The Compulsions of Transitions – Human Factors

By Sairam Bollapragada

It is well known fact that Transitions are ridden with risks. However, many times, in order to demean the risks, the transition manager tries all the tricks and ticks in his bag and rightfully so. The outcomes are important and a successful cut-over with least pain to the continued service delivery is the key. However, there are many factors which are outside of the control parameters of a transition manager – majorly attributed to the client organization. Let me jot down few points for consideration here….

Transition is seen by many employees as an opportunity for benefit out of chaos.  It could be to address the work-life balance, diversity, importance, move-up-the-ladder, etc. There are several agendas from various stakeholders that add complexity to the entire process. The client may view transition as an opportunity to weed out the non-performing employees while the incoming vendor would look at reducing the pain of hiring best people who are high performers and can make the transition journey almost a cake-walk.

However, one should also appreciate that the employees, at this point in time, undergo lot of stress with the trauma of risks arising from potential job-losses. This has to be very skillfully handled else the best are always the first to leave and leave behind the mediocrity with lot of risks to the success of transition. Knowledge is the obvious key.  The failure of companies to recognize that an Organization is community of knowledge workers (esp in IT industry) who can be positively or negatively influenced has thrown a spanner into the plans.

Intelligent Communication plans and patterns can be critical to the success of creating a positive environment and help transition to definitely succeed. It is psychologically proven that people tend to be poor performers due to stress and depression. Regular positive notes and communications assuring the best to the employees is a must and should be planned that way.

Similarly strategizing the action plan- majorly with the timelines plays vital role. One of the examples of bad strategy is dismissal of an employee during transition. It could be disastrous to the trust of employees and may not prompt them to share their skills or useful insights into the work they might be handling and this can impact in a huge way.

Another strategy that can go wrong is trying to make changes at several layers at the same time. These organizational transformations should be kept disassociated from transitions and if it becomes so inevitable, must be kept at minimal.  There is hardly any mitigation to employees at all levels resigning from consistent pressure during transition. Many employers don’t factor the crisis of confidence before the business goals they have set out to accomplish. Again, as mentioned good people leave first.  This can impact our transition plans severely and it can leave the transition manager crippled if it happens even before you have commenced transition. Then the knowledge is gone and you have nobody to fill in.

 

Potential cures:                                                                       

A Transition manager should insist on getting his counterpart role to be positioned in the client organization as well so that some of the client dynamics can be handled.

The transition managers must work towards getting an understanding of the ground reality during due diligence to sense the hostility of the situation. If there seems to be silent rejection, please advise clients to plan for the open houses and soothe the situation. Open interactions help situations to ease.

However, sometimes, the fear of loss of job and change can prompt employees to turn hostile and aggressive. Even when offered a job, there is no guarantee that the offer will be accepted. This requires employees to be handled with kid gloves.

Sometimes, the connects to the client-employees can really open doors to knowledge bases. This is worth giving a shot and of course with the consent of the client management. It also helps to open communication channels, especially with the critical employees.

These are not exhaustive list as there can be multiple ways to handle sentiments, emotions, security, job-satisfaction, and all other human factors that can impact transition. However, the risks associated with the re-badging or HR transition should be assessed and mitigated cautiously. The same is discussed in another blog at my site called “Re-badging – Some Dos and Don’t’s”.

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Audits of On Going Transitions

By Sairam Bollapragada

Transitions, as an in-flight activity, must have provisions to be measured mid-way for any delta corrections to ensure right outcomes and results.

In this aspect, a crisp dashboard for keeping the tab on the pulse of an on-going transition is very similar to monitoring the heartbeat of a patient while in operation. The periodic checks and balances and the need to get alerted should there be a dip in the pulse of the project (read Transition).

While juggling between various activities needed to manage a successful transition, many a times the transition manager overlooks some of the minor issues which can be prickly and hurt in the long run. (please refer https://itservicesdelivery.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/12-focus-areas-for-a-transition-manager/ )

Some of the key indicators for Transitions getting into ICU would be the following:

  1. KA/KT Sessions not progressing well as per plans and hence impact on resources and cutover
  2. Staffing on both sides being synced to attain the complete effective KT
  3. Cost consciousness of the client for any slippages and keeping all stakeholders in the loop on the budgetary health of the ongoing transition
  4. Less focused aspects of Info Security being factored during KTs to offshore teams
  5. Is any of the transition converging to a hostile takeover?
  6. The list goes on….

I recommend two kinds of audits –

  1. At overall level as a part of governance featured fortnightly and
  2. A Detailed level – At the request of the senior management for transitions where things have gone wrong – totally amiss and with in-depth analysis to project a Go-2-Green plans.

The second one is a focus here since it will help bring out the total picture for an almost-failed transition. While not to mention, through my experience, the English word I dread most is “almost”. One of the influencing factors of  a disastrous transition could be “90% syndrome”. Whenever your leads come and tell you “we are almost done or 90% done” please smell a rat. Transition is characterized by time bound outcomes and there cannot be space for such ambiguity.

Typical areas of focus for the audit begin with the transition plan which has direct inputs from the due-diligence. If the due-diligence is not done effectively, it will reflect in the plan made and hence the risks. A good transition plan will ensure a good level of information to be plugged from DD phase though many a times we agree that the client may not be able to provide good insight into the landscape in the scope leading to incomplete DD.

The plan, the governance structure, the risks (which is often a casualty in itself), assumptions, identification of right stakeholders on both the sides (rather 3 when third party is involved), the current SLA metrics and past reports on service level management adherence – are all key constituents of inspection and scrutiny.

While looking into such audits, I recommend that all the relevant stakeholders be made a part of the audit process and the auditors seek information that may be potentially missing to result in a gaping hole in the plan and strategy. I will pause here with three examples of what could be some potential sources of angst for a transition manager.

In one of the transitions I was looking into for going bad, a big factor that hit the team was lack of clarity on who would sign off on the outcomes. The client pleaded ignorance mentioning that it was their first outsourcing deal and they were unaware of the nuances in a transition. They simply said “…you guys are the experts and we will go with what you say.” The transition manager was overjoyed at being called an expert and felt the sign-offs were easy to come by. However, the thriller was when he submitted the system appreciation documents for sign-off to mark the completion of the transition. The portfolio manager said, neither did he understand what the content in the document really was nor was he told about this process earlier. It took a whole lot of discussions and negotiations by the team to get them to understand why this sign off was necessary. Hence the need to set such expectations through awareness sessions prior to the commencement of transition, identify key sign-off authorities is extremely critical. Every client must be made to participate in the transition as a contractual obligation and this one thing will make life simpler and easier from a process standpoint.

In another case, the transition manager did not know that he has 10 weeks for the incumbent team at clients place and after that he would be packing. Obviously the clients look at further optimizing the cost of paying two vendors. The client served the notice without letting the transition-in manager know, as the client did not feel for such simple applications it was really needed to make too much of hue and cry. In week 6 and 7, the incumbent vendor team started easing out a bit since the applications were not generating enough tickets to solve and the transition-in team felt maybe that’s how much we too can do!! On week 8 & 9 the ticket volume started soaring and they were obviously trying to meet their contractual mandate by resolving the tickets and living up to their signed SLAs. During the same week in a conversation the transition-in manager was shocked to know that at the end of 10th week, the team would be gone. He had a tough time checking back on the KT progress, re-negotiating, checking for the readiness to take over and after all the heart-burns, he got 2 more weeks to close out and take over. Hence the transition manager needs to keep the eyes and ears open across all portfolios. Everything is not told over mails, sometimes, you need to excavate and consistently look for being plugged to hear the ground level noise.

As a last example, in yet one another audit, it was discovered that unlike usual procedure, there was ZERO Risk Budget accounted for and the transition manager, though able to identify high level risks, did not feel motivated to verify & validate the same during the due diligence. Since he was unable to assess, plan for the mitigation and hence put a budgetary ask together, the risks were addressed randomly leading to a money spent to mitigate risks to be around 25% of the cost as against generic 10-14% risk dollars.

Of course, I have also seen the best transition program where the transition manager was able to complete the entire transition (accelerating few) hitting all deadlines and resulting in savings of around 38% of the transition cost budgeted!!

12+ FOCUS AREAS FOR A TRANSITION MANAGER!!

By Sairam Bollapragada

The Focus in transition is a key success factor and if you lose the focus, lots of things may fall off which would be impossible to re-gather to move on. While the statement is simple, the act of holding things together really needs multi-tasking, intense planning and precise execution. If not done meticulously, it can be a huge challenge, if not a nightmare! The following areas of focus need to be kept in mind:

 

  1. Change Management
  2. Client Management
  3. Risk Management
  4. Communication Management
  5. Quality Management
  6. Issue Management
  7. Scope Management
  8. Schedule Management
  9. Resource Management
  10. Security Management
  11. Transition Program Management
  12. Cutover Management

Apart from that, on the bolt-ons, we have the following areas to look into:

  1. Vendor Management
  2. Transition Planning
  3. Pursuit Handover
  4. Checklist usage and Tools Management

Change Management is the key ingredient of any transition and all other topics get covered under this one umbrella if we were to put across our experiences. Afterall it is a game of Management of Change (MoC)!

Change being inevitable starts with change in the team and the team members who walk in to support start bringing in changes which come in trickles initially and then the trickle grows. The changes could be people, processes, or technology. However it assumes larger proportion when the Transformation activities are chipped into the plan and then the landscape itself is prone to change due to business needs and compulsions.

Client Management is another area which is very critical and due to collaborative nature of the MoC, every service provider must take the customer along in the journey. Having said that, client actually should be the source of change requests and unless the client plays the game with the objectives clearly defined, the outcomes can be un-satisfactory. However, that little nudge as technology service advisors sometimes becomes mandated to push in the right direction.

Risk – no change and no gain comes without risks and Transition is no exception. Risk Management is key since there are bits and pieces tending to fall all over during this journey as turbulent it may be. The risks can be from availability of teams to platforms to vendor behaviours, etc, etc. It is hence very critical to upfront start dealing with risks through identification by understanding the customer contours. This is where the experience of the transition managers counts. If a person playing the role of transition manager has seen this earlier, he can smell the risks much ahead in the game . However, make no mistakes as all risks are not defined or cannot be. Risks can come in any shape or form or time and hence transition managers need to tread carefully to build sufficient mechanisms to mitigate them upfront. The booby traps during transitions in the form of risks are difficult to gauge upfront – all the time.

Communication is a very critical weapon in the transition kit. If you don’t build/define the communication with stakeholders, the transparency suffers and this is where the client can become most apprehensive. An appropriate communication plan should be included in the Integrated Transition Plan document and relevant stakeholders, mode of governance & communication should be defined.

Quality is driven by mutually defining the set of structured processes for the engagement between client and us. All metrics must be unambiguously defined and reflected in the reports. Afterall, what gets measured gets done!

Issue Management should commence the instant you start identifying the risks for the engagement and this happens much earlier in the pre-sales cycle when you are assessing the landscape to takeover. Risks, not mitigated would eventually become issues which need resolutions and hence being proactive and diligent is critical to optimize the level of issues during the transitions.

Scope is very critical and unless we use base-lining techniques, it will only add to the turbulence during the journey. There could be instances where the elements of transition will change, the number of devices or number of applications, etc but we need to work on lead times. Many times, client would keep changing the scope, be it applications, devices, window of services, L1/L2/L3 definitions as per his perspective, etc – but may still expect the deadlines not to be shifted. This is a real challenge and hence you have to keep impressing the risks of doing a quick and dirty job in view of these changes. If the client confirms the risk appetite, it becomes easier to take up the risks. Hence a risk profiling of the scenario must be documented and submitted as a formal report or deliverable as part of the Change Management Process.

Related to the above, are Schedule and Resource management aspects. The Changes above would have a direct impact on the schedule, deadlines, resource needs in quantity and quality. I have seen the in-flight changes to scope and that, if not handled deftly and diplomatically, can turn into a relationship disaster. Your focus should be on transparency so that you find a natural sympathizer from the client organization (hence you should insist on identification of a Client Transition SPOC). Mobilizing resources is another challenge, even in large organizations. Hence please expect hard negotiations on lead times.

Security Management is more an item for set up and steady state but the seeds are sown during the transition and hence is highly inflammable if the team members don’t understand the impact of NDAs and data privacy. It becomes one of the activity in the transition plan to have a 30 min briefing by the program manager to all team members on the contractual obligations on security and its breaches – more so, the consequences.

It is highly advised to have a TPMO – the Transition Program Management Office – commissioned as part of the start-up. With so many things flying around, in transit, in change, dynamically changing around, one should have a single stop shop to manage that and that Management of Change office is the TPMO where such things are noted, notified, called out, actioned, resolved – driving all towards the destination milestone!! Many times this is given a miss and this is when you cut corners, especially for engagements greater than 40+ FTEs, you will feel the heat in the course of the engagement.

When ready to take over, your set of clients for the commencement of such a change in services, may, also change. They could be the end customers for your clients or your clients themselves. Whoever be the stakeholders, all must be notified of the upcoming changes in the services, from when, what will change (call-in numbers, especially), who will be responsible, improvements if any, change in processes -if any, etc. Hence a the TPMO must establish the Transition Cutover Command Center (TC3) for communication in advance so that service disruption due to non-awareness is vastly optimized.

There are other areas that come into play during this Management of Change:

  1. We could be in a situation where we need to manage the Vendors on behalf of the client. If there are many such vendors where contract novation happens, it is ideal to set up a multi-vendor council (MVC) as a general practice.
  2. An Integrated Transition Plan is a blueprint with all planning aspects addressed comprehensively including the mpp for schedule of transition, RACI, etc., that becomes a rulebook establishing who will do what and when. This is another thing that should be used as a deliverable to the client and sign-off obtained.
  3. When the focus of activity that passes from sales to transition, especially if the transition manager is not involved from a pre-sales stage, may things can drop hence creating a gap between what is committed and what gets delivered. Hence there should be a window for a proper Pursuit Handover activity to the transition manager. What gets handed over to the transition manager is the expectations sold to the client.
  4. Checklist usage and Tools Management: non-establishment of a transition kit upfront can lead to scampering in between for proper checklists and tools. Usage of many tools, yet struggling to deliver a proper clean report is observed as outcomes of poor planning and casual approach to transition. This can become a nightmare as without appropriate tools, you cannot control the drive to destination.

Net-net, planning and continuous monitoring is key to any transition and Transition manager who is not entrenched into the details, would create a difficult journey for himself and the team with severe impact to the QoS!

Why an effective Transition Leader is Key to an engagement!!

By Sairam Bollapragada

While the outsourcing catches on, there are customers who are still doing this for the first time and hence are consistently weighing the risks and potential loopholes on an outsourcing deal. While we show them how we run their business in steady state, their thoughts may still be wandering around the critical question – how do I get there??

 

The bridge from the deal pursuit phase to steady state service delivery phase is the phase of transition with the most critical ingredient being the identification of the right Transition Leader/Manager who will play the role of the change agent for the customer.

 

She/he is the glue between the delivery and the pursuit team as internal stakeholders while he is the glue between client management and our management – all to ensure a smooth and seamless transition and transformation. The juggler who works deftly amongst chaos to make things happen and yet maintains equilibrium to get to a customer-desired state.

 

In the interest of the partnership, the transition leaders would be as successful as the key stakeholders (internal and external) around him/her make them to be. In the real sense, they need all the enablement and support from the sales, account, the regional delivery executives, the customer stakeholders and everybody else. They then can become the centrifugal force that brings about the proposed change in taking over the control and handing the baton over to the Service Delivery Manager post- transition. Till then, the transition leader is in charge.

 

A Transition manager needs to be an entrepreneur, a delivery leader, an ITIL expert, financial whiz, people manager, a mentor, philosopher and what not. He is consistently watched by so many around his actions, and is implicitly being measured for his productivity in all the areas. Hence he has to conduct himself in the peaks of stress.

 

An effective transition leader is the one who establishes the foundation of the long term relationship with the customer and leaves the taste of a ONE team which instills confidence in the customer that their applications, infrastructure and business environments are in safe pair of hands. Hence the transition leader must be enabled to the extent possible to lead the way during transition and help gain the customer confidence with the customer seeing a strategic partner in him and his team – and thus in the service provider.

 

The experience backing the transition leader should ideally allow him/her to bake the customer relationship to the next level resulting in a long term successful partnership.  

5 POINT COLLABORATIVE AGENDA FOR TRANSITIONS

By Sairam Bollapragada

Transition by nature is a very collaborative exercise where the emphasis is on winning the customer confidence through sheer performance and nothing but performance. While being transparent to the customer and drawing customer into action through participative mechanisms is a very critical success factor, being prepared and planned to foster a mutually agreed agenda is also key.

Point 1: Cultural Values: Enablers for effective collaboration include: shared values and cultural fit along with wanting to ensure that both parties are successful. The corporate values on all sides play a very vital foundation role in ensuring collaboration. Unless there is a multi-party mutual acceptance of each others culture and values, Objectives will not become singular in nature. The emergence of transition as a common goal MUST happen.

Point 2: Communication: Collaboration requires a communication framework that ensures openness, honesty, and a focus on having effective discussions rather than always trying to “get it right.” Getting it right is an outcome of all the activities which has its basis as communication. All parties involved must exchange notes and treat it as a the most important factor to succeed.

Point 3: Transformation: Service provider selection criteria for a collaborative outsourcing relationship needs to include the provider’s expertise in understanding the customer scenarios and helping customers change and to drive transformation into its operations, along with the provider’s willingness to embrace challenges and take risks on the buyer’s behalf. The apathy generated would help provider behave like an extended part of the customer entity. A transition manager must have commendable emotional quotient (EQ).

Point 4: Flexible Contract: A rigid contract and governance framework that nails down all the terms and conditions, locking the parties into a certain position, will hinder the ability to be flexible through changing circumstances in any outsourcing relationship. Though the contract is critically essential, in a collaborative relationship, this rigidity can stop the flow of ideas to change for good. An established rule-based playbook would help all to play by pre-consented policies with implicitly built-in agreements providing flexibility across the relationship.

Point 5: Incentivized Relationship: Parties in a collaborative and business-transformational outsourcing relationships will benefit greatly by building an incentive arrangement (gain-sharing mechanism like bonuses, etc.) into their relationships, as it helps to ensure the parties’ interests will remain aligned over time. They also see the gains of a turbulent phase of transition where the learning is hugely exponential as transition manager has his task cut out and cannot accommodate anything else in his sight other than safe and successful cutover.