When the gunshot is fired at the start of the Olympic final of a 100m dash, 8 world-class sprinters on the block will leap towards their dream of Olympic glory. All 8 equally skilled, each one equally trained, equally driven, all of them with the same hunger to win. Each one committed to chasing (pardon the poor pun) their life’s single purpose and calling, and each one, to be sure, aspiring to be chased from the moment that gunshot goes off.
The biggest advantage, however, goes to the athlete that gets those few micro-seconds of advantage from a perfect start. It is an advantage that the athlete creates for himself less than one second into the race. The rest of the race is a battle of sheer skill, years of training, endurance, and grit.
If you have ever been a finalist of the 100m dash in the Olympics, you’ll know exactly what I am talking about. Surely you prayed fervently for a perfect start. And secretly, and with equal fervor, you prayed that Usain Bolt will have a bad one. Admit it.
But on the other hand if you are like me, leading the life of a common man, doing common things like drinking a lot of coffee, doing BPM projects, being in a perpetual quest for uncommon excellence from them; frequently obsessing about processes, hungrily reading up any material published on BPM; eagerly following new thinking emitting from BPM conferences; agreeing and/or disagreeing with analyst views; visiting Bouncing Thoughts regularly and trying to discover great depth of perspectives there, and frequently giving up; occasionally getting emotional about nomenclature & definitions and so on, then let me assure you that the importance of a good start is still very much relevant to folks like you and me too.
Why exactly is a good start being discussed in such detail on your favorite BPM blog?
I can explain in a sentence and two words.
- Because the seeds of BPM success are sown at the start of the project and there are many who still don’t get it.
- Peter Schooff.
Those two words behind some of the most thought provoking discussions in the BPM world, recently provoked yet another thought provoking discussion at BPM.com about the goings on during the start of a BPM project initiative.
To me, the start of a BPM initiative really happens much before the kick-off meeting, but the kick-off is equally important and is a ‘starting block’ of sorts for sure.
For at least a decade now in these BPM kick-off meetings, a section of attendees have involuntarily, and often privately, grimaced and winced during the proceeds and Peter’s question in the forum has brought out the despair of fanatical believers of business technology.
Who are these grimacing and wincing participants, you ask.
Let me try to answer your question briefly. These face contorting participants are typically fanatic believers of business technology, and, in particular, Business Process Management. Indeed, almost all of them non-Olympians. Like you and me.
Interestingly, if you read the responses to Peter’s question ”What is the worst thing to hear when starting a BPM project?”, you will quickly come to the conclusion that the forum there is teeming with such folks who might exhibit copious facial convulsions because they are getting a lot of heart burn at the start. This also implies there is another party of people in action who are bent on giving them a lot of heart burn at the start.
In other words, there are two kinds of people. People who get it and people who don’t. And today after over a decade, as the well meaning fanatic has become more vociferous , others in the room have also started to respond with frowns, grimaces, sneers and scowls. This has undoubtedly created a very strange situation.
Which begs the question, why does everyone go into these meetings and wince? What is it about these meetings that causes this?
Here is a sample exchange in one such meeting. Attending the meeting, we have the client – usually a project owner, then we have a fanatic believer of business technology like you or me or someone from Peters forum, a project manager, and the Rest that includes some IT peeps and a miscellany of folks from business, and from here and there responsible for this and that. By the time you get to the end of this sample exchange, you will also realize that all of them are wincing and grimacing through-out the meeting.
- Client: “because of our new urgency, we need to reduce the requirement gathering effort by two weeks to ….”
- Business Technology Fanatic in the room (BTF): “huh?” Raises eyebrows and groans.
- The Project Manager sits up, completely ignoring the ‘huh’ and says “hmm OK” briskly and immediately open MS projects and make modifications. Knocks off one consultant, cancels his back-ground checks, thereby saving related costs, sends out 8 mails and completes all action items in 48 seconds flat. Hits the send button on the last email with a loud flourish and looks up at the client for the next instruction. He was brilliant like that. And knew it.
- PM’s team in unison: “Like the PM rightly pointed out, hmmm OK”
- BTF: “But is that really necessary? This will seriously compromise time spent on discovery, and th…”
- Now it is the turn of the PM to look at the BTF and raise the old eyebrow. His mind is agitated and is thinking “I just made all the changes in the proposal document, the Contract, and the MPP files, sent 8 action mails and updated and saved the ‘Onboarding_Proj_Plan_Ver193.10.mpp’ and even renamed it to ‘Onboarding_Proj_Plan_FINAL_Ver01.00.mpp’. Who brought this inconvenient ass to this meeting?”. But instead of saying all this he turns and gives a look with an expression that says “can you shut that tent flap for sometime, everything cannot be as ideal as you’d like it to be. You have such a long way to go boy, oh yes”. Aloud, he calmly says “umm, lets take this offline”
- The Client seeing this strange exchange, has a quizzical look on his face as he tries to read the expressions flying back and forth(very unfamiliar to his culture) but really wants to move on. His wife will be at the station in 15 minutes and he must pick her up. One doesn’t want to be late for THAT. But still, this was an important meeting and it was his duty to be on top of it. So deciding to take charge of the moment, he lifts himself to full height and says “Great! that settles that”. “Moving on, Another thing we just heard is that the on-boarding process owner wont be available, so we can get his laughably inept and inexperienced minion to sign-off”
- PM: “Sure, the show must go on, right. Excellent work around”
- BTF: Wince. Groan. Moan. “But..”
- PM, the Rest and the client turn to BTF and glare. This lasts for a full, uneasy 30 seconds. A collective thought, “Will this disruptor of meetings stop disrupting or what?” hung in the air. A wife was to arrive at the station soon, an MPP file had been already updated thrice, the contract has been updated thrice, the resources are all booking their tickets. This ass is not only slowing this meeting down, he also is clueless about the bigger ramifications.
- But rather than be caught on the wrong foot and be blamed later, or accused of poor decisions, they instead wisely choose to attack the disruptor with substantial non-verbal weapons involving unspoken words, hints and clues and expressions. They grimace and frown and scowl and were even prepared to stick their tongues out.
- Suddenly the IT Architect speaks out of turn: “Anyway i wanted to bring this point that the services will not be ready next month, we expect it only by 2nd week of March 2039 and so i wanted to let everyone know that we will have to use our existing patchy methods and tightly couple things and totally forget about SOA.”
- The PM scowls, for this means another change in the plan and another version of that mpp. The BTF winces again. The project sponsor groans because IT seems to always drop things. The chief architect frowns because he was privately told it would be ready by1st week of October 2024. Seeing all this, the IT Architect jerks his head back at the massive change in everyone’s expressions after he’d relayed what his new boss (who couldn’t be there) had asked him to relay. Was he tricked into doing some dirty job? He wasn’t sure. So for the rest of the meeting he sits with the expression of someone who had unexpectedly tasted a severely raw lemon or something very very sour.
So you get the picture. Everyone was experiencing strong feelings, everyone had something to say and when they had a chance to say what they had to say, everybody else is grimacing and groaning and wincing and slapping their foreheads and contorting their faces and banging their heads on the desk, tearing their hair, trying to jump out of the window, biting into the plaster on the wall and peeling it off and so on.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the glass wall of the conference room, an AC technician walking by casually turns and takes a look inside – an unusual sight greets him – everyone was making really extreme faces at each other and to say the least, there was a significantly wide range of expressions on all the faces inside. Expressions that somewhat resembled those depicted in the image below.
The BTF steps out for a coffee and almost bangs into the AC technician.
“You got some teamwork going there” the technician says to the BTF pointing inside the room. “I didn’t know you guys did Theater, man – that’s a big change from the usual same-same! One look at all your faces and I can tell you guys sure are care-free and committed. Happy practicing for the big gig, dude!”
The BTF was of course surprised to hear this. For once that day he had a blank expression. And with that, he could feel all the muscles on his face relax and ease out. He suddenly felt better and as he started feeling better, a new detached perspective started to form.
The start was important, alright, but it wasn’t a 100m race, after all!
It was more like a 4X100m relay race. It was about the 4 that made the team. Consultants, developers tool experts, architects, whoever. Do what you have to do, but do your best and give me the baton on time and I’ll run with all my might like you did towards our goal.
Suddenly, he knew how to fix the situation. He turned and went back into the room with a very unusual expression. Everyone stopped and gaped at this strange, unfamiliar, new expression.
It wasn’t anything mysterious, it was just a warm smile.
In my time we called it Change Management with exactly the same reactions. We bungled along and implemented change, including the mother of all changes – from manual to computerised operations. It may sound incredible but at that time, it was a brahma prayathnam to persuade people that the computer will help rather than hinder.
Great screenplay for a true, real-world story (or stories, unfortunately)!
Now if a producer and director could step up……
You got it. It still is fundamentally a problem of Change Management – just that the fiber of change implications in a BPM initiative run so far and deep that it makes the situation a lot complicated.