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But how does it really work out?

Here's a VPEC-T story from the coalface. A real-life example of what VPEC-T does, how it works and the effect it can have.

 

A VPEC-T practitioner, let's call him Chris, was, as he delightfully describes it, "helping to wrestle a piece of the organization to the ground."

 

The company currently has several groups all performing similar business functions. He notes that this flags a possible Trust issue immediately. When diving into that area, it turns out to be more complex than just a matter of Trust. There is also a Policy issue (unstated, but still there).

 

The group on whose behalf he was working was a pure cost center so any work they do is viewed as overhead. But the other groups that do the same work charge the clients back for the work. Not surprisingly, the account managers are reluctant to get the other groups involved. They can look like heroes to their customers because they are giving the customers more than they are paying for. This of course conflicts with corporate objectives (Values) for increasing revenue.

 

Because this was a smaller team (i.e. not the whole of business strategy), they took the strategy axiomatically. Also the 2009 goals. That gave them some Values and Policies to work with.

 

When probing on the Content, Values, and Trust axes they used the Content as an indicator of where the real communication was taking place. And this turned out to be not at all the way the team expected once they probed some more.

 

Once the Content was exposed and understood, they were able to examine how the Content actually worked to enable (or disable) corporate strategy. Then, since they had corporate strategy as a set of Policies and Values, they were able to recognize a lack of Trust. After a few uncomfortable sessions when the Trust issues were raised, some big lights came on when they allowed themselves to open up.

 

The question for Chris was then how to fix things.

 

Using the Value and Policy axes (since these were the axioms), they then started to examine paths that would streamline the Content (using Content as a proxy for cost). They assumed network-effect kinds of costs ( n(n-1)/2 ) connections each with a cost component. Since there was also a lack of Trust with some of the other organizations, they developed some other communication and down into Event paths to show how the team should react to requests, how it should be prepared to show its costs back to account managers, and ensure that it didn't just introduce more cost into the system - and end up delivering less value.

 

While no one in the group was formally trained in Six Sigma methods, the DMAIC framework (for more on this, see below) was understood at a high level, so the team decided to apply its principles to implement some small changes based on defined measurements and use those results to help overcome some of the Trust issues.

 

This is an example of using the method on a small internal team, not as big and exciting as doing strategy projects on large companies, however it produced solid results:

  • It gave them a solid and safe framework to discuss some potentially very contentious issues.

  • By holding some variables still (Values and Policies) they were able to do analysis on the others. If in doing the analysis they had been unable to show consistency with Values and Policies, then they would have had a reductio ad absurdum kind of proof - requiring them to go back to executive management with an "unrealistic goals" message.

  • Getting Trust discussions elevated allowed the team to examine its own trustworthiness as well as how it perceived other teams.

Trust but Verify became a mantra!

 

This wasn't a case of getting the business to understand IT or vice versa. It was all about getting a piece of the organization aligned with the corporate goals.

 

Total amount of time taken in this exercise: About 6 x 2 hour meetings with five people in them (the VPEC-T practitioner and four others). The five represented an organization of about 40 in total. Preparation time + presentation creation, etc. took another 24 hours. So major progress was achieved in 72 FTE hours or 2 FTE weeks. They had been wrestling with these issues for 9-12 months previously, hashing old ground....

 

Preparations and lessons learned:

 

Chris prepared this team with the VPEC-T book, Lost in Translation and some of the thinking behind VPEC-T. The sessions did not get off to a good start (moral, allow issues to be set aside onto a "parking lot" for later resolution rather than following every random issue as it comes up). As well as the common facilitator issue of wanting to solve from the front of the room. However it improved once he realized the need to proceed slowly, letting the results come and not force them.

 

On reflection, he reports that he would arrange the room more formally: Make sure that there is plenty of flip chart material strategically placed so that the amount of writing could be handled with better flow. The amount of information gathered in a single session is huge.

 

He also realized that to have set more intense homework would have made the time used at the sessions more effective. There was too much recap, he found.

 

All in all a very successful outcome.

 

(You can learn more about the DMIAC 5-step method at LBSPartners' web site).

 

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