A Business Technology Place

The Fall of the House of Jargon

Inspired by Poe, ghoulish tales, and corporate jargon.

I arrived at the House of Jargon on a windy day, overcast, with a steady drizzle of rain. The letter from Roderick Jargon arrived late because he didn’t follow best practices and the large attachment exceeded the size of my mailbox. His words said he had fallen ill trying to synergize members of his house and needed assistance to flesh-out ideas and restore his health. Visible on the outside of the house, was a large crack extending downward to its foundation.

I was greeted by Madeline, Jargon’s chief of staff. Her eyes showed she was weary from restless nights. In a trance-like state she murmured, “We’ve been expecting you. We have not been able to herd the cats and Mr. Jargon has fallen ill.” As I entered the foyer, I was awestruck by the size of the house. It was small enough to hide the reasons for underperforming expectations but large enough to hide an elephant in the room. I knew immediately, my visit would test my senses and resolve. The air was stale and smelled of mold, rot, and decay.

Madeline escorted me to the studio, where Mr. Jargon sat listless and pale in his chair. “Your painting collection is impressive”, I said as I tried to lighten the mood. “Yes, I have searched the world and found pieces to promote increasing productivity and doing more with less”, he replied. The lights suddenly went out as the rain outside intensified. Madeline lit some candles so we could continue our conversation. Our shadows, now present on the walls and floors, intensified the feelings of doom and despair.

Mr. Jargon started singing a song. It told the tale of a business filled with low hanging fruit the workers couldn’t pick because they couldn’t find ways to collaborate and harmonize with each other. Ultimately, the business failed to live the mission because the workers forgot their purpose. “I wrote that song about my business”, he said. “I believe my fate and legacy is connected to this house. Can you help me?”

A few days later, Mr. Jargon informed me Madeline resigned her job and would leave the house. He insists I help him define an exit strategy for her because she was the nucleus of the team. During Madeline’s last two weeks the mood in the house grew more somber. Any glimmer of hope, excitement, and purpose were lost. Mr. Jargon’s condition continued to worsen and even I felt agitated over trivial things.  The mood of despair dampened my spirit.

During the fifth week, a large storm moved into the area. Once again, power was lost at the house and we moved about mostly in the dark. Mr. Jargon and I, retreated to his bedroom hoping to find rest and relief from fear of the storm. As we talked, I looked out his window and noticed a faint glow on the lake surrounding lake. But yet, there was no light from the house and the heavens provided no help to see. The house appeared to be alive, casting its own light to those who dwelled within it. Mr. Jargon soon became more delusional and started to recount stories of past successes. He was living in the past while grasping for tomorrow.

Hoping to calm Mr. Jargon I began to read a book about a knight who sought shelter during a ferocious storm. A small house caught the eye of the knight, but there is a dragon guarding the entrance. As the knight prepares for battle, he notices a shield hanging on the wall with the inscription:

“Whoever enters this house, accretive growth is before you;

Slay the dragon, and the shield is yours to help increase productivity against the forces of complacency.”

The knight, empowered by the words and vision, slays the dragon and reaches for the shield. But the shield falls to the ground with a resounding clang.

Suddenly a loud shriek breaks our concentration from the book. As if from within the DNA of the house, the shriek reverberates off the walls and furniture. Mr. Jargon becomes increasingly agitated murmuring words about organic growth and not enough resources to win the battle. He shouts “I should have listened to Madeline, when she told me to move the goalposts to higher objectives so we could leverage our core strengths!”

A huge gust of wind pushed the windows open and extinguished our candles. In a faint light from the moon above the house, Mr. Jargon and I noticed Madeline is standing in front of the open bedroom door. She runs to Mr. Jargon and releases a scolding monologue with accusations about missing alignment, collaboration, and buy-in from key stakeholders.

I knew my time had come to leave. Frightened by the distrust and accusations, I felt like I would soon be thrown under the bus like so many others in the House of Jargon. I ran for the door, leaving my belongings. Passing through the outer courtyard, I continued to run not wanting to look back.  As if on cue, the moon broke free from the clouds and cast a light upon the surrounding wilderness. I stopped to look back upon the house. The crack in the exterior I had noticed when I arrived widened, and soon split the house in two. The house began to sink as if under the heavy weight of non-value added activities. It vanished into the ground and my view was consumed by howling winds and blinding rain, as I lost sight to the House of Jargon.

 

photo credit: Greg Clarke via Creative Commons

IT Annual Planning

These customers want the basics.

Wired Magazine published an entertaining read about the preferences of public transit riders.  The results showed that it wasn’t the technology services like WiFi and charging stations that topped the list of what riders wanted; it was the basics like reliability and predictability of the service. We so often hear the phrase “get back to basics” and this study supports that thought. But the nature of progress and business has a gravitational pull to do more than the basics. We want to add more features and more services. We want to be the most competitive solution provider with more to offer. We provide more service to justify higher pricing. I feel this pull for bigger, better, faster as both a consumer and business professional offering a service.

But really.  

Is all this really important to customers?

Back to basics for business planning.

Last year I started using the A3 problem solving approach for annual planning. The output of the A3 process is a single sheet of paper. That’s important to me because it forces my team and I to narrow down our communication to what’s truly important and necessary to communicate with our audience. The Information Technology group is not immune to making problem solutions more complex than they need to be. An approach like the A3 technique creates a framework to get us to think about the basics of problem solving and communicating in a succinct manner that adds value.

Here is the template I have used thus far. The process involves documenting prior year results (current state), current year goals, rationale for the goals, action plans to achieve the goals, and follow-up items. I put the initial plan in an A3 format for discussion with managers and business department heads (suitable to print). Then I translate the plan to a single power point slide for when presentation and projection to a larger audience (suitable to project).

IT Annual Plan A3 IT Annual Plan

 

Follow it!

I keep a printed copy of the annual plan on my desk and reference it each week. I use it in discussions with my management team and as part of the performance management process with employees. Monthly I will make updates to the plan with progress on the activities timeline or updates to unanswered questions.

Continuous Improvement in business planning.

In addition to the annual plan, I’m also starting to think about converting the long range plan to an A3 process as well as my monthly status report. I don’t claim to have achieved an optimal approach to this process. But what is happening is that I’m thinking through the basics of the lean problem solving techniques and how to communicate them with my audience. That’s the beauty of the A3 approach for planning. It creates a conversation with the audience. More than just sending a large report loaded with information that people probably won’t read, this approach gets the conversation to something manageable.

 

Onward and Upward!

 

Business planning for the simple minded

We plan with good intentions.

Every year business teams go through planning and budgeting for the upcoming year. It’s a time consuming process. Middle and upper management work and rework presentations to present to executive management possibly board members. Budgets are submitted, then slashed, then reworked, and submitted again. Hours upon hours of work.

and then……….business happens.

New clients are signed that need to be on-boarded. Expected sales fall through or don’t materialize. Competitors upgrade their offering and drop their prices. Technology advances in a new direction.

Suddenly all that planning seems like a distant memory. Is anyone looking at the business objectives and roadmap that was planned for the current year nine months ago? My experience is that the plans are often forgotten and overruled by the tactical maneuvers of the current day.

Let’s not over complicate the matter.

Strategic plans are well intentioned. We have to plan to reach a goal or as the saying goes, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” One way to help soften the risk of changing course due to changing market conditions is to plan smaller for a reduced time horizon. Instead of trying to plan for 12 months of work 15-18 months in advance, try planning six months of work nine months in advance. Don’t set 10 strategic goals, instead set 3-4 strategic goals and so that the organization can begin at the start of the measurement period.

It’s a similar concept to sprints in an agile development methodology for software development. Why not setup sprints for business objectives. Then remain more nimble to change as needed to match market conditions.

For technology teams one bit of advice is to first see the direction of the business (sales, marketing operations) and then align to help support those goals. In this way the plan will represent the core foundation (operations) of the business as well as the growth area (sales).

 

 

 

 

Strategic alignment – an eCommerce pillar

One of my fundamental working habits is to make sure that activities and work produced from my eCommerce organization are aligned to the strategic plan of the business.  I define eCommerce strategic alignment as the condition when work output supports or satisfies items listed in the annual business plan and company mission statement. Strategic alignment cannot be treated with lip service or discussed at the outset of a project and never mentioned again. To do so reduces the importance and significance of the strategic plan. There are valuable practical benefits to alignment that make this course of action a no-brainer for those in leadership or management positions.

Practical benefits of eCommerce strategic alignment

It validates work – work that supports the strategic plan should already be officially sanctioned or approved . With the approval of management, resources are assigned, money is allocated, and schedules can be set.

It motivates employees – People rally behind and support work that they know is created for a greater purpose. Aligning to the strategic plan is an automatic validation that the work produced is approved by management. Happy boss, happy employee.

It keeps the output in sync with the whole – Just as team members must work together, the work output produced from each group must be in sync with each other to have the desired and full impact. The strategic plan is the playbook that each team performs to so that they stay in sync with each other. Avoid organizational chaos and entropy and stay aligned.

Sources for finding the strategy and plan

Finding the company’s strategic plan shouldn’t be a difficult task. I reference the annual business plan and company mission statement. The mission statement provides purpose of direction while the annual business plan will contain specific and actionable items that management hopes to accomplish in the current year. Some business plans are summarized lists of objectives, while others are listed as financial metric goals. Both of these are valuable because it gives a good balance to both customer focused and financially focused goals.

Tools for showing alignment

The eCommerce organization can’t realize the practical benefits listed above unless the leader communicates the alignment outward into the organization. To do this, I use a set of documents that are geared for specific audiences or set to publish at periodic intervals.

Roadmaps – A roadmap document can be used with management and team members. It shows the sequence of work output as well as the contents of each work effort. I’ve used two types of roadmaps in the past. The first is a release roadmap that shows releases and release contents on a sequential timeline. Typically, I will color code the releases to designate different content such as defects, enhancements, contractual, or technical. The second is an application roadmap that focuses on releases by application. This works if you have multiple eCommerce properties in the portfolio. Once I create the roadmap and summary level list of contents, I will then create a cross reference to specific items on the strategic business plan. Think of this as just a grid showing release name and which strategic plan elements it supports. Now, at any point in time, I can produce a current and relevant roadmap that shows how the eCommerce team is in alignment with the company strategic plan.

Project Business Case – Business cases and Return on Investment (ROI) analysis documents are typically created at the outset of large projects to unlock the expenditure of monetary, equipment, and human resources. A defining part of this document is the “why?”. It shows why it is necessary to complete this work. Everybody has more work than they complete so you have to make wise choices about what you work on and what you don’t. Know the business. Use alignment as your guide for what gets done and what does not.

Status Reports – Weekly progress reports are not the place for showing the alignment because it would be too repetitive. But monthly, quarterly, and project closeout reports are the perfect opportunity to show and communicate the alignment of the team. In fact, depending on the audience, I will often reuse the roadmap report or pieces of the roadmap. Redundancy can be good in this sense because I like to keep my work top of mind with management about how it supports the planned objectives of the company.