Who’s at fault? No doubt many entities will point fingers at each other, but – as the November 2018 National Audit Office’s report noted – the buck stops with the government department that currently still ‘remains committed to ensuring every home has been offered a smart meter by the end of 2020’. The Badger has a simple view. The numbers don’t fib. The costs are ever rising. The business case must be stressed. Fault is rarely with a single entity; it rests collectively. What’s needed now is less rhetoric, spin and defensiveness, and more honesty, realism and greater respect for the end consumer in the roll out.

The 2018 Smart Meter Progress Report ends with the statement ‘the Government has committed to update the cost-benefit analysis for the Programme and complete a stock take of consumer benefits in 2019’. The outcome from this – if it happens – may be the uncomfortable reading that produces a trigger ‘event’ for ‘revision’ of the programme. Time will tell. Meanwhile the Badger not only saves money and the climate without a smart meter, but also avoids the higher tariffs levied by suppliers when consumers exercise their right not to have a smart meter. These may be digital times but one thing’s clear. £11bn and counting, stalling rollout to ambivalent consumers, delay, questionable cost/benefit and the whiff of white elephant are hardly success indicators…

Driverless cars; now there’s a transformation challenge!

Richard Holway, a respected UK Tech analyst, wondered recently (TechMarketView, 27th April) if driverless cars for the masses would ever become a reality on UK streets. The Badger wondered the same thing, but from the perspective of an experienced programme deliverer rather than a market analyst.

A short guide to driverless cars from the RAC gives a simple insight to the many relevant issues and questions. It’s things like the legal framework, insurance and liability, safety accreditation, ethics and public acceptance, rather than the technology, that need clear resolution for driverless cars to become a reality on UK streets within the aggressive timescales often quoted by advocates.

Advanced trials on UK roads will start by the end of 2019 in order to meet a government commitment to have self-driving cars on UK roads by 2021. The Badger takes this with a pinch of salt. Why? Because the devil is in the detail and such trials will inevitably expose a plethora of unexpected issues. Excuse the Badger’s cynicism but the politicians also have a track record of finding a way to declare success by redefining what they meant in the first place! It doesn’t seem likely that fully driverless cars will be used by the masses as personal transport for many, many years yet. Experiencing the UK’s Bank Holiday traffic this weekend just emphasised the scale of the societal transformation necessary.

The Badger asked younger family members for their views. They were positive about the technology but had reservations about its robustness, security and safety in real-world circumstances. However, they were dubious that the public would adopt driverless transport with open arms. The youngsters had worries about loss of privacy, a ‘Big Brother’ world, liability for accidents and injury, and the potential for carnage when driverless vehicles mix with conventional traffic at scale. They thought driverless cars were overhyped, but that more tech-centred driver aids were a good thing. No one saw themselves using a driverless car on a public road out of choice for the foreseeable future.

The Badger can’t see the timelines for driverless cars in the UK being met. Why? Because it took years for Debit Cards to be widely used across society and a couple of decades for mobile phones to become an affordable part of every person’s life, so why would driverless cars be different? The transformational challenge is much greater. The societal aspects seem to get less airtime than the technology, so don’t hold your breath that fully driverless cars will happen fast in the UK. Perhaps the Badger’s wrong? Time will tell. In the meantime, the Badger’s side-stepping the driverless revolution by moving from cars to motorbikes for personal transport!

Systems Integration; the downfall of many a plan…

The radio alarm burst into life the other morning. The Badger simply paid no attention and turned over entering that strange dozing state somewhere between asleep and awake. Until, that is, the radio warbled the phrases ‘software’, ‘systems integration’, and ‘new plan’. This triggered a return to full consciousness and instant concentration. The new Crossrail CEO was being interviewed about revised plans to complete one of the largest and most challenging infrastructure programmes in Europe. If you’re unfamiliar with Crossrail then a quick look here, here and here provides context, and you’ll find one of many insights on the delay here .

The Badger listened carefully as the CEO talked about the difficulties regarding the software and systems integration of signalling and train systems. He emphasised that this and the testing of trains running safely through tunnels was at the heart of the revised programme plan. Interestingly, he emphasised a primary focus on ‘Systems Integration’ rather than ‘Contract Management’ going forward. The CEO sounded very knowledgeable, but the Badger couldn’t help feeling a little sad that yet again lessons from past software and IT intensive programmes appear not to have been learned. After all, it’s been known for decades that ‘Systems Integration’ is where the chickens normally come home to roost on major programmes!

Perhaps CityAM’s piece following Crossrail’s March update to the Westminster Public Accounts Committee (PAC) provides an insight to simple reasons underlying Crossrail’s crisis. It sounds like a) politicians were intransigent, b) Crossrail leaders were focused on the politics, contract management and ‘blame games’, c) programme status reporting and assurance mechanisms might have concentrated on the positives, and d) forward-looking risk management and mitigation processes were ineffective. A PAC member apparently said. “It’s incredible, incredible for senior people to sit here and tell me you were not clear this was going to fall over. It was perfectly clear it was going to fall over.” The Badger has uttered similar words many times in his career over the last 35 years! So why don’t lessons get learned, you may well ask? Mainly because of people, egos, political agendas, management and delivery culture, lack of time and an unwillingness to listen. These often conspire to persuade us wrongly that ‘This programme is different and lessons from the past have limited application’.

The radio interview was over within a few minutes and the Badger was reminded of a long- standing nugget of wisdom, namely: ‘System Integration is always where the chickens come home to roost; expect difficulty, plan it well and actively manage and mitigate its risks from the programme’s outset’. The Badger then rolled over and went back to sleep…

Meetings; beware of the HIPPO and the Abilene Paradox!

The Badger’s niece has recently been rewarded for her hard work with a promotion. She’s very pleased, but it was obvious over a recent coffee that her job satisfaction is reducing. Why? Perhaps just because she’s in a male dominated organisation? No. It’s because she’s now operating at a level in her organisation where the volume of meetings and the seniority of their attendees has dramatically risen and encroached on her time for ‘real productive work’. She’s adjusting, but feeling a little intimidated and frustrated. She asked the Badger what he’d learned about meetings during his career. The Badger spluttered in his coffee, and then communicated the following.

First, some meetings – face to face, conference calls etc – are a necessity in any organisation. Most, however, have too many attendees and hangers-on, are poorly managed, and are rituals or ego massages rather than truly useful events. Before attending, always ask yourself two questions; ‘Is this meeting absolutely necessary?’ and ‘Is it of real benefit to me to attend?’. If the answer’s No, don’t attend.

Second, decisions taken in or after more than 75% of meetings will be in line with the HIPPO – the HIghest Paid Persons Opinion! The reason has its roots in psychology, and even the BBC has written about the HIPPO! So, in meetings or conference calls, do two things…know who the HIPPO is, and don’t be frightened to challenge the HIPPO with your own opinion. The best senior people listen and welcome input from others. They know they don’t have a monopoly in being right.

Third, learn about the Abilene Paradox (e.g. see here and here) whereby a group makes a collective decision that’s contrary to the thoughts and feelings of each person in that group. It happens because humans have a natural aversion to going against the perceived feelings of a group. Individuals don’t, therefore, speak up for fear of rocking the boat. If no one speaks up the group decision can be at odds with the view and desire of every individual in the group. Over the years the Badger’s seen this happen with ‘Go-Live’ decision meetings, often with disastrous results! So, always say what you think in meetings; don’t be intimidated by the presence of others more senior than yourself – it’s okay to go against the herd.

The Badger’s niece perked up and bought a second round of coffees! We chatted some more about the people behaviour aspects of meetings. She eventually departed with a big grin, saying she intended to ‘shake up’ the next meeting she was in. Great stuff! The Badger just hopes his niece’s organisation is ready for the whirlwind that’s been unleashed…

Digital Transformation – is it really a new concept?

The Badger can’t help but roll his eyes when he sees the phrase ‘Digital Transformation’. Of course, strategists, marketeers, consultants, media people, and researchers all need a convenient label for their visioneering or to sell their wares, but you’d think from its use in recent years that ‘Digital Transformation’ is a new phenomenon. Not so. At least in the Badger’s opinion which, admittedly, is influenced by a tendency to cut through flimflam and look at realities under the covers. If ‘Digital Transformation’ embraces putting digital technology into an enterprise changing the way it operates and delivers to its customers, then it’s been going on for at least 40 years! Why this view? Because since joining the IT industry everything the Badger’s been involved in entailed delivery that transformed enterprises and the way things worked.

A recent interview by Computer Weekly with Mark Gray, Director of Digital Transformation at the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) illustrates the Badger’s point and also provides an insight to the vision, leadership and complexity involved in keeping an organisation modern, relevant and effective. CPS’s core case management system, built and hosted in a data centre 17 years ago, is apparently on track to complete migration to the cloud in the next quarter. A significant moment indeed, especially as the Badger was at the time a senior leader in the company that built and delivered the CPS’s case management system all those years ago! It was a very significant achievement for all concerned, and it was transformational for the CPS. It was a ‘Digital Transformation’ embracing the technology available at that time. It was just as fundamental then as the CPS’s transformative moves with technology are now.

So ‘Digital Transformation’ isn’t new. It’s been at the heart of keeping organisations modern, relevant, efficient and competitive – all things that leaders must focus on – for decades. If there’s been something new in recent years, it’s that leaders are dealing with ever speedier cycles of change in a world being disrupted by many forces – technology advancement is just one. Accordingly, there’s no scope for leadership complacency these days if an organisation wants to survive and remain relevant to their customers.

So good luck with completing the whole CPS transformation programme successfully, Mr Gray. No doubt the necessary culture changes and revised working practices are as much a challenge as the technology, but just think…it’ll all have to transform again in a few years time when the robots finally take over!

So, you want to be a project manager…

A young builder working on a Badger property happened to say that he ultimately aspired to be a specialist construction project manager (PM). This made the Badger wonder if young IT PMs realised the full breadth of attributes needed to succeed in project management.

The Badger remembers attending his first internal project management course many years ago. The course leaders were company seniors and a 10-minute opening address was given by the CEO. He made two points that made a lasting impression. First, he wrote 1×5=4, 2×5=10, 3×5=15 up to 10×5=50 on a flipchart. He then turned to the course attendees who, horrified that the boss could make such a mistake, pointed out that 1×5 is 5 not 4! The CEO grinned. His mistake was deliberate to make the point that in the real world you’re rarely congratulated for the 9 out of 10 things you get right, but you’re always criticized for the one thing you do wrong. He said if you can’t cope with that, don’t be a project manager!
Second, he presented a question regarding two project managers who’d each run three projects. The first PM ran two successfully but failed with their last project.

The second failed with their first two but succeeded with their last one. Which was the best PM? Everyone plumped for the first one. The CEO grinned and made his point; namely, to remember that you’re only as good as your last project, and if you can’t cope with that then don’t be a project manager!

Wise and very apt words in the Badger’s experience. It’s also the Badger’s experience that it takes more than PM process knowledge or APM or PMI accreditation to be a good project manager. The right human attributes are crucial too. The best PMs have complex personalities and inner strengths. They’re focused, assertive, directional, objective, decisive, and action-oriented individuals who are empathetic but firm with their team and their client. Their actions build respect and they take responsibility. They’re rational, natural problem solvers, astute, calm under pressure, and politically, technically, commercially and financially savvy. They’re tough, resilient, analytical, forward-looking with a nose for trends and threats, and at least 7 out of 10 decisions they make are good ones. People with all these attributes are rare beasts!

So, if you want to be a PM think carefully whether you’ve the right personal attributes for the role. But don’t be unduly put off, because you don’t know what you’re capable off until you try! Afterall, the buzz from shaking the client’s hand on a successful delivery is second to none, and the pride that goes with seeing the results of your management in use for years – or sometimes decades – is awesome and will never leave you.