The perfect is the enemy of the good

In the spring of 2013, I was asked to start planning IT for a new company. At that point, the company did not yet have a name. Metso had just announced that it would start preparing a demerger into two independent listed companies.

In information technology, various restructuring and mergers and acquisition projects are common, but demergers are relatively rare. When the goal is to divide a company into two viable companies, nothing can be just partially optimized — that is, nothing should be maximized at the expense of some other aspect.

The schedule was challenging. The time frame for planning and very complicated implementation was around eight months. The situation was unique. The assignment had a fixed deadline, but not many other preconditions.

In practice, we had to implement a major change and create a new operating model from scratch, both without interfering with continuing business operations. Everyone was faced with the same challenge, as the new company had nothing readily available. Building an IT strategy and operating model is very interesting when there is as yet no strategy or operating model for the business operations.

I concluded the work needs to be divided into three stages: 1) survival 2) new capabilities and enablers 3) future solutions and needs.

Our planning horizon has been five years, but the main focus has always been on hard work and results. In the big picture, dependencies between activities are a major challenge. These play a crucial role in terms of schedules and order.

Over the past five years, we have improved, discontinued, replaced and outsourced — systems, technologies, solutions and partners. Now we have reached a point where our main task is to help the company develop and grow. How we got to this stage can be summarized in three guidelines:

1. FOCUS ON WHAT IS ESSENTIAL. It’s important to identify the most important aspects and ensure a sufficient level of success in accordance with the agreed schedule. We won’t be able to complete everything, and there are differences between what various parties consider to be important.

Determining priorities requires an extensive understanding of business needs and the concrete measures arising from them that help the company achieve its goals.

2. THE GOAL, THE DIRECTION AND FORWARD PROGRESS are more important than the perfect plan. Everything cannot be planned in advance, particularly in larger projects. Once the direction has been determined, it is important to start moving. It’s easier to facilitate progress and commitment when examples of small successful measures can be provided as soon as possible. We are often too modest. Even minor successes are inspiring. They should definitely be used in positive feedback and general communication.

3. CHANGES ARISE from cooperation. In most changes, the stakeholder group is extensive, which makes it harder to find a common language. In the traditional linear development model, one person identifies a need, another comes up with a solution, a third person is responsible for the specifications, a fourth implements, a fifth tests, and a sixth proudly presents the final product to the person who originally identified the need — only to find out that the product is no longer needed or the need was misunderstood in the first place. Fortunately, this waterfall development model is increasingly rare.

The waterfall model is the right choice for some, but not all projects. In a rapidly changing and developing environment, agile methods are a more sensible way to implement changes. However, agile methods will not work if the various stakeholders and people in various roles are incapable of cooperating and contributing to the common goal. This operating method sets major requirements for interaction skills and their development. Regardless of the method used, it’s most important to always keep the goal in mind.