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Quality Productivity Improvement

Many team and organization change and improvement efforts are lost or badly bewildered. Decades of studies have consistently shown that 50–70 percent are failing. There are as many reasons that improvement endeavors lose their way, as there are people, teams, and organizations trying to improve. Some change and improvement efforts have been hugely successful. They've seen increases in response times, cycle times, customer service, quality, teamwork, morale, productivity, innovativeness, cost effectiveness, and the like in the dozens or even hundreds of percentages. Others have been somewhat successful in some areas of their improvement activities. And some ended up in the swamp. In reflecting upon decades of our consulting experience and reviewing the research, it is clear that a core number of execution problems or failure factors are common to all of the team, organization, and individual improvement efforts.

Our tendency is to try things out capriciously . . . without an in-depth grasp of their underlying foundation, and without the commitment necessary to sustain them. When a new idea fails, we give up instead of investigating the causes of failure and addressing them systematically." Richard Tanner Pascale, Managing On the Edge

1. Priority Overload

Many managers have confused motion with direction and "busywork" activity with meaningful results. They are like the pilot who announced; "I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is we're lost. The good news is we're making great time." A big part of the problem is that many people measure their effectiveness by volume (quantity) rather than whether real value is being added (quality). Many organization improvement efforts have about as much impact on performance as everyone in a passenger jet flapping their arms to help the plane fly.

A management group of a struggling administrative section in a large bureaucratic organization was discussing how well they've done in moving "dockets" through their organization. "Let's not forget how much work we've moved through our sector in the last year", they reminded each other. Yeah, but. . . how much of it really mattered? I later discovered they had a list of 37 urgent goals and objectives. Little meaningful progress was being made because everything needed to be done — now.

People who get little done often work a great deal harder. They seem to live by the French Cavalry's motto, "When in doubt, gallop." How hard you work is less important than how much you get done.

2. Partial and Piecemeal

The senior management team of a large national retailer that had enjoyed a dominant position in its markets, realized they had to make a number of radical changes to drive down their overhead costs while boosting customer service. They hired consultants and launched a series of major reengineering and improvement projects in warehouse and shipping logistics, market positioning, renovating stores, revamping product lines, customer service training, information technology, and the like. Besides having a fuzzy focus to all this, the efforts were not well coordinated. Each group fiercely protected and isolated their own initiative or project. Most of the projects floundered amidst political infighting, segmentation, and confusion. Higher performing, new competitors are now mauling the company.

Many improvement efforts are too narrow and segmented. Broad, system-wide, 'cause and effect' issues aren't identified and addressed. Improvement teams work with bits and pieces of processes and systems.

3. No Improvement/Change Infrastructure or Process

Developing a rigorous improvement process with a highly disciplined follow-through is a big problem for many less successful organization and personal improvement efforts. As with New Year resolutions, a burst of energy and good intentions may get things started. But little time is often invested in developing ongoing improvement plans, habits, or approaches. Even less time is devoted to reviewing, assessing, and reflecting on successes, problems, and lessons learned. And so opportunities to reenergize our self ACCORDING to analysts from Gartner Inc., more than 60 per cent of e-government initiatives around the world fail or fall short of their objectives. Prof. Richard Heeks of the University of Manchester, UK, also arrived at somewhat similar conclusions based on his survey of cases and studies in the literature and a poll of those with e-government expertise.

Given the high failure rates of e-government initiatives even in developed countries, and the huge direct and indirect costs of such failures (including the raising of barriers for future projects due to loss of morale and credibility and the strengthening of the hands of the doomsayers), can developing countries such as India afford to waste scarce public resources by indulging in such a costly and risky venture as e-government? This is a difficult question which each government must answer according to its individual circumstances.

The figures of e-government failures may be alarming but they should not lead to a mood of cynicism and despair among e-government enthusiasts for two reasons:

First, as Ms Judith Carr, Vice-President at Gartner Inc., says, the number of failures among e-government initiatives is not all that bad when we consider that about 60 per cent of traditional government initiatives also fail to fulfill expectations. This, in spite of the fact that traditional government projects are subject to fewer implementation risks than e-government projects.

Second, the private sector's track record in the management of information technology projects is not any better. For example, the latest report (2003) of the Standish Group analyzed 13,522 IT projects in the US (a majority of them in the private sector) and found that only a little over 30 per cent were `successful' while nearly 70 per cent were `challenged' (that is, the projects were completed but with cost and time overruns and with fewer features and functions than initially specified) or `failed' completely (that is, the projects were cancelled before completion). Another recent survey (2003) in the UK by Oxford University and Computer Weekly found that only about 15 per cent of IT projects were successful, while nearly 75 per cent were challenged, and around 10 per cent were abandoned, with similar results for both private and public sectors.

Comparable data are not available for India, but it is reasonable to assume that the figures are not any better. And we know that nearly 98 per cent of `dotcom projects' failed in the great shakeout of the late 1990s. Viewed in this light, the performance of e-government projects is not that bad after all.

There are several reasons why so many e-government projects fail.

First, in a manner similar to the `dotcom doom', many governments simplistically assumed e-government to be a technology programmed. But e-government is not about technology, it is about reform. For instance, it is Utopian to expect governments of countries lacking a powerful Freedom of Information Act and a culture of participatory governance, to suddenly become open and transparent and begin engaging with their constituents in a big way — simply because the Internet and Web-based technologies afford them an opportunity to do so.

And, in the case of governments with poor work culture and lax supervision, the Web sites are not likely to be regularly updated; online queries and clarifications will not be replied to promptly; and online transactions will most likely be beset by delays and plagued by errors, thereby causing the public to be disenchanted with the whole e-government exercise.

Only countries which are strong in governance and committed to reform can hope to succeed in their e-government efforts. Thus, it is not the `e' but the `government' in e-government that is the significant part.

Second, e-government initiatives will surely fail if they do not enjoy the unstinted support of the top political leadership, which alone can provide long-term commitment of funds; overcome the bureaucracy's inevitable resistance to change; and `knock heads together' to make diverse departments work in concert.

It must also publicly champion the e-government initiative, ensure stability of tenure to project managers, and be willing to devote time for periodic monitoring and for sorting out problems. Such enlightened political leadership is, however, hard to come by, and the few Indian e-government success stories come from those States or Central Government departments which are fortunate to have it.

Third, attempts to implement e-government by merely `bolting on' a Web-enabled front office to existing back-offices without re-engineering their internal functions and processes and without computerization and networking of the back-offices have seldom resulted in sustainable success.

For example, there can be little improvement in the speed or quality of service delivery if citizens and businesses are merely enabled to apply online for an income-tax refund or a trade licensed or a change of address while the back-office operations of the departments or agencies concerned are still paper-based, and the processing of an application takes the same amount of time as before.

This is the main reason why the highly acclaimed Wyandot initiative of Madhya Pradesh or the FRIENDS citizen payment centers of Karalla have not lived up to their initial promise.

Finally, e-government projects fail when governments turn a Nelson's eye to the risks and barriers to e-governments instead of trying to identify, understand and manage them. There are broadly four types of risks:

Take-up risks: Online provision of services is no guarantee of online usage. The following are some barriers contributing to poor user take-up:

· Digital divide, which deprives the people most in need of government services from the benefits of e-government due to lack of Internet access or the lack of will or skill to use it. It is not one but several divides — income, age, urban-rural, gender and language.

· Inability to make or receive electronic payments (via credit cards, e-cheques, and so on), which restricts users to only informational and interactive services.

· Low expectations of what e-government can do due to the corruption, inefficiency and rent-seeking behavior of public servants.

· Lack of familiarity: Potential users are not aware of existence of e-services due to poor marketing and PR.

· Not easy to use: A poorly designed Web site that is difficult to navigate, slow to load and uses dense bureaucratic language can put off users.

· Lack of incentives: Users may not switch over if incentives of lower costs, faster transactions or more personalized service are not offered.

· Lack of trust due to unresolved issues of security and privacy.

Government-side barriers: Valiant efforts will be required to overcome the following barriers peculiar to governments:

· Complexity: the sheer size of government and the huge volume of data that it must generate, update, and manage online pose major technical and managerial challenges.

· The Silo effect: The narrow departmental view often overrides the enterprise-wide perspective. Government agencies are also not well disposed towards sharing of data, information and resources.

· Lack of user input: There is a tendency to seek input from only a few experts and top officials without consulting frontline employees or citizens and businesses on what they want.

· A culture of risk avoidance due to fear of criticism by audit, the media, and so on for failed initiatives, and the prevalence of a perverse system of incentives whereby `doers' are more likely to be punished than non-performers. Further, reliability in delivery of public services is more prized in government than innovation.

· Budgetary constraints: E-government requires substantial upfront investments. Moreover, government's traditional budgeting practices are not suited for multi-departmental, multi-year initiatives such as e-government.

· Human resources constraints: Rigid civil service rules pose hurdles in recruiting, retaining and retrenching staff, and in paying higher emoluments to persons with special skills.

Vendor risks: These include:

Lack of skills in government to be an `intelligent client' with the result that departments are often taken for a ride by unscrupulous vendors.

Paucity of reliable suppliers who can deliver on time, to budget, and to departmental specifications.

Short lifespan of vendors owing to the fast-moving nature of the IT industry. This makes long-term public-private partnerships inflexible and risky.

Technology risks: These include:

· Rapidly changing technology.

· Lack of interoperability between disparate departmental computer systems rendering them unable to work together and share data.

· The need for fast, robust and reliable systems to handle exploding future demand for e-services.

The technological risks have been deliberately dwelt upon last to emphasized the point that managing the non-technological barriers associated with e-government is often more critical to project success. It is also easy to see why e-government implementation should not be left to the `techies'; overcoming the various non-technological barriers is not within their capability.

, others on our team or in our organization are missed.

Another improvement process problem is not involving those who will ultimately make the effort work in planning for it (or sometimes even understanding why, how, what, and who). Poor communication skills and processes compound the problem further.

4. Fuzzy Focus

Too many organization improvement efforts are disconnected from the burning issues that keep senior managers awake at night. Improvement for the sake of "making things better," getting people involved, forming teams and fostering teamwork and other equally noble but vague goals is too defused and unfocused. A team or organization's ultimate customers and external partners are often lost in the improvement haze as well. Their needs and expectations aren't the primary driver of all improvement activities. And the improvement work isn't framed within the larger context of a personal, team, or organizational picture of the preferred future, principles, and purpose.

5. Leadership Lip Service

The single most critical variable to the success of a team or organization improvement effort is the behavior of those leading it. Successful improvement efforts are led by people who are highly involved leaders. They model, use, and live the approaches they are asking their team or organization to use. Unsuccessful team or organization improvement efforts are headed up by managers who've done little more than give permission and then delegated the details to others to take care of. Often they pay lip service, perhaps even passionate lip service, to the importance of customers, quality, teams, innovation, reengineering, new technologies, discipline, training, and the like. Although their words declare otherwise, their actions loudly shout, "You ought to improve in these areas. But I am too busy, already skilled enough, or have more important things to do."

Each of these failure factors are bad enough on their own, but the more of them you combine, the deadlier they become.

In a perfect world every project would be "on time and within budget." But reality (especially the proven statistics) tells a very different story. It's not uncommon for projects to fail. Even if the budget and schedule are met, one must ask "did the project deliver the results and quality we expected?" True project success must be evaluated on all three components. Otherwise, a project could be considered a "failure."

Have you ever seen a situation where projects begin to show signs of disorganization, appear out of control, and have a sense of doom and failure? Have you witnessed settings where everyone works in a silo and no one seems to know what the other team member is doing? What about team members who live by the creed "I'll do my part (as I see fit) and after that, it's their problem." Even worse is when team members resort to finger-pointing. Situations similar to these scenarios point to a sign that reads "danger." And if you read the fine print under the word "danger" it reads, "your project needs to be brought under control or else it could fail."

When projects begin to show signs of stress and failure, everyone looks to the project manager for answers. It may seem unfair that the burden of doom falls upon a single individual. But this is the reason why you chose to manage projects for a living! You've been trained to recognize and deal with these types of situations.

There are many reasons why projects (both simple and complex) fail; the number of reasons can be infinite. However, if we apply the 80/20 rule the most common reasons for failure can be found in the following list:

Poorly managed ….…..Undefined objectives and goals ……..Lack of management commitment

Lack of a solid project plan…… Lack of user input…… Lack of organizational support

Centralized proactive management initiatives to combat project risk….. Enterprise

Management of budget resources……. Provides universal templates and documentation

Poorly defined roles and responsibilities ……Inadequate or vague requirements ……Stakeholder conflict

Team weaknesses…… Unrealistic timeframes and tasks…… Competing priorities

Poor communication ……..Insufficient resources (funding and personnel)…… Business politics

Overruns of schedule and cost…… Estimates for cost and schedule are erroneous…… Lack of prioritizations and project portfolio management

Scope creep ……..No change control process……. Meeting end user expectations

Ignoring project warning signs……. Inadequate testing processes ……. Bad decisions (%)


In too many situations the carnage of change has resulted in a significant amount of waste and anguish in organisations.Useful change tends to be associated with a Multi-step process that creates power and motivation that is sufficient to overwhelm al the sources of apathy. It requires dedication and must be driven by high quality leadership who demonstrate their commitment to its success. The rewards for those organizations that manage their change efforts well have improved their competitive standing and positioned themselves for a far better future

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