Multiple internal and external specialists in your initiative means risk and uncertainty. How do you get them to collaborate and deliver strategic outcomes?
This article was first published at CIO.com, Mar 14, 2019
There’s a business analyst/architect group, a process innovation group, a design thinking group, a technology group and more. Not all of these groups are internal. Some of them are external. Tech vendors try to push new technologies. Management consultants try to push their new or upgraded service. Partner firms want to prove a point. More complexity.
Groups are likely global. Even your own colleagues are located across multiple offices in multiple countries. Even more complexity. The group expected to do a particular activity is actually a firm your vendor recently acquired. This firm won’t easily work with your vendor’s other groups. Sure, the firm was acquired to fill a missing or complementary capability, but probably also to elevate your level of perception about the vendor.
So, they are superior and therefore want to do their own things their own way. Each group in this expanding universe believes they are the most important to the success of your initiative. Some of them think they can do it all by themselves and that the other groups are unnecessary. Yes, there’s probably more politics in your initiative than in Congress!
An HBR article warns: “the greater the proportion of experts a team had, the more likely it was to disintegrate into nonproductive conflict or stalemate.” Your initiative, like most digital/business initiatives, is headed to only deliver ad hoc outcomes at best.
But you are different. You want to tap into multiple specialist groups precisely for the purpose of delivering outcomes that the CEO wants. You are looking for ways to make this work.
How to lead in these difficult times
How do you get a potentially chaotic team to make a strategic contribution to the organization? Relationship skills are what most pundits recommend, but these skills do not work without the fundamentals. Here are the four fundamental elements:
- Corporate strategy
- Method to translate that strategy into a predictably strategic architecture
- Roles across a range of categories
- Portfolio transparency
Connect the specialist groups through these four elements.
Connect through strategy
Let corporate strategy drive your initiative. Clearly, corporate strategy is not group strategy that is likely siloed. Also, the CEO is responsible for corporate strategy, not even the Board (read HBR article). Even where ideas move bottom-up or where strategies need to be different for different markets, the CEO must approve the new or improved strategy. Secondly, make sure strategic objectives are directly derived from corporate strategy. And find the best way to make these objectives the shared objectives of the team. All of the internal and external specialists must be on the same page and pursue the same strategic outcomes.
Connect through method
To translate strategy into a predicably strategic architecture, deploy a strategy-driven discovery-and-design method that is repeatable. Select individuals and groups based on the skillset needed to use the method. Read articles about strategy translation.
Connect through roles
Tightly connect roles that are critical to translate strategy into architecture. The link is from team to business leader to CIO/CDO to CEO/CSO. Without this link, objectives pursued may not be the right ones, to begin with. Since the link connects all the way up to the CEO, there's little chance for conflicts etc that may be common otherwise.
Conflict, if any, would be because a better strategy was discovered while doing strategy translation. If so, the issue will quickly get CEO attention and therefore will get resolved. The CXOs and business leaders in the link must be enterprise employees, while the team and team leader (business analyst or business architect) can be internal or external. Read “Strategy: Who Leads Digital Progress?” in this MIT Sloan article.
Connect through portfolio
Finally, make project data (information, outputs created, etc) transparent for more powerful collaboration. Give team the ability to see the organization’s portfolio from outcomes perspective (rather than from the usual project management perspective). Transparency into the organization’s portfolio helps at least in six ways: Synergize organizational initiatives, Sync initiatives and business-as-usual, Generate the right ideas for new initiatives, Learn from completed projects, Avoid repetition, and Retire unnecessary stuff.
When you have deployed elements that are this practical (strategy, method, roles and portfolio), the risks associated with multiple specialists are eliminated or minimized. If the team collaborates through these elements and comes up with an architecture, you are predictably going to deliver strategic outcomes.