The Problem with Modernization Initiatives
I often get approached by companies who are looking to build their modernization capabilities. Which is kind of confusing because technology is always changing, and th Tech industry pretty much is the modernization industry. What was modern two years ago is commonplace now and needs to be replaced next year… it never ends because it's what we do.
Modernization for modernization’s sake makes no sense and creates a lot of tension and wasted effort. If you have a goal like “We’re going to modernize X number of enterprise systems by the end of this fiscal year,” the team is going to be a little lost. What defines an “enterprise system?” What is the definition of “modern?” And, how do we know it’s even the right thing to do? Oh, and when does the fiscal year end again?
I think “modernizing” is like “hunting” – we’re going to do it anyway, it describes a way of life, not an activity. We need to keep our enterprise systems safe and fed just like we need food for the village, but the village elders aren’t going to implement a hunting initiative, they going to tell the hunters what to hunt.
Knowing what you’re going to hunt is a goal you can understand, you know what weapons you’re going to need and how big your team needs to be. Knowing that it will feed the village is something you can see in your mind. When you return with what you set out to get, you feel a sense of satisfaction that you did this well. Or you failed and you know what you can do better next time, but at least it’s over.
Our initiatives become a grind when you have no idea why you’re being asked to do something, when you deliver what you guessed was the right thing only to find out it’s the wrong toolset, or not even know why it was set aside or you’re asked to change it, and keep changing it, never quite getting to a place where you’re done, never with a clear line in the ground to even let you know if you’re getting close.
This is why I like to define attainable projects around clear outcomes, not vague initiatives. Don’t just announce “We need to add 150 new spears by the end of season,” and expect everyone to be running around with spears. Even if everyone has spears, what are we accomplishing? Why do granny and the toddler have spears? And… hmmm…. I’m still hungry.
Start with “The village doesn’t have enough protein and people are hungry.” From there you can figure out the best projects to support getting more protein – it might turn out we don’t need 150 new spears by end of Q1, there might be a big pool with fish and we should weave nets. Making nets to catch the fish isn’t feeding the village directly, but the context is clear. Making nets to catch the fish to feed the village is understandable and when we do all have the fish fry up, a satisfying project.
Goals are important. Context is important. What we’re trying to accomplish and why are just basic human questions, and to somehow think we don’t care about the what and the why because we get a paycheck is… soul crushing.
You need a clear vision and you need to put that vision into something people can wrap their brains around. If your vision gives you the context like “the village is starving,” you can define the goals more clearly, and the clearer the goals, the easier you can make real decisions around real projects that can satisfy that vision.
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