VUCA in the Digital world!!

VUCA in the Digital world!!

By Sairam Bollapragada & Rajesh Mohandas

Across the globe, all are now connected in unprecedented ways. This is both a boon and a bane, where we live in an era that is transforming and setting stage for the next revolution. Times when we were disconnected and every country operated in silo the challenges were limited to the internal affairs and the near border conflicts only.

With technological advances where today we look at a bright and secured future on one hand, on the other hand the unrest continues and is growing bigger day by day, conflicts, civil unrest, terrorism, ransom ware, cyber crimes, etc… are now integrated into our daily life.

The digital reality is shaking up some of the beliefs and compelling us to move to a more knowledgeable IT economy what with automation and AI which were limited to books, have finally come to the open challenging how that can transform every space of the life. Soon all white-space is expected to be filled with cognitive behavior and techniques. Automation is forcing re-wiring of skills for many of the IT workforce (read : https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/the-digital-era-learner-re-wiring-your-skills/ ) spelling end of the careers if not done.

Hence one can relate to the 4 key parameters of VUCA : Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Each of these factors are challenging the order of the day stuff and hence the need to cope with the same in the turbulent times.

The compounded problem statement with external influencing factors from market pressures, competition, shareholder expectations, stakeholders, are strong indicators, to the fact that the leaders will need to be hard wired to resilience.

The role of the leaders managing workforce, will be crucial and critical in shaping the digital future of any organization.  Most of the requirements to support a digital environment are not about the technology per se, but it is also about creating the environment to re-skill, create flexibility to be agile, adopt to changing demands, and groom the right talent for a safe digital future.

Let’s take each of the parameter at a time to see what it means in Digital world:

(V) Volatility: The nature and Dynamics of change that is blowing across the landscape mandates catalysts to adopt to these changes. The legacy of efficiency and productivity will no longer continued business anymore. Disruptive innovations are indeed unsettling dominant industries in today’s world. Hence the times call for compulsive innovation and a drift away from SOPs.

U (Uncertainity): This is a factor which reflects the lack of predictability and many surprises. Another indicator of this is the refusal of the current technology wave to move easily beyond the labs. The ever-experimenting mind-set is also reflecting that the solutions themselves are prone to obsolescence, from the very moment they are conceived with high degree of unpredictability.

( C)Complexity:  Multiple parameters built into the character of the issue spells complexity – be it chaos or confusion-led issues.

Complexity can also reflect multiple influencing factors which can unsettle easily. Complexity is good or bad depending on your strategy. Having a bullet proof strategy is impossible – nevertheless one should have a solid strategy to counter complexities and challenge the same.  Even if it comes with short expiry date (2 years) you should have one.

Digital space is getting more and more complex with each passing day rolling out a new platform, new innovations coming to light, new solutions offered, disruptive models coming to life, etc. Hence to deal with all these changes, a strategy for managing this change is mandatory and thus the

(A)Ambiguity : The fact that we only know 40% of how technology will fold into the lives and markets as an influencer, is a true reflection of haze in the Digital space. This then raises the question of business risk, which is quite a reality today.

At various levels of an organization, there are ambiguities relating to progression and growth, whether at organization level or career levels of professionals.  Except for the lexical meaning of the Strategic and Tactical approaches, the lines are thinning out.

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity will continue to exist but what leaders today can do is to play a vital role and attempt to control the levers by moving in to a Hyperawareness zone of informed decision-making, and fast execution. Winning in the Digital Vortex is not just about algorithms, architectures or innovative business models; it requires organizational change and workforce transformation. And successful transformation is enabled by a company’s digital business agility, building on the fact that people are an organization’s most important asset. Hence, everybody is but compelled to think on the forward thinking strategies to adopt to the Digital VUCA scenarios….

Why existing estimation tools are not realistic for Digital Project Estimation

Why existing estimation tools are not realistic for Digital Project Estimation

by Bollapragada Sairam, Rajesh Mohandas, Dattatreya Rao, & Ravi Pandikunta

Digital for some executives is primarily about the technology. For others, digital is a new way of engaging with customers. And for others still, it represents an entirely new way of doing business. None of these definitions is necessarily incorrect. But, the variation results in piecemeal initiatives and misguided efforts.

Industry experts have started to believe that digital should be seen less as a thing and more a way of doing things … this creates complexities with respect to estimation, how can one estimate and cost a concept. In digital projects “basic concept” is a starting point for estimation, or at least an idea, but it’s loose and not particularly well defined. Sometimes that’s because there hasn’t been time to develop it or there simply isn’t the ‘appetite’ from the creative to think through the detail.

Unlike traditional development parameters, the Digital World carries many more and they are unique in nature, variety of products, applications, data bases, technologies, middle-wares, hosting types and the entire eco system. Few more elements such as, sensors/devices, platform/infrastructure, testing, integration, security, scalability, robustness, seamlessness are multi folded efforts in development.

 

Some cost estimation models used in software development today are

Cost Model Description Best Fit Environment Formula type
COCOMO Constructive Cost Model Large corporate and government software projects, including embedded firmware Logarithmic
COSYSMO Constructive Systems Engineering Cost Model Large corporate and government projects, including embedded firmware and hardware Logarithmic
FP Function Points Software projects of all sizes, mainly desktop OS based platforms Linear
WMFP Weighted Micro Function Points Commercial software projects of all sizes and environments, including embedded firmware Linear
REVIC REVised Intermediate COCOMO Large military software projects, including embedded firmware Logarithmic

Some typical challenges with traditional estimation techniques in software development:

Unlike other industries, here often the estimates are done with partial data and sometimes with incorrect data, too. Several techniques / tools have been introduced over the years to make the process systemic and not a gut-based guesstimate. However, lapses still occur and this is still one of the toughest to-dos for a project. Following are few more parameters

  1. Poor design: Poor design results in unnecessary code tweaking and heavy-duty maintenance applying pressure on schedules.
  2. Not splitting the tasks enough: Most common method is to split project tasks into a WBS, but sometimes they are not broken enough to be conceptualized with clarity.
  3. Top to bottom scheduling: This is a practical problem one needs to deal with. Instead of doing bottoms-up estimation, most projects start with – “I need this done in 6 months” and then a work breakdown is done where the task estimates are retrofitted inside these 6 months.
  4. Factoring the dependencies right: Often, an external dependency or a decision point is missed-out causing the project to suffer, this is “coordination neglect”.
  5. Factoring right buffer: This is a common challenge and there is no simple formula here.
  6. Analogous Estimation Risk: Often, project estimates are done based on an expert judgment or from past projects’ experience. While picking an analogy and mapping the estimate might seem like an intuitive thing to do, it’s often risky because of the numerous variables in a project and the unique elements and dependencies, the people involved and their skillset, diverse tools and technologies adopted and the infrastructure and resources in place.
  7. Ignoring Team Capacity: There is a lot of debate about what unit or estimates need to be factored – should we measure complexity, time or effort? Irrespective of what unit is followed, many Project Managers tend to ignore considering their team’s capacity. It seems obvious that different people would take different time to code, but when we draw estimates, we come up with a standard effort estimate.

One other challenge is not only the technology but also the periphery elements on the topology, network, security and emerging areas like Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous vehicles, Cloud Manufacturing and 3d Printing, IoT and Connected Devices, Robots, Drones, and social media platforms couple with decisions on the emerging approaches like DevOps, Dockers, Microservices etc… add further complications into the estimation cycle.

Changing expectations from the customer are forcing service providers and manufacturers into a hyper personalization spiral, thus adding cost pressures. In these cases, the technology needed to solve our problem is well established indeed; in fact, it’s possibly the most important technical innovation in the history of humanity ranging from B2B, B2C, B2M, C2C etc…

The players in the market too have made the situation complex, though each provider promotes “On Demand and Pay as you Go” models the terms and conditions are quite different, for example the pricing metric in case of AWS is number of messages, Cisco looks at Cellular, GE bills on number of instances, IBM looks at data ingested and bills accordingly, Microsoft costing is depended on Number of messages, devices and feature set while SAP looks at an annual fixed subscription model and there are many more such elements to consider in your costing model…

The exponential growth in the technology as well as diversification of the same, new solution components, hyper-personalization, and other needs, all mushrooming towards building of modern solutions; but one cannot ignore that there is a dire need for building standard cost estimation frame-works where the conventional methods cannot be afforded….

The THREE “R”s as outcomes of Automation!!

The THREE “R”s as outcomes of Automation!!

By Sairam Bollapragada

IT has been predominant for its people and associated costs. People have been the epicenter of all the transformation/automation and the benefits measured have always hovered around the people, the efforts, their packages and associated costs.

These are the days of automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence and introduction of robotics. We are creating digital workforce, in a big way to transform the way we deliver solutions and services today.  Due to cost pressures, many times, evidently the quantitative savings take advantage over the qualitative ones. The more demanding clients do not budge on either.

The bi-modal approach on what you can do better with our existing work in your scope as well as what else you can do with our other work with other vendors is becoming a natural ask by clients. This then creates the platform to compete and who brings what to the table matters. While everybody seems to be selling the concepts and ideas, the rollouts from adoption is slow as indicated by a recent report. Hence, the benefits slowly reflected in the books.

Many a times, the teams are not able to articulate the savings and calculate on how do we arrive at the magical savings number and translate that to dollars. The efforts thus required to deliver the same service with the productivity improvements should lead to benefits that can needs to be captured and reflected.

All the benefits can be thus, categorized into THREE R’s that relate to the people aspect as follows:

  1. R1: Resize: when transformation/automation saves engineering effort and hence the cost of solution/delivery drops, you can release few team members. This resized team can deliver the same volume of work or keeping the same team size can take up more work. In typical annuity projects, one can re-plough the saved effort to create additional work in terms of additional tickets or CRs, either with no drop in revenue or additional revenue.

 

  1. R2: Restructure: while betting big on outcomes of automation, one can expect the productivity of the team as a whole to gain upward momentum. This should lend the capability of the higher end of the pyramid to delegate the some of, if not all their tasks to the lower band teammates. This is a true indicator of productivity improvement.

 

  1. R3: Resite : In all engagements, many times we come across mandatory set of tasks that should be done onsite or at client’s site. Transformations/Automations can also bring in the capability to move those tasks offshore bringing down the cost of solution or engagement. This may add to your bottom lines or you may choose to pass on the benefits to the clients. Whichever way, more presence of tasks at offshore has always been a strong indicator of confidence levels of delivery as well as capability of the team.

However, when it comes to benefits @ R1 or R2, there is strong feeling that it only leads to job loss. Positively put, it can aso mean the higher band resources can be released (and if they are very capable) where they can be deployed for account mining or/and other transformational consultant roles to demonstrate technical prowess or thought leadership in different areas – both  focused at increasing the footprint from growth standpoint.

If we don’t embrace automation/transformation, somebody else may move your cheese. Till the outcomes hit the financial books, the last mile is not accomplished….so, we must compel ourselves to drive these market-mandated changes, as long as the choice is still with us….

Digital Transformation: Looking Outside for a Change Agent?!

-By Sairam Bollapragada

Every Organization is wanting to go Digital but having its own share of challenges on route to the Digital Transformation. The struggle is not so much with technology which is a given. The challenge is with the DNA of the organization which has been in existence for more than 2 decades and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) have got ingrained into the constituents of the organization. Change is a hard reality and people naturally resist. The resistance is not just about the change, but is more about being compelled to accept the change pushing them off their comfort zones.

When we talk about digital transformation, it is about the journey straddled with the change in human behavior, the cultural change, the change in communication, the change in offerings, the change in skill-sets needed to service the digital client, the change in mindset and leadership, etc. Change happens one step at a time but here we need to bring in a phenomenal change across the organization- many steps at once, across the skills, the mindset, the ways in which we plan and execute, the way we design and create the solutions for the future, etc.

While everyone is aware of the benefits, lets refresh the salient 5 benefits here:

  1. 63% improved customer satisfaction
  2. 49% increased lead generation
  3. 75% lift in engagements
  4. 46% better client conversations
  5. 53% higher traffic

 

Some facts and figures to refresh the challenges to Digital transformation journey: While 35% of the companies are >80% digital, 68% are hoping to reach there in the next 5 years; while 39% of the challenges are in establishing the right operational and governance model, 39% are around evolving the company culture; as common drivers, 50% evolve around customer expectations, while 45% are due to rapidly changing competition in the market; and the list continues…

Let’s look at 5 Digital Strategy points (one should look for while stepping into the digital strategy):

  1. A Digital Strategy positioning Technology as a potential differentiator:

Digital is more about how fast an organization is able to adapt to the changing expectations of the market and prove you have the sustaining technological ability and agility to change at that speed. Hence a good and sound strategic plan to prepare the organization for the upcoming technological change that is not only vital but absolutely critical for survival. 80% of the companies report that their companies are getting processes and tools to expedite Digital roadmap, but actually only 46% aim to overhaul customer services. Digital is a space where Technology can both be a solution and a problem.

  1. The CxOs would need to lead from the front: The leaders must play a very critical role in this Change management with nothing less than absolute involvement to demonstrate their willingness to learn and drive the change themselves. The leaders must spend a lot of time with the digital strategy team to understand the context and lead the future blueprint from the front. Every part of the organization must be so synchronized in the blueprint, that it would become a seamless means of accomplishing the singular organizational Digital objective! Though 88% of companies report undergoing Digital transformation, actually only around 29% have mapped digital customer journey and know where they stand.
  1. Create an Organization structure that will be built for Speed, Agility and innovation: Decision making should be given top priority and right people should be moved to the right positions in order to create a very strong sustainable structure – challenging the traditional and the obvious challenging organization constituents and their conventional standard operating procedures. One should target to remove all the potential silos (read threat) not allowing the politics of the organization to hamper the future prospects and final successful end-goals. As an organization every client wants you to innovate uniquely and exclusively for them. Hence the need to pick the right (enabled)leaders who can take smart quick and compelling decisions, though hard, in a very timely fashion.
  1. Outside in view: For two plus decades now, the IT industry has been working in a community manner which has built very strong intertwining relationships between team members with various flavors of emotions, bonding, sentiments and strong linkages. However, the casualty of such organization is its being detrimental in the transformation. Hence to bring in required changes, professionals with immense unlearning and re-incarnation mindset are the need of the hour. Hiring/positioning creative consultants or even workforce, with innovative mindset is more critical than just the experience. This is more observed in larger entities where the larger and longer the team’s existence, the harder to resistance to change.
  1. Cultural change: The thinking of the new generation which has channeled so many startup entities around is a mix of forceful strategy, fearless thinking, innovation through Technology and creative market offerings. An organization marred with Legacy – non-digital businesses and annualized (operational based) economy, these traits will be hard to get from within. Resistance to adoption of new ideas, accepting the new market expectations, creating disrupting growth strategies, coupled with new disruptive generation thinking will double the challenge for the legacy entities – culture being the biggest challenger. Unfortunately, only 63% of the companies feel that culture is a major challenge while remaining 34% sort of agree.

With the complexities of cultural inertia, organizations are being compelled to get the Change Agents outside the organization. This trend has become inevitable when the leaders realize that there is a dearth of talent of such kind within the organization. In many places majority percentage of strategy looks at hiring innovative talent from outside where you can bring in an outside-in viewpoint with dispassionate recommendations of building a potential digital organization of the future. Many experts believe infusion of external talent can ignite the digital transformation much more easily. However, there should be heavy involvement of HR to ensure the moves are not abrasive in nature and the sensitivities are handled with utmost caution.

In addition to the above, the learning and training teams would also need to play a critical role by launching few initiatives like:

  1. Digital by Mentoring: Bring in mentoring of batches of folks under capable Digital leaders. These mentors should have a true capability with knowledge and ability to transform handful of associates.
  2. T-C-H: Training+Certification+Hands-on: mere training of employees may not be a great help but a good certification (internal or external) to gain confidence (self and others), added with hands-on experience in the digital labs would greatly benefit the individual and organization.

I would pause here for you to take a note and will come back with the metrics on Digital transformation of the Organizational Change Management in the next sequel of this….Till then, Happy Digital Transformation!!

Management by Escalations – the new norm ?

By Narayan Katti

In the past few years, I have seen a new trend – managing projects, programs and related business in IT Services Industry by escalations. This has become the norm than an exception and it is quite a disturbing trend. Unfortunately, this has encompassed customer organizations, as well and not just limited to IT services companies.

This topic might raise few eyebrows and some may brush this topic aside, but I feel it is definitely thought provoking. If one were to look at this dispassionately, it could raise many questions that need attention and answering by the teams and especially the leadership team.

The formal definition of Escalation is “a rapid increase”, “rise” and also “an increase in the intensity or seriousness of something; an intensification”.

Going strictly by this definition and the spirit behind it, one expects that Escalations are created / raised when the matter is very serious. Also, escalations are raised when the resolution of an issue has not happened or the way the progress towards resolution of issue is not satisfactory. But I find that today, the escalations are created / raised with a drop of hat, without proper due diligence, working together to resolve the issue or providing a solution to resolve the issue. Hence I am asking this question – are Escalations becoming a new norm than an exception ?

I am not suggesting, even remotely that escalations should not be raised. I am just questioning the timing and the spirit behind raising escalations. When matters do go out of hand that would cause material impact, one has to raise escalation. Matters and issues that need higher level attention for resolution need to be raised. But before reaching that stage, one should ask this question – has there been enough effort spent to work together to resolve the issues.

Consider the following scenario:

A web commerce implementation project goes haywire due to various issues. The customer IT manager, who is responsible for the project panics, raises an escalation to the CIO through his manager. The customer IT manager blames the IT services organization squarely. The CIO becomes furious. He has a direct connect and rapport with the CEO of the vendor IT services organization and hence escalates this issue directly to the CEO of IT services organization. All hell breaks loose in the IT services organization. The team involved in the implementation till the Delivery Head are taken to task. After a very careful and deep analysis by the team, it is found out that there were configuration issues in the platform which was not under the purview of the service organization. Later on the product company is involved and the issues are resolved. But the damage was done to the team, whose morale and confidence was shattered by this episode.

I have come across many such scenarios, where in the issues are escalated without much diligence and understanding. This creates a panic situation and does not help the situation.  I have often found that the customer organization never understands the vendor organization properly and hence is blind-sighted to these so-called escalations. Many a times the vendor leadership also gets into the haste mode to fix the issues (brazenly?) without deliberating or reasoning with the teams. The erosion of confidence levels of the team is more in this case.

My take

Issues are bound to arise in any IT engagement and depending on the size of the engagement, the number and impact of issues may vary. When issues do arise, we should encourage the teams to do the following.

  1. Encourage the team to bring up the issues to higher management, depending on the seriousness of the issues.
  2. Encourage the team to conduct the root cause analysis, impact assessment and try and rresolve the issues themselves and then reach out to wider organization

The management team instead of reprimanding the team, should understand the issue, provide all necessary help and as needed provide support through wider organization