Many people will know that the elephant and the hippo are both pachyderms – large animals with thick skins. Both will cause chaos if you let them get out of control.
This article is not about animals, but about derailers that can destroy your project – the HiPPO and the Elephant. The elephant and the HiPPO are capable of working together, using their weight, to wreck your project.
The HiPPO is the highest paid person's opinion – masked as expertise. The elephant is the elephant in the room - the need for communication, understanding and training, throughout and all across the project. The risk to you is that the elephant forces you to follow the HiPPO, even when he is not acting in your best interests.
Let me illustrate this with a personal, painful story.
Like most businesses, we have a website. We realised earlier this year that it was tired and not delivering as well as it could. In conjunction with my Marketing Consultant, we engaged a website technical Expert to support us in some of the technical aspects of the redevelopment. We gave our expert a strong brief that we wanted to learn, to understand what was being done to our website.
To cut a long story short, we discovered later that our expert had used add-ons without our permission – probably to enable him to re-use some work done for another client. At the time, this was annoying, but not serious. Subsequently, the website has been badly hacked and we have discovered that the hole used by the hackers was in the add-ons that we had not authorised.
Bringing this back to your project and to projects more generally, what is the solution? Regular readers of my blogs and articles will know that I am passionate about training and understanding throughout a project. One of the underlying causes of business problems is the desire for quick fixes, where people have abandoned willingness to take the intermediate steps necessary to reach the destination.
Imagine for a moment, that when first learning to drive, a young person was deemed to understand how the car operated, the rules of the road and how other drivers behave, just because they have reached a certain age. Based on this assumption, the learner is handed the keys and given unfettered control of the car.
However, in business, where there are no laws mandating a number of hours of practice and a test before we are allowed sole control, we abandon this approach and want just the answer to the problem in hand. As with driving, this approach causes accidents – although accident seems to be the wrong word, since they are predictable.
The solution to this business technology problem is communication, with both sides moving towards the other, rather than one side insisting that all movement happens on the other side. At this point, I'd like to remind you that no-one knows everything, and in fact we do not know what we don't know. This is why we bring in other people to help us solve problems.
The business has a problem, which they believe the expert can fix. The expert can provide a solution to that problem. If both sides move to the midline, and work together, as a team, on the midline, the project will complete quickly and with few hiccups. At the midline, the business expert and the technology expert share and exchange knowledge and a mutually agreed solution is implemented.
Someone in the project, ideally the business stakeholder, must be willing to invest time into learning the potential of any technology being used. Understanding the potential is not the same as knowing the product in detail, and is well within the capability of most people. The stakeholder must not assume (remember that assume makes an ass of u and me) that the expert knows the product in its range and depth and will advise accordingly. Some experts rely on their charismatic personality to keep one step ahead.
Any experts, especially external experts, must be willing and able to explain their decisions to the business stakeholder. Any requirement can be implemented in different ways. The expert should be willing to explain why they selected the approach that they selected, in language that their audience understands. The expert should also make clear which other approaches were considered, and why those others were rejected.
The business stakeholder must ask the questions to reach understanding. However, this should follow and build on the earlier general learning and not presume that the expert should teach all the underlying principles as well as the specifics. One tendency that will lead to project failure is when a business stakeholder forces their opinion because they are the customer. If both sides are willing to explain their thinking from a midline position, success is guaranteed.
Communication and understanding supported by the necessary training and learning, will keep the elephant and the HiPPO out of your project.
Now we understand why the elephant and the HiPPO need to be controlled, but how do we manage this? This is where business gets in the way. The constant drive of more for less leaves no time or budget for the necessary learning and training. However, what is the cost of not learning or understanding, the cost of just pursuing the quick answer? Often, this includes extending or even redoing the project; the learning happening because of the failure. It is a rare occurrence where redoing is cheaper than getting it right first time.
When selecting any expert supplier to a project, ensure that your requirement includes the necessary training with ultimate take over being one of the required outcomes; and that your supplier is able and willing to work in a knowledge transfer mode. When the project plan has the learning and training built in to it, the project has a much greater chance of being delivered on time and on budget.
In the modern world of specialisation, and outsourcing to get cheaper resources, this approach will seem utopian and contrarian. In some ways, it is; although in many ways, it is a return to a bygone era, where people trained within their chosen trade or profession and gradually rose to where they were passing on their skills. This meant that they worked from a detail level to a broader, big picture level. If you change your way of thinking to embrace this whole mind approach of detail and big picture you will achieve a better outcome today.
Our website story does have a happy ending. We now have a more secure website, but also I have been on the receiving end of an aspect of modern projects that causes so much waste. I will use this experience to ensure that my clients keep the elephant and the HiPPO well away from all of our projects.
In summary, any line of business project including CRM, a refreshed website, a new finance solution, an ERP or any enterprise software rollout, will require external expertise and so should include time and budget for internal people to learn the key features of that expertise. The external expert should not be afraid to share this information, since, as an expert, their intellectual property is their ability to problem solve and to communicate, not simply to apply tactical skills.
Opsis is an expert CRM consulting company. We are not an IT company, nor a management consultancy, although we often work with both of these. Our focus is wholly CRM, and particularly Microsoft Dynamics CRM. We are based in Sydney, NSW, with clients in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and across Australia. Our range of CRM services include CRM strategy, CRM scoping, CRM implementation, technical support and CRM training.