The Cunctatious Organisation
Cunctation – It’s a great word isn’t it? Cunctation - the action of delaying or putting off doing something. I grew up with Procrastination, and so not entirely sure where this one has appeared from but either way, I think we need to bring in a new term in to the working world, the cunctacious organisation, I’m not even sure if the derivative, cunctacious, is a real word, but it should be.
Many organisations are great at delaying or putting off moving to newer technologies. Today’s question is “Are these organisations that are delaying and procrastinating setting themselves up for a slow motion, fall backwards as technology moves on?”
Let’s think about why an organisation might delay the next move or new technology?
It could be a number of reasons, right? however the ones I come across most frequently are
1. the rate of change, or change fatigue for the users
2. Wanting to sweat existing investments before moving on
3. Fear, and risk, of introducing something new, or shock horror, something in the cloud
4. and finally, a lack of understanding of the benefits of new tech
We’ll address these one by one starting with the rate of change. There is no doubt that technology is now being released at pace that has never been seen before and this is partly down to the benefits of cloud and being able to just ‘turn things on’ or ‘enable services‘ on whatever platform you subscribe to, the days of drawn out projects as you plan how to build and deploy, are rapidly becoming a thing of the past and now, if you want an endpoint management solution, you can just look at creating and assigning policies. That cuts out the whole architectural and build processes.
But another considerable part of this is that the industry is developing at such a rate. There are new concepts being introduced so frequently that no sooner have you started to understand Artificial Intelligence when someone coins the phrase Ambient Intelligence, and now you need to understand what is meant by that. (I might do something on that in a future episode, but I’ll not distract myself from now).
Every time a new a new product or technology that can help develop the business is introduced, there needs to be an understanding of what the product or service does and how that translates into an impact on both the business and the users, and that is an important differentiation, it is not just about what the technology can do. Take telephony as an example, about 10 years ago, legacy telephony was starting to be replaced with Lync, then to Skype for Business, then things moved to Skype for Business Online, Calling Plans and On Premises Call Handling, then came Teams and Direct Routing, and even at a high level we have already hit 4 or 5 telephony related changes in product just in one area in one decade.
If we keep on the telephony story for a minute, the leap from legacy telephony to a Lync or SfB based solution was pretty big for many, but from then until Teams, the variations, developments and upgrades were fairly low impact and often applied more to the back end architecture than about what it looked like to the user and any changes in behaviour or menus etc. Now look at the rate of change since Teams was rolled out… it is far higher and faster than the previous 10 years, and this will continue to evolve at a fast pace. Teams has brought massive changes very quickly, change in IM, chat, Teams and Channels, Collaboration, planners, task lists, meetings, OneNote for meeting capture and recordings etc. It has also brought with it, new ways of working and interacting with each other, users have had to learn how to interact in a different way, yes the pandemic has accelerated this but it would have happened at some point … and now Microsoft Viva is bringing the next round of changes.
The way you introduce different technologies into your organisation needs to be thought about in a different way, a way that works with this new pace of change and in a way that brings the new features and benefits into your workplace, whilst supporting the changes and making them digestible for your user base.
Ask yourself these kind of questions… Do I roll out Teams telephony as one change and then another change on how the users consume the collaborative features, and possibly another one for creating workflows or the use of PowerAutomate? Or do I take a step back and create a new way of working and bring in multiple things that cohesively join together in a single story for the user. Which brings the biggest benefit to the organisation and the users.
As a user, and we’ve probably all been through this, multiple changes in close succession can be frustrating and tiresome, so your approach on what is rolled out, whether it is rolled out in bundles that build a stronger story and how you orchestrate your Adoption and Change Management becomes massively important. The result is that you can no longer treat technical evolution as a ‘point in time’ upgrade, this is a constantly developing world now, and will remain so, and therefore your IT strategy needs to look at it as a constant process, as does your Adoption and Change Management programme, you can no longer set a single strategy at the beginning of the year and close your mind as ‘tick done’.
The next reason I picked out was about organisations wanting to sweat their assets before moving on. Now this is a really tricky one because it pits technical progress or development against cold hard cash. If your organisation has made substantial recent investments in tech then persuading the business can become very hard work. Your CTO, CIO and CISO may need to work together to bring an infallible business case to the CFO. This is not an impossible task, but it can be tricky. One thing that is key to building a strong business case here is understanding the difference between IT services making a recommendation for a change in technology and in having the business asking for greater functionality to allow them to develop the revenue earning streams, reducing bottlenecks or improving the speed to market. Those angles get treated very differently.
Having an IT person saying that we need to replace an IM solution with one that can also allow people to collaborate better, is nowhere near as strong as a Line of Business owner saying that they need a tool that can allow for safe and secure communication and collaboration with external clients. It might well result in the same technical solution but one is driven by business and one is seen to be driven by IT, regardless of the IT team motivation.
In order to develop a business case that holds water, you need the business bought in to the idea. If an investment has been made in a particular technical area, getting it replaced with 3 years can be tricky, so consider carefully what story you want to tell. Consider a professional services organisation a good few years ago. What is the difference between IT saying, “we can give you mobile devices that allow you to get access to your emails whilst on the move” and “This solution enables our consultants to deliver an increased billable time by being able to charge for emails sent whilst out and about or whilst on the train home” – and there you have the lightbulb moment for the CFO, there is a financial return for them. So think about the angle to drive your message from, the business angle is way stronger, so include your business in what is happening in the world of technology, and do it on a regular basis.
The third point was about the fear and risk of introducing something new, or possibly something cloud based. Now this one I love talking about, part of this relates to how new technology is addressed and part of this comes down to trust. Trust, not of the technology, trust of the team delivering the new solution or service. People are fearful when they are in an environment that will see punishment for mistakes. This is not a healthy environment to operate in. Yes, people make mistakes but don’t create a working environment where new ideas to help improve or develop the organisation are slammed if it doesn’t go right. Creating unrealistic deadlines, “I wanted it in by the end of the month” is something heard all too often, maybe things don’t go right all the time, but adding fear into the mix is not wise. Add support… not pressure.
Look at many projects and well governed projects and you will find a RAID log (Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies). Have a read through and in the majority of cases you will see that a proportion of the risks are driven by people who are raising items that might ‘reflect badly’ on them and whilst many will be genuine entries, there will be a good number that can be attributed to fear. A project where people fear making mistakes is a project that will move very slowly, and that leads to extra decision-making processes, and those decisions being push out to other people who are prepared to carry the buck.
If we want successful projects we need to make sure that those delivering the project, be they Project Managers, Consultants or internal delivery resource, feel safe and are trusted. We can make our workplaces far more dynamic if we trust those we employ, and that is not a small statement. This is wholly dependent on having a culture of positivity and trust within the organisation. If you go back to the previous point about engaging the Line of Business owners, and discuss what they need, how the new tools can help and lead the project from the business angle, then the technical scope becomes clear and unambiguous and with that, the important decisions that are to be made have the fear removed from them. Instantly the project becomes less risky and those items that appear in the RAID log are narrowed to genuine issues. Project environments benefit greatly when your trust your colleagues and they don’t have to worry too much if things don’t go 100% right. Who is it that creates this working environment? It is typically from several places, but it needs to be from the senior leadership, senior leadership who help remove roadblocks rather than getting angry with delays will see a far more agile and productive project realised.
The other area that I mentioned earlier that exacerbates a stress or fearful situation is the deadline, if the deadline is too tight, the pressure increases, people get tetchy and off we go again down a wrong path. We put so much pressure on timelines and having the project delivered before xyz date that I do often wonder how serious the impact of these deadlines are when compared to the negative effect they can introduce. If there is a renewal, very often the case, that wants to be avoided, if that deadline is too short, then the planning for that renewal has not been good enough, so have a look at your operations model and strategy. Setting impossible deadlines is not clever, and if it is a really tight deadline, then as a leader, you should be helping apply the right resource to get the project moving as quickly as possible and giving access to swift decision making etc.
So to the last point of delaying progress… a lack of understanding of the new tech. How do you address that? Well, people are fearful of things they don’t understand. The answer is simple and yet often overlooked, communicate properly, in the same way with Change Management you address AWARENESS and DESIRE as the first two focus areas, this needs to be applied to those who are fearful of making the decision to push ahead with what may seem like ‘more IT changes’ – talk to them, ignore the technical benefits unless they are substantial, focus on the benefit to the business, how will this make people more efficient? How will it help drive the business forward, why going to the cloud is better, how it will improve productivity. Have the solution described out in layman’s terms ready to explain but have the detail to hand to show it is well thought out. A project is not going to get signed off if it or its benefits are not understood, however, if the changes are now starting to come along more frequently because of the change in the way tech is developing, you need to bring the decision makers into a more recurring engagement, so they understand the kind of things that are coming down the track. You can’t just drop a load of changes on someone to sign off, in the same way that users need to see the benefits, so does the person signing off moving to a new platform or service. You might be technically knowledgeable and in charge of IT, but unless you hold the purse strings, you need to treat your signatory with the same Change Management principles you would your user base. It will make your life so much easier.
As a side note, and something that some don’t like to hear, the impact of the dreaded pandemic. Let’s put it in to context, one of the many things it has done, is accelerate a large number of corporate technology projects in a short period of time. Why do we need to consider this, well, the pandemic has removed many unnecessary road blocks, has streamlined decision making and turned projects in to a far quicker thing; project governance is a good thing, but as already discussed, project governance has become more and more about people covering their own backsides and less about expediting a project with the right amount of control and decision making.
Why is this relevant? Well, it shows that organisations don’t need to dither, procrastinate or Cunctate?? Basically, delay. Fine, if there are financial or business reasons not to move/ progress, that is fine, but the pandemic proved that project don’t need to be long drawn-out affairs.
Keeping up to date is now far more important than ever. Do you remember when server releases were all the rage? It was very obvious if you weren’t up to date with your server estate. Exchange 2010 was out of date in 2011, Windows 2008 was positively old hat come 2010 and so on, clearly that is not true, but by the time the next dated revision was released, you knew you were going to need to plan an upgrade. For those moving to cloud services and evergreen technologies, this slap-in-the-face, timestamped product approach is a thing of the past, your services are continually updated and whilst you might have purchased an E3 or E5 subscription, these are not exactly static things. New products and services are being added all the time, products develop and become more feature rich, and this means that your approach to IT and Adoption and Change Management has to change too. Consider it as ITaaS or ACMaaS or maybe just Change as a Service. Task internal teams to understand the tech and business impacts and make that their role, monthly tech and business reviews. Include the Line of Business owners, tech teams, support, Adoption and Change teams and maybe a financial representative. look at what is coming, can it help, should it be adopted, can it realise a greater benefit or saving? Be focused on what that group is there to achieve and progress your IT forward in a modern and manged way.
This is all achievable but not if we continue to think of IT in the legacy way. Technology is changing, Business is changing. IT departments and strategies need to change too or the reality is that your organisation will slowly, but oh so surely, fall behind. And falling behind in the rapid world of cloud could prove to be a very frustrating experience for your users, and a headache of changes for your IT team and business.