Making Cloud Promises that You Can Deliver

Cloud Data ManagementLast year, we considered the grand sweep of the “journey to cloud,” from the high-level vision to the detailed roadmap. In between, we discussed the effort to align IT and business goals, and the challenges of winning support and staying the course. I’d like to start 2018 by drilling down into some of the specific challenges that arise as my team and I help Informatica clients with their evolution to cloud technologies.

Here’s one I’ve seen again and again: The overpromise. Too often, IT leaders overpromise and under-deliver, which is exactly the wrong way to do it. I’ve seen two main causes: You inflate expectations up front because you’re trying to get commitment from business leaders, or as you’re delivering on your realistic promises, someone moves the ball, telling you to deliver more without any additional time or resources. Either one is a recipe for failure, and both hinge on critical moments that are hard to deal with.

Navigating through these difficult moments comes down to a skill not often associated with IT: salesmanship.

Selling the full vision

IT transformation requires buy-in from the business side. To get support, you want to excite people, but sometimes IT projects are not all that thrilling. No homebuyer ever got breathless over the cement in the foundation, but that’s what holds all the rest of it up. Throughout my career, the foundational projects have been the hardest to get off the ground, because other stakeholders don’t see an immediate payoff.

The trick is to not promise too much excitement up front, which can make you forego the foundational work to chase the thrilling payoff. Without a solid architectural foundation, each project becomes more expensive—a one-off work of art, harder to replicate or build on, and with worse ROI.

To get that foundation laid, you need to sell people on the holistic strategy and vision for cloud technology and your data. And I do mean sell. Think about the sale of any asset that’s seen as a long-term investment: When someone buys a house or a car, there’s a qualified sales agent there to explain the benefits and costs, and the complexities of process. There’s a lot of education involved. That’s increasingly the role of an IT leader: to behave like an independent technology vendor for your whole organization, and to have strong sales and education skills.

The better version of ‘Yes’

But what about when it’s not you who’s inflating the expectations, but your leadership? Halfway through a project, the powers that be tell you to increase the scope of your deliverable, without commensurate additions of time or resources. That’s a very unpleasant conversation to have, and many people will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. What are you going to do, yell at your boss? But the right answer is neither a firm “no” nor quietly surrendering to commitments you can’t deliver.

I’ve learned that the alternative to a flat “No” is a better version of “Yes.” There’s a big difference between “You can’t have it” and “You can’t have it right now.”

My go-to response to scope creep is, “Yes—we’re going to put that on our roadmap. First we’re going to deliver against the initial scope, so we don’t derail everything, and quickly after that, we’ll be starting on the next phase.”

That doesn’t always work, of course, and then you have to be prepared to have the difficult conversation. Bring out your salesmanship skills, which always begin with the “customer”:

  • Start not with your constraints, but theirs. Find out the source of the pressure to change the scope. If there’s really an irresistible business need, you may need to reassess the whole project. But then you have to discuss what’s really possible, and with what resources.
  • You have to be able to explain the costs, complexities, or dependencies—and if it’s a nontechnical audience, you have to translate, or summarize, highly technical issues into simpler language.
  • Explain the overall vision. It’s not that you’re protecting your precious architectural roadmap; it’s that the map exists to deliver the highest amount of value in the timeliest manner. Is the one change at hand worth the effects it will have on the big picture? Do all the affected stakeholders agree with that math?

That’s the essence of salesmanship: guiding your end customers to what they need, with an understanding of benefits, costs, and necessary tradeoffs.

Setting yourself up for success

Success and failure are entirely measured against expectations, so one of IT’s most important jobs is setting and managing the expectations of business stakeholders. The many legacy dependencies in all but the newest, built-from-scratch startups make this more complex. But if IT can acquire the salesperson’s skills of empathy, education, and persuasion, we can do a better job of controlling, and then exceeding, business expectations.

My next post will address another of the difficult moments in a cloud journey: Making sure your technical plan also considers the operational, process-driven dependencies that can derail you. Until then, if you’re wrestling with the relationship issues around a major cloud transformation, contact my Professional Services team. Our workshops and one-on-one consultations can really make the difference.