Capability Insights Consulting



Managing Software Requirements

Posted on April 26, 2011 at 11:07 AM Comments comments (0)

As a business leader, you can help your IT supporters to build or buy you the software applications you need to enable your business processes.

You, or the people you designate, need to work through your needs of a software application. Your IT analyst can help you. An important area to consider is how your needs or requirements relate to one another. I recently wrote an articale on the website Sofware Quality Connection that talks about requirements traceability or the relationship between requirements.

Have a read and remember to ask your IT folks how they manage requirements on your behalf.

Requirements Traceability: Why Bother?



IT Productivity Means Change

Posted on August 29, 2010 at 2:09 PM Comments comments (0)

Unlike my regular posts, this one is a link to an article I wrote for Dell and IT Expert Voice. Check it out!


Here's the link...





Process improvement benefits - where to look

Posted on August 17, 2010 at 3:14 PM Comments comments (0)

Identifying, analyzing and making changes to business processes takes time and effort, and incurs expense. Changing how things are done impacts roles and responsibilities and can trigger employee resistance. Before embarking on process reviews and changes, it is wise to consider the types of benefits you might gain.


Each organization is different and the actual benefit numbers will vary, but below are some common benefit areas to be aware of and better yet to plan for.


Revenue generating benefits. These are opportunities to change current processes and practices to directly or indirectly increase revenue. These benefits are often the hardest to achieve as the changes needed usually break current mindsets and can fundamentally change roles and responsibilities. They often also have the highest payback. Here are some examples:


  • Upsell opportunities. A telecom company wants to have its call center staff sell more products to existing customers whenever they deal with a customer. The process review, analysis and design work will focus on building in the analytic processes (and technology) necessary to ensure call center staff know exactly what products the client has and what products might be of interest, as well as adjusting the training processes and performance management processes necessary to skill and incent the call center staff.
  • Improved products and new product opportunities. In this example a retail organization believes its own customers hold the key to identifying improvements needed in the current products and in identifying new product opportunities. Given its target markets, the organization knows it needs to include social networks in its product development strategy. The process review, analysis and design work will focus on how best to expand its current engagement processes to leverage social media. The organization has proven in the past that customer-focused product changes and development leads to getting higher revenue per product and getting it faster.
  • Client experience and business reputation. In this example, a financial services organization wants to ensure its target market of high-wealth clients receives exemplary service. In their target market there is a strong correlation between the experience of the customer and their willingness to do and grow their business with the organization. In this case the process review, analysis and design work are focused on identifying the business processes from the customers’ perspectives, ensuring that all customer touch points are identified and that the internal functional processes are seamless from the customers’ perspective. The organization needs a reputation of service excellence, effectiveness and efficiency to attract and keep its target market.

These are just 3 examples. What examples can you imagine for revenue generating process improvements in your lead generation processes, your product placement processes or your sales processes?


Cost saving or cost avoidance benefits. These are process and practice changes that allow you to remove costs from the organization or to delay or avoid new expenses. This is where process improvement efforts are often focused. Every organization should be looking at running as efficiently as possible. Remember though that no organization has ever cost-cut their way to roaring success!


Here’s some benefit areas to look for:


  • Improve the efficiency of work in the office. Any changes and improvements to your business processes that make it simpler and faster for your team to get their work done or to coordinate on tasks results in time saved. That time saved my result in the need for less people or more often it frees up time for existing people to focus on higher-value and revenue generating work. Looking for efficiency involves looking for unnecessary hand-offs, storing of information never used again, unnecessary approval processes, processing rules that made sense once but are no longer of value and of course ways to use technology to reduce manual handling.
  • Get rid of invisible reporting processes. Over time, requests from management for information or reports can lead to tremendously time consuming efforts of questionable value. What reporting and information gathering is done in your organization? Are the reports used anymore? Is the method to create useful reports as efficient as it should be?
  • Onboard and train people faster. Documentation that makes processes easy to find and easy to use reduces the training time for new people and the people that have to train them. Getting new hires up and running faster means they are also working on client revenue activities that much sooner.
  • Reduce key-person syndrome. Improve the ability for the office to function effectively if one or more of the team is away. Small businesses are particularly hard hit when a team member needs to be away. Good process documentation makes it far easier for someone else to step in and handle their work.

Risk reduction or risk reaction benefits. There is little doubt that this is a growing area of process work. Benefit areas include:


  • Security of data, premises and people
  • Ensuring privacy of customer/client data
  • Meeting regulations

The ultimate benefit to risk reduction or being able to react to a realized risk, is maintaining the organization’s reputation. Fines can hurt but rarely kill an organization. But if customers, clients or funders lose faith in your ability to provide the product or service they expect, you may never recover.


Process review and redesign to build in the needed controls, checkpoints and governance are often required. The trick is to balance the cost of the process work, and the ongoing execution of the changed processes, with a realistic assessment of various risk scenarios actually happening. It is far too easy to paint emotion-laden pictures of horrific happenings that sway leaders to build in process controls that are just too heavy and ultimately hurt the organization’s ability to run efficiently. Worse, processes heavy with rules and controls are the ones people most often don’t follow, defeating the purpose of the process work in the first place. In some cases it is better to have a process to react to a risk when it happens than to have a heavy process that tries to eliminate or reduce the risk.


Measurement benefits. Process reviews and improvements provide an opportunity to define and build in key metrics for processes. It really is true that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. More importantly you can’t improve if you don’t know how things are currently working. Having the ability to measure current reality sets the stage for continuous improvement. As with process work to reduce risk, it is necessary to carefully assess what needs to be measured and ensure it can be done efficiently without adding unnecessary weight to the process. Beware the seemingly endless human desire to create and consume statistics whether they add real value or not!



Process review, analysis and redesign work can and must result in benefits that surpass the cost of the work to change the processes. Make sure you are looking in all the right places for benefit opportunities.




What Does Good Sponsorship Look Like?

Posted on June 9, 2010 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (6)

Recently a friend of mine wrote an article for Project Times (From The Sponsor's Desk; In Your Face) on a project I led a few years ago. As he and I emailed back-and-forth about his article I was reflecting on went well with that project since successful projects are never just about the project manager.


We had a skilled and enthusiastic team and we had great sponsors. As I further thought about other successful projects I’ve led or been part of it seemed that great sponsorship was a consistent pattern. Strong teams and strong project managers may overcome mediocre sponsorship to deliver not-bad projects. Truly great projects need all of strong teams, strong project managers and great sponsorship. 


Of the many great sponsors I’ve been lucky enough to work with, few have had the same personality or business skill set. So, I started to think about what they did share. Here’s my list of things to look for in a sponsor or aspire to as a sponsor. I’m sure many of you can add to this list and I’d love to hear from you!


Clear understanding and definite dissatisfaction with the current state

  • They understand what is wrong or not working and why
  • They understand the business consequences of the issues
  • They believe the current state is untenable
  • They share this with everyone, often – not by blaming, rather by explaining

Clear sense of the future direction without preconceived notions of the final solution

  • They know what business results they need from the project
  • They believe the project can and will provide a solution that delivers the results needed
  • They trust the project team to come up with solution options and a recommended solution as part of executing on the project
  • They communicate all of this with everyone, often – with a sense of passion and persistence

Active in risk management

  • They are not head-in-the-sand optimists nor are they afraid of people that bring forward risks and challenges
  • They expect those identifying risks to also propose risk mitigation actions
  • They see risk plans not as pessimism but as the method to ensure realistic and sustainable optimism
  • They share that brand of optimism with everyone, often

Makes the right decisions

  • They set clear boundaries and a framework for decision making in partnership with the project manager and based on the needs and situation for that project
  • They do not usurp the project manager and team’s role in making the project-based decisions on how the project is run
  • They do make the decisions they are asked to make as quickly as possible to help the team avoid delays
  • They facilitate getting decisions made by others when (not if, when!) politics threatens to derail progress
  • They are not afraid to make decisions and they stand behind the decisions they make and that the project team makes
  • They communicate decisions needed or made as often as necessary to whoever is necessary

Willingness to serve the project and the project team

  • They expect the project manager to let them know when there are problems – yet they are not invisible until a problem arises; they check in to see how things are going not as micro-managers, but as servants to the team, ready and willing to help
  • They clear roadblocks that only they, with their authority and position, can clear
  • They do not take over problems the project team can handle; they trust the team to do its job
  • They provide a dome of protection and focus for the project team; they support the project manager in ensuring the project team is not raided for its talent or diverted to things that do not meet project goals
  • They keep the project visible and reiterate its importance to everyone, often

Expects results and is willing to pay for them

  • They set high standards of behaviour and action and expect the same from the project team
  • They do not set unrealistic or unachievable goals; yet they expect the team to be better than the sum of its individual members and to stretch themselves
  • They do not expect to get great results at bargain basement prices nor do they provide an open wallet
  • They provide that sense of balance on the path to results to everyone, always

Acknowledges results

  • They celebrate the interim results and the final results
  • They provide ongoing encouragement to the project team and to everyone involved in or impacted by the project
  • They deflect the glory to those that worked on the project in any capacity
  • They share their excitement and pride widely

I can think of many more detailed items but these are the key things I look for from a sponsor.  


Perhaps it is no surprise that this is a very similar list of things I look for in a leader! 




Do a Reality Review

Posted on May 7, 2010 at 12:08 PM Comments comments (0)

External pressures like recessions, new competition or new regulations force you to look at your products or services and the processes used to deliver them. You move into improvement and change mode because there is no choice.


But when things are going well, the external world isn’t knocking hard on your door and no one in the company seems to be complaining, it is so easy to sit back, smile and enjoy. That is certainly understandable and maybe, for just a short period of time, a necessary rest period for the organization.


Do not rest for long! You have been given a unique and precious opportunity to examine your business, to do what I call the Reality Review.


What is this?

A Reality Review is a brutally honest assessment of the current state of your business or some piece of it. Here’s a sampling of the questions for a review:


For a key business process:

  • Is it as effective as it could be?
  • Is it as efficient as it could be?
  • Could error rates be lowered?
  • Is it shareable or locked inside a key employee’s head?
  • How many people and handoffs are required to get the job done?
  • Do the people involved have the skills they need to perform well? Is the time from hire to proficiency too long?
  • Is recruitment too difficult? Does it take too long?
  • For an existing product or service:
    • Does it sell as well as you’d originally hoped? Again, be honest, it may be selling but is really achieving what you believed possible when you started it?
    • Do your people know when and how to sell it? Do they like to sell it?
    • Could customer satisfaction be higher? Do you know what your customers are saying?

    A Reality Review can also take a look at your people management, performance management and leadership strengths and weaknesses.


    The point is to take the stance that good can always be better. In fact it is often also true that good can hide pockets of bad.


    Why do a Reality Review?

    Beyond assuming that you want to know what is working and what is not, here’s a list of reasons that all have bottom line impact:

    • You will find places where processes can be improved or streamlined. You will (hopefully!) find many things being done right and you get to celebrate that with your people and share those good practices to improve other areas of the organization.
    • You may find products or services that simply need to be retired. Getting rid of a product/service that is a drain on organizational resources allows more focus and attention on the products/services that are doing well. It also opens up the chance to explore new products/services to make use of the organizational capacity no longer needed for the old product/service.
    • You’ll be in a much stronger position to take on external pressures that will inevitably be just around the corner. You may well inoculate your organization from some competitive pressures by staying ahead of the pack.
    • Through doing an honest review of the current state you’ll be better positioned to communicate the changes needed to the people in your organization.

    How do you do it?

    You can and should gather some statistics. I would certainly want them as part of the overall picture. But too many organizations get buried in the “data trap”, arguing about which data should be collected and what the results of the data collection are actually saying.


    More importantly, statistics are a passive review. A true reality review requires something far more active. Consider:

    • The documented process is almost never the actual process that gets executed.
    • The explained process will be what someone thinks you want to hear.
    • The only way to really understand what is being said to customers – at all points of customer interaction – is to hear it.
    • Customers may fill out surveys but this cannot replace focused conversations on their experiences with your products and services.
    • Changes that are made on actual vs. documented processes achieve real improvement.

    You, or a small project team needs to get out there, live it, see it and experience your processes as your people do and your products and services as your customers do.

    • Sit with the people doing the work. Ask them to talk through their work as they do it. Get them to explain their understanding of what they are doing. Ask them what would work better.
    • See where they are interrupted and what impact that has on their ability to execute.
    • Experience how they use the automated systems provided to them.
    • Look for the sticky notes plastered on the screen and desk that indicate some process or system is not intuitive and requires a constant reminder.
    • Sit in on customer interactions.
    • Take the opportunity to ask customers for feedback.

    An active review does not have to take a lot of time, though it does require some planning to ensure the time used is effective in discovering the reality of your process, service or product.


    A side benefit to this active observation and review is that you will discover data points to track that will end up making your statistics much more meaningful in future. A quick story to illustrate…


    A few years ago I worked on a project that was focused on streamlining system interactions for several hundred customer service assistants across the country. The project team spent time sitting in regional offices getting a first-hand view of how the existing systems were used. While in these offices every team member watched the computer network go down unexpectedly, often several times a day. Input data was sometimes lost and the interruption time to restart and get back on track was several minutes. There were no help desk statistics to show this was an issue. People had given up calling to report something that no one seemed to do anything about anyway. The project team put some simple code into the new system they were delivering to track when the system did not close cleanly and were able, over just a few weeks, to statistically prove the network problem. The problem did get fixed and tracking was put in place to ensure the systems really were available and reliable on an ongoing basis.

    Make Reality Reviews a part of your culture

    You do not have to wait for down time to do a Reality Review. Every project has the opportunity to embed active observation into its work. Not only will the results of that project be improved, you will continually find areas for improvement.


    You will build leadership credibility. Your people will feel like they are really being listened to and consulted about the direction of the company.


    No one should bury an organization in constant change and knowing when to act on improvement opportunities is key. But go ahead and be the restless leader. The one who can take pleasure and pride in what has been accomplished while still looking for opportunities to further grow organizational capability.




    Context Is Everything

    Posted on May 3, 2010 at 7:42 AM Comments comments (1)

    While Capability Insights is all about pragmatically helping you improve your organization; this is after all a blog and will occasionally wander off on tangents and reflections on leadership. Such is the case today! I promise though to tie today’s wandering back to leadership and the previous posts on management of change...


    People are neither rational nor logical. Google either of those words and the definitions will look something like:

    • Definition of rational - consistent with or based on or using reason
    • Definition of logical - capable of or reflecting the capability for correct and valid reasoning

    The best boss I ever had would sit quietly while I railed, complained or ranted on the perceived issue of the day, then look over and gently say, “Brenda, you are expecting people to be rational and logical.” Now, if you hear that enough, and believe me I heard it a lot, you have to start thinking about what it means. I was forced to consider how this statement affected me and the projects I was trying to lead.


    I considered that perhaps I was capable of logic but “they” were not. There were 3 serious issues with this possibility:

    1. Based on my previous statement about people not being logical or rational, I would have been a non-person.
    2. The arrogance of such an assumption would surely astound even the most Trump-like amongst us.
    3. And pragmatically, I had seen “them” be logical and rational many times before so I knew this possibility was not realistic.

    At that point the light bulb went on for me. “They” were being rational and logical when I understood the reasons behind their actions or behaviours. When I was not aware of the reasons, the actions and behaviour appeared illogical and irrational. What did this mean for me:

    • I stopped ranting and starting asking. If someone involved with a project was not acting or behaving like I expected I simply asked what was going on for them. Sometimes they had valid reasons that needed to be considered as part of the project implementation. Occasionally I disagreed with their reasons. At least we had the basis for a good discussion that didn’t exist before I asked.
    • I started making the project and change rationale visible early and frequently. Way too often I found that peoples’ personal reasons for their actions were based on assumptions about the rationale of the project and change. It is just so much easier to get everyone on the same page as early as possible!

    So, in fact, people are quite rational and logical when you understand the context they are working within. Good thing since my whole light-bulb process feels quite logical and I’m now in no danger of being a non-person!


    What does this mean generally for leadership and for managing change in your organization?

    • Help people understand your reasons for the improvement initiative and the change. The people in your organization have an almost insatiable need to see their leaders being logical and rational. More importantly, they will make assumptions about the rational. Those assumptions are often wrong. See the post Just What is the First Step to Managing Change for more on this.
    • Ask questions. Solicit feedback. Find out about the personal context. You will very likely learn things that allow you to tweak your project for the better. Listening willingly is also a necessary skill for a leader. This expands the communication talked about in the post Organizational Change Isn’t to an improved two way communication.

    By the way, I’m not suggesting that irrationality and poor logic don’t exist; just that we jump to that conclusion more often than necessary. And it hurts our ability to improve our organizations.




    Organizational Change Isn't

    Posted on April 30, 2010 at 3:42 PM Comments comments (1)

    The term organizational change is a bit misleading. Yes the change may be needed for the health of the organization and yes, change can and should impact the organization. But change actually happens to individuals. If your people don’t acknowledge, accept and ultimately embrace the needed change, your improvement initiative will fail.


    Effective communication will reduce your frustration in managing the change and significantly increase the success of your improvement efforts.


    Communicate the organizational context

    Everyone needs this. Here you have to communicate the what, why, where, when and who of the change. In the previous post (Just What is the First Step to Managing Change) we talked about you and your management team having a clear understanding of the business drivers and rationale for the change. Share this widely...share it often! Share it in many forms: e-mail, presentations, newsletters and one-on-one.


    Help your people and teams see that there is a reason for the change and that they have an important role to play.


    Communicate the individual context


    While the organizational context is necessary, the personal context is critical. We are human units first and ambulatory work units second! We need to make sense of the change in our own personal context.


    Be prepared to answer and re-answer the following questions:

    • Will I have to change?
    • How will I have to change?
    • Will my salary, where I work or my leader change?
    • Will I get training/time to make the change?
    • Are others changing?
    • What’s in it for me?
    • How will I know when the change is complete?
    • Am I there yet?
    • Am I doing OK?

    Even your most ardent supporters from an organizational context will need to have a good picture of the personal change context to stay focused and help you move forward.


    Be prepared and plan for you to handle these questions for your management team and for them to communicate with and coach their people.




    Just What is the First Step to Managing Change?

    Posted on April 26, 2010 at 11:43 AM Comments comments (0)

    Almost all management of change approaches or methodologies talk about building understanding as the first step in managing change. While true, management of change is part of a bigger picture. The first step in successfully managing change is knowing what the change is and why you have to make it. That places management of the change properly in the context of managing your business.


    It is very difficult to build understanding in others or to articulate effective change messages unless and until you and your leadership team have a clear view of:

    • The factors driving the need for change. These could be internal needs or external drivers. Can you describe the rationale behind the change?
    • The risks of not changing. Can you articulate what would happen if nothing changed?
    • What needs to be changed. Can you succinctly state what aspects of the business need to change? Have you looked at interrelationships between business processes, people and leadership to ensure you have nailed the scope of the change?
    • When the change needs to happen. Can you articulate the urgency or timeframe? Does that timeframe make sense when lined up against the drivers and the risks of not changing?

    Many sales organizations talk about having the elevator pitch for whatever they are selling. That’s a great concept to borrow for communicating and advocating for your change effort. Good elevator pitches come from having a solid understanding of the opportunity/product/service, or in this case the change.


    More importantly, if you have the answers to the questions above you are well positioned to build understanding of the change across the organization (be that an area, a department or an entire company).


    But let’s take a step back. You may be asking why you need to manage change at all. You know what’s needed and why, there is very likely some urgency to getting things moving. You are so ready to move into detailed planning and implementation! And there’s the problem. You and perhaps your leadership team may be ready. But the rest of the organization is not there with you. Yet.


    Improperly managed change often results in:

    • Resistance. That translates to the change taking longer and being more work.
    • Improperly used new business processes or practices. That translates to less benefit than planned and typically lower productivity. Worse, the risks of not changing may not have been avoided.
    • Turnover. Some turnover may be planned and necessary to affect the change. Badly managed change results in turnover you did not plan for and may not want.

    Properly managing change is not just about ensuring the absence of the negative. It is also about getting things done and getting them done in a manner that builds the organization's change capability and makes future evolution that much easier.


    So, the very first step in managing change is actually doing all the good disciplines of business management that leads to your understanding of the change. Then you can start to share that understanding with others.




    Capability Improvement Means Change

    Posted on April 22, 2010 at 11:13 AM Comments comments (0)

    Improving capability (people, process or leadership) inevitably means change. Management of change is a required element of success. Yet few of us do it well.


    Let's say you've embarked on a process change that impacts a couple business processes and by default the people working in those processes and the leaders of those processes.

    • A good vision or sense of the end state is necessary but not enough.
    • Project management will be required but will not be sufficient.
    • Business analysis and design is absolutely necessary but won't ensure success.
    • Automation can be great but may not be as welcomed as you imagined.
    • Having the best possible people on the project can help the project run smoothly but does not guarantee the ongoing change will be a success.

    Management of change is the glue that pulls all those excellent elements together. Rather than think of management of change as "that soft, fuzzy people stuff" think about it as a governance framework for making sure the time and effort you've put into changing those business processes actually results in improved capability.


    The next few posts will cover some management of change basics for you to apply.