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Beware! Killer OYsTeRs Devour Projects!

At this very moment in nearly every enterprise around the world the integrity of Business Improvement Projects is being devoured by Killer OYsTeRs.

These are not the scrumptious little shellfish that so many people enjoy eating for both their taste and aphrodisiac properties. Rather, they are insidious growths that develop in enterprises between people involved in defining and understanding the requirements of Business Improvement Projects.

Discovery of a Species

I have had glimpses of the effect of these OYsTeRs for many years, but could not quite identify what they were. Then, last year when I was doing some consultancy on a Business Improvement Project for an enterprise in the financial services sector, I came across them in their most virulent form.OYsTeRs that destroy businesses improvement projects

This enterprise was in the process of replacing its core system that managed funding for hundreds of millions of dollars. They had been in consultation with suppliers, banks and legal advisers for over six months and had developed a twenty page ‘contract’ that described the terms on which money would be sourced and managed and their requirements for a system to manage this core process for them.

After working intensively on this document for six months, the whole of the management team were convinced that they totally understood all of the requirements and that the document represented a completely unambiguous view of what the solution would look like. It was merely a matter of putting it out to tender and getting it built.

I was called in as a consultant to help bring new analysis and modelling skills to the team that would help implement the new system. I was given the ‘contract’ to read so that I could get myself up to speed and know as much as the management team.

Shortly after beginning to read the document, it became quite clear that it was actually a very loose understanding and definition of both the requirements and the solution. How could this be, when so much effort had been put in by so many people over such a prolonged period?

Maybe I was missing something. Maybe the whole thing was far simpler than I thought and the ‘contract’ really covered everything. I set up meetings with all of the members of the senior management team, meeting them two at a time. I sat and interviewed them and, working through each section of the ‘contract’, asking them to explain their understanding of it to me. This was when the Killer OYsTeRs started to emerge fom their shells.

Let’s say that I was interviewing Bob and George. Bob would start to describe his understanding of what the ‘contract’ meant. However, as he was giving his interpretation, George would interrupt him and disagree on a particular point. Bob would hesitate, think and then say those killer words, “Oh Yes, That’s Right” and change his version of what was required.

When I asked George to give me his interpretation of the next section of the ‘contract’, the process would be repeated, with Bob interrupting George, causing him to pause, think and come out with, “Oh Yes, That’s Right” and then alter his version.

So, I now had three versions of the requirements and the envisaged solution. The first was what was written in the ‘contract’, the second was Bob’s version edited by George and the third was George’s version edited by Bob.

Inter-Manager Conversations - minimum of 56 between 8 managers.As I worked through my interviews with the complete management team, this process was repeated over and over again. I realised I had discovered a rapacious new species, the Killer “Oh Yes, That’s Right” or Killer OYsTeR, that devoured certainty and clarity.  As I moved through the management team, OYsTeR after OYsTeR emerged. Each time one manager began to give me their interpretation of the requirements and solution, they would, at some point, be interrupted by the other manager present.  They would pause, think and then utter the Killer “Oh Yes, That’s Right”.

The reality was that the document referred to as the ‘contract’ was nothing more than a starting point for discussion. Amazingly, none of the management team was aware of this. They all honestly believed that, having put so much work into it over such a long time, it represented a clear, complete and unambiguous description of the requirements and the solution. They were totally unaware that the requirements only existed as conversations between each of the team members.  As there were eight members of the team, this meant that there were, on any one day, at least 56 different versions of the truth!

Oysters to Pearls

As a key part of my task was to train key analysts in business modelling techniques, I saw that this would be an ideal way of carrying out the training, while at the same time producing valuable and useful models that would remove all confusion and ambiguity.

Having trained these analysts in a set of the key techniques, I then sat in as they carried out modelling workshops with each of the managers, who were the business experts for this whole new initiative.

The rigour of the process required to build good models, soon began to highlight the fact that there was no clear understanding in the business of what was needed.  Obviously, this came as a shock to the whole management team who believed, up until this point, that everything was sorted and that they just had to grant a contract.

However, the dismay was short lived when they began to see and appreciate the clarity and rigour that these structured models Business models replace killer OYsTeRs with pearls!brought. Far from completely derailing their project, as soon as they built a set of key models, they were able to accelerate the whole process of going to tender and selecting and implementing a solution that completely met their needs.

High quality Business Models turn Killer OYsTeRs into Pearls!!

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