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Buried Treasure – Fifty Shades of Opinion in your Organisation

When things go wrong, organisations or projects will often call in an external consultant – but what does a consultant actually do to find what happened? Typically a lead consultant will organise a series of interviews across all the participants in the project, gathering information in a structured way, identifying exceptional or unusual opinions to learn who has more information that can identify the source of the problem and provide information that will help in putting corrective actions in place. In an ideal world every project or organisation would run this kind of consultancy exercise continuously, making sure that every viewpoint contributed to the overall understanding of project health. Early warning signs would then be spotted in good time to take corrective action earlier, when the cost of change is less. This doesn’t happen as often as it should: engaging consultants is expensive, can be disruptive, and is seen as an expenditure without benefit when things are going well. Computer Aid, Inc (CAI) grew into a $300m IT services company by taking another approach: learning from the manufacturing revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s, CAI grew through the 1980’s to the present day by applying quality control lessons from manufacturing industry to the development, delivery and support of IT systems – including the structured interviewing of staff on a regular basis by consultants embedded in the project. The quality effort isn’t viewed by CAI as a sunk cost, but rather as a necessary control – unlike many IT suppliers CAI typically signs firm fixed price contracts, in some cases with reducing year on year support costs, and therefore has a financial imperative to deliver on price, on time and to specification. After successfully using this system for a number of years CAI developed internal solutions which are now spreading through the customer base and beyond. So -where’s the buried treasure? It’s locked up in the heads and the opinions of your whole staff, the knowledge of exactly what’s going on with costs, deadlines, deliverables, staff engagement, management engagement and customer engagement. CAI’s Automated Project Office starts out-of-the box by implementing four key performance indicators driven by lightweight, 360 degree structured quesitonnaires which have minimal overhead on the day-to-day running of the organisation. SMART – are tasks and deadlines Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. This model is familiar to staff, and is routinely used to assess individual tasks, but yields a useful barometer of the overall health of projects when extended to the macro and not just the micro view. PAL – process adherence level monitors the engagement and effectiveness of process. Designing processes, and continuous improvement of process, requires and understanding of the take up and effectiveness of process in the organisation. RPL – the rework prevention level is an early indicator of design or delivery problems. Making sure that staff have complete and sufficient information, resources and funding to fulfil their assigned deliverables will highlight delivery shortfalls before they become major problems. SMPL – the senior management participation level monitoring ensures that stakeholders are engaged and actively participating. In a real-world use of the “Hawthorne Effect”, the regular reach out to and monitoring of activity subtly encourages and ensures active participation.

About Matthew Kabik

Matthew Kabik is the former Editor of Computer Aid's Accelerating IT Success. He worked at Computer Aid, Inc. from 2008 to 2014 in the Harrisburg offices, where he was a copywriter, swordsman, social media consultant, and trainer before moving into editorial.

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