IT organizations may be efficient, but are they moving the organization forward? This was the question that we asked when evaluating the role of IT in a public entity. The answer was “no.” While the IT function wasn’t holding the organization back from achieving its vision, it wasn’t actively contributing to realizing the vision either. The department was providing commodity services - in other words, the team was at the “Supplier” level on the Syntropy Performance Matrix & Maturity Assessment (PMMA). It wasn’t serving as a strategic enabler of the organization.
We worked through a thoughtful process to build a sense of urgency for the necessary changes. We prioritized work across all 5 components of the PMMA, and decided to start with strategy. In two years, we achieved:
To achieve these results, actions were prioritized and delivered with continuous focus across all 5 components of the PMMA. Highlights of the most impactful efforts for this team include:
The proof is in the pudding. The role of IT has expanded, the team is more engaged, and the business enablement partnerships are productive.
We led an organization through defining and prioritizing a $70M set of technology investments to support the organization’s mission, including IT infrastructure, ERP, safety, portal/communication, information security, and end-user device initiatives. By combining data-backed proposals with emotional appeals, we built a coalition of support to invest in projects that would directly impact the organization’s customers and product. We coalesced and shared research, facilitated learning trips, identified allies across departments, held prioritization votes, promoted the voice of the customer, and built support from top down and from bottom up. We gained the public vote and passed a $70M ballot initiative. From there, we transitioned into implementation and oversight for a 4 year plan of over 30 separate technology programs.
hands holding a tablet - representing technology capital planning
We approached employee performance management in a straightforward manner: clearly defined and communicated expectations, weighed individual employee growth/goals appropriately with job role, evaluated impact not activity, “how” mattered as much as “what,” and relative performance against peers was absolutely relevant. Over the course of 2 cycles at one client, we were able to completely reset the expectations, process, and outcomes of an uneven and ineffective review process with a leadership group of 15, responsible for the evaluation of 100+ employees. Overall the bar was raised, and the entire department learned to step it up. High performers had tools to excel and they did, poor performers were finally addressed and leadership had the tools to do it. Employee engagement scores increased by 13% over 2 years.
Strategic Prioritization: At a time when there were 20-30 active business/IT projects ongoing and another 20-30 pending project requests in the queue, one organization’s resources were unable to fill all of the need and users were unable to consume all of the change. We designed and implemented a process to prioritize the use of company resources. We moved the organization from an ongoing first-in-first out method for starting projects to semi-annual structured prioritization with C-level leadership driving decisions about what work they should initiate. This required the previously siloed decision-makers to come together to gain agreement on the set of work for priority focus – “These are the 3-5 most important efforts to accomplish in the next 12-18 months.” By slowing the spigot, the portfolio of initiatives became more feasible to execute, staff felt empowered to deliver, and quality increased. Departments began to “live with” not doing all projects and made better choices with the resources they had. And most importantly, leadership gained a better understanding of the needs across the organization, not just in his/her own department, and were able to target benefit realization in the areas that would most benefit users.
Tactical Implementation: We customized a project management methodology to meet an organization’s needs, comprehensive but not dense, useable but not rigid, and approachable to non-business stakeholders. We rolled it out slowly, one project at a time, driven by experienced project managers to model the process and build wins with customers. What started out as a department-specific methodology ended up as the de-facto enterprise methodology for large and small scale efforts because it was easy to follow and more importantly consistently improved project outcomes. IT, originally skeptical, adopted the tools and methods and enhanced them to meet additional needs. Departments wanted their teams trained. Customer satisfaction increased by 29% points in a single year.
We were charged with reducing a $16M operating budget by 7-10%, 85% of which was staff funding. A cut of this magnitude had not occurred in anyone’s memory; it was not atypical for employees to spend 20-30 years in their roles, and we had less than a month to determine our plan and be ready to notify impacted employees. We set a goal to ensure customer service was not compromised, consolidate functions/roles where possible, and identify discretionary work that could be reduced. We set direction with department leadership and involved resource managers who best understood work impacts and how to maintain appropriate skill set balance. 11 positions were reduced and notification to the full department and impacted individuals took place with conscious transparency and confidentiality through a detailed change management-focused implementation plan. The original aim was ongoing cost reduction, which was satisfied. Additionally, the team saw broader benefits long term. Roles were better aligned within the organizational structure, high-performers were given space to grow, and the team was able to deliver more with less. One year after, a team member who lost a well-liked manager indicated that her new manager was tremendous, and provided her “help where she used to only get hugs.” The bar for technical resource skill was raised by default, and staff provided feedback that they respected the way a difficult process was addressed.