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“Ultimately, success is not a successful technical go-live, it is a successful adoption by the business of said processes and technology”. In this very special episode, we are joined by Shafique Barabhuiya to hear how the 10 points of the Scoping Checklist apply within the finance function, and explore the key issues that always need to be addressed, no matter which part of the business you are seeking to transform.
Season 1: Episode 12 – Finance Transformation: Interview With Shafique Barabhuiya
Jason West: Hello, welcome to the Underscore Transformation Podcast. This is episode 12. My name is Jason West
Joe Ales: And I’m Joe Ales.
Jason West: And together we’re the founders of Underscore. In this week’s episode, I’m talking to Shafiq Barabhuiya. Shafiq is a finance transformation consultant, with experience across multiple organisations, in different industries. He is a fascinating individual and he’s got a lot of interesting points and experience to share. We hope you enjoy the interview.
Thank you for joining us, Shafiq. I understand that your background is in finance, and it would be really great if you could give our listeners a brief overview of your experience.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: As you’ve already articulated, I’m a finance transformation specialist. I started out my career in finance roles in tech and teleco. I did a brief stint in private equity, running a couple of stops, and also doing some fund administration. I then moved to Deloitte for my sins, in the CFO advisory practice there, working with telco, tech, retail, and pharma clients undergoing a range of transformation challenges. I did end to end implementation, and a lot of upfront work with the scoping strategy, operational strategy, target operating model design.
Jason West: So, a real breadth and depth of experience, and on our last live session we actually didn’t have anyone from a finance background so I’m really fascinated to understand your perspective. Did you have a chance to have a look at our transformation scoping checklists? And just how much of this is kind of really transferable to the finance side the transformation?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I mean it’s all transferable really. Typically, in a lot of organisations the CFO is you know the number two to the CEO, and in a lot of organisations that sort of succession plan up to CEO a lot of the time goes through the CFO. So you are right in the heart of the organisation, and the decision making and the CFO’s agenda is typically very high up on the CEO’s agenda as well.
Jason West: A good place to start then, as we think about scoping a programme, and what we’ve seen as one of the critical success factors, is that programme sponsorship really drives the programme. So I’d be fascinated to hear your views and experiences working with programme; sponsors what kind of works? What are the things that really makes an effective programme sponsor? Some of those things, perhaps, people should look out for if they’re sponsoring a transformation programme?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think the critical thing in terms of being a sponsor on a programme is to really be a strong advocate for what the programme is looking to do. Very often if you’re in a programme leadership role, delivering the programme, as I typically am, what you’re looking for from the sponsor is someone who can be an advocate for the programme. Because typically, you are putting quite a lot of change into the organisation and people’s roles can change; the role of finance, HR, whatever the function is, can change quite substantially and you do have bumps in the road. You know, there are people whose roles will change and they will feel uncertain and you need the sponsor to really be vocal, so someone who can take ownership and make, sometimes difficult, decisions and speak to their peers at board level, or whatever level it may be, to get buy in from the rest of organisation. That is key for a sponsor, I think.
Jason West: Yeah, I agree. And what are some of the things that a sponsored should look out for? Some of the some of the behaviours or just some of the things that they might do that can be kind of problematic, or been counterproductive when it comes to transformation?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I haven’t seen it so much myself, but sometimes you do have sponsors who are a little bit of hands off, and sort of leave it to the programme director, and the delivery team, to deliver. And then that can lead to problems down the line, in terms of transferring capabilities into an organisation. So typically, one failure you do see around programmes sometimes, is too much focus around the technology deliverables. You can have a focus on design and go-live but what you’re looking for from a sponsor is someone to be an advocate of the change in the organisation. Ultimately success is not a successful technical go-live, it’s successful adoption by the business of set processes, or technology. And that’s where you’re looking for the sponsor to be a leader: to communicate the importance of the change to the rest of the organisation. And if you don’t have that, that is a big gap in any programme.
Jason West: In our experience, it’s definitely the number one success factor in delivering an ultimately successful transformation, is strength and the quality in the engagement of the programme sponsor.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: And the larger the organisation, the more important that is. If you were a smaller organisation and you’ve got a smaller number of people in HR or finance, whatever it is, you could argue that achieving that change is slightly easier. But the larger the organisation, the more global etc., then the more important that becomes. So you can get away with it on smaller programmes, but if anyone is listening to this and they are leading an organisation, it doesn’t have to be big, but if you are global, then that’s critical.
Jason West: One of the areas that we often see is a bit of the challenge is where programme teams can start brushing off, and designing the future state before really understanding of the problems are that they are trying to solve. Have you found a similar challenge? And how important is it to really define problems and look for data to support that position?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yeah, I think that’s an important point; I think understanding what problem you are trying to solve is very important. As you’re suggesting, there can be a rush to assume what the solution is, i.e. implementation of a system. But have you got a broader set of capabilities that you’re looking at in terms of effectiveness of finance, of HR issues, or is it how people are performing their roles? And how do those elements interact with the technology? What you’re looking for the technology to be, is an enabler for a broader set of business transformation and effectiveness piece, and then having an honest assessment of to what extent is our programme technology-centric, because typically you know if you are implementing a new technology, it could provide an opportunity to reshape roles. People might be doing manual work arounds, around various administrative parts of their role, that might fall away with new technology. And then what are you replacing that time with? And it can be an opportunity to re-engineer roles, so looking at a broader effectiveness of an organisation and what people do is the point of view to come from as well. Because that’s ultimately how you unlock real step change, and capability, I think. And one of those capabilities in terms of an end state, and looking at the technology and the deliverables associated with that as an enabler, rather than an end in itself, I think is a good state of mind and lens.
Jason West: So really start it about holistic functional level before getting sucked into a very high level.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Start at a very high level. What are those three, four, or five bullet points of what you want to achieve? And then you could put some strategic objectives for the programme around that, and then that can cascade into workstreams and deliverables after that. But start at the very outset and make sure that you’ve got a good understanding of what the issues are that you’re trying to solve. Sometimes it could be around the future state, the organisation what are you designing for? Are you a fast-growing organisation? Are you looking to acquire? Are you going to be expanding overseas? Are you going to be including new lines of business? What are those changes in processes that you see coming up as a result of that? And understanding what the problems you’re solving: are you solving for today, or are you solving three years’ time? And what does that look like?
Jason West: On that change thought, how soon in a programme should people really start thinking about change management and those sorts of topics?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Change management starts right from the outset, I think; right from the beginning when you are doing that sort of work, it really does start there, you know. Who are the people who want to be inside the tent, so to speak, in terms of this future state organisation? Then bringing those people on-board and by getting them signed up to the objectives of what you’re trying to do, you are already bringing them along the change curve and getting their buy in.
It really starts in the beginning, and Jason I’m sure you would agree that a lot of organisations don’t resource change management effectively. And a lot of the time don’t resource it sufficiently, and then what happens is systems go live, legacy systems do not get decommissioned, and people fall back on old ways of working, and then you spent money on a piece work and people persist in the old ways of working. And a lot of that is down to change management, and buy-in from people rather than the fault of technology.
Jason West: Yes, absolutely. The most difficult thing is just simply getting people to stop doing what they’ve been doing today, and getting them to start doing something different tomorrow. The technology tends to be relatively straight forward.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yes, exactly. So, you need a multi-pronged approach; it could be briefing your line managers, and making sure that they mention things in their team meetings. It’s about having a change role on a programme, and coaching sponsors and their leadership teams around the change. And it is things like an intranet landing page, or sending out emails, having town halls, and looking at that communications toolbox and working out what’s right for you as an organisation. And I think the earlier you start that, the better. It also helps, I think, for a programme to exhibit the behaviours that you want to see in the end state. So, if you do want to achieve a step change in terms of finance and how IT partner with finance or HR in terms of how they partner with the business, then really in a programme, you should be exhibiting those behaviours. And that means reaching out to people and communicating in the appropriate way,
Jason West: And getting the workstream leads, the process owners, the senior leadership team within the finance function or HR function, that are heavily involved in delivering the programme, to actually go out there and engage and repeat that engagement broadly across the business.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Indeed, I think a point closely related to that is, and this is more the case the larger the organisation you are, but you can’t always keep everyone happy. Sometimes you will have aspects of a change where people might feel that they might be managing a large team or they might have broad responsibility. And there might be an operating model change around how work is being outsourced, or how works being moved or centralised. And those difficult conversations are what you need to have at the outset because you need to get people signed up.
Jason West: One of the areas of push back that we quite often get, actually from leadership teams, is around actually going to the business and gathering requirements. So going out to a broad sweep of people, not just within the function, but also the customers of that function and then the other parts of the organisation and really asking for their honest feedback, their views and getting them engaged as part of the scoping phase of the programme. Did you or have any experienced a similar sort of challenge, and how have you overcome it?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Actually, I don’t see it as a challenge necessarily. I think if you do go to stakeholders, they view it as an opportunity because they quite welcome the fact that they are being asked what their requirements are. So it could be from a finance perspective, it could be around how you track business performance and what are those KPIs, and it’s an opportunity to deepen that relationship with the rest of the business. So, if you engage in the right way and are making sure that the sessions that you have are productive I’ve always seen it as being something that’s welcomed, because ultimately those stakeholders can see that they will benefit from it.
Jason West: Yeah, we’ve always found from the stakeholders in the business they’ve always very much welcomed it, and they’ve been more than forthcoming with input and feedback. The resistance, we found, has been within the function that you’re trying to transforming, is that it’s the senior leaders within that function that can be quite protective or concerned about going to the business and asking for their important feedback.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yes very much so, and I think part of that, every organisation is different, but if you are talk about finance and HR these are both support functions. Ultimately, you are supporting the business to achieve its objectives, and being outward facing in that way is starting to exhibit those right behaviours and it can be part of it abroad a sort of capability change around finance or HR around how you manage those relationships with other stakeholders. So, it’s very much part of a broader transformation piece, very often, those kind of conversations may be new, maybe they’ve never been asked before.
Jason West: When you’re looking specifically at a finance transformation what are, typically, the really important areas that you need to kind of focus on in terms of really drilling down into particular areas to gather requirements?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think from a finance point of view, you are the guardian of business assets and business performance, so there is a certain hygiene level around reporting, and statutory requirements in various countries. So really understanding what those requirements are, and making sure that you can continue to meet those requirements is absolutely fundamental. One example is there was an EU invoicing requirement in Italy that came online last year, so that’s one example where you need to make sure that you can carry on doing those things.
Jason West: So that’s kind of understanding where we are today, and really kind of getting to grips with what needs to change, and what some of those case for change elements may be. If we start looking forward into the future, when it comes to setting vision, strategic objectives, and things like design principles, what would have you found works? And how do organisations best approach that defining that future vision of how finance is going to operate?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Design principles are those things there’s an old expression, which I’m not particularly a big fan of but people use it: “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” And I think what we mean by that, is you can start with a grand plan, and a very good idea of where you want to go, but things happen on the way. Issues come up, it might be around resources, it might be around issues with data, whatever it is that causes you to make decisions along the way, to keep the programme on track and change scope etc. And those design principles are the things that you refer back to, to make sure that you’re still achieving the ultimate objectives and you keep the original intention in mind. I guess it’s a set of value statements that you can keep referring back to you, and keeping everyone honest. When you are looking at signing off various stages of the programme, making sure that you are still holding true to those issues, because you may have to make fundamental changes in terms of scope: managing quality, cost, and time, the old the old classics, and then just making sure that you’re staying on track.
Jason West: So, is there an ideal number of design principles that people should use?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: What you’re looking for from design principles is to provide a linkage from strategic objectives, through to what you’re trying to achieve. You can have design principles around how much costs that you want to take out of the business, particular changes around process, how you want to use data, the kind of reporting that you want, whatever it is. And then you can link deliverables and outcomes of the programme to those design principles, and its however many you need, really. I’ve seen programmes with two or three, I’ve actually seen programmes that have had seven or eight or even 10; I think it’s whatever is right for you. And you can go into sort of varying levels of details; you can keep it quite high level, but I’ve also seen programmes where they’ve gone into quite a lot of detail, and that’s actually worked quite well.
Jason West: Yeah, that must really help when people are kind of stuck on a particular design problem, to have that guidance must be really quite useful.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yes. For example, I’ve seen design principles around how people want their treasury management process to work; that’s quite informative to the programme, because in this instance it was a CFO who had quite a strong point of view based on his prior experience, around how that process should run. So it was very instructive to the programme to have that level of detail in a design principle, and therefore, when you are looking at making design decisions throughout programme it helps the programme team to make decisions and not have a bottleneck around decision making as well. So ,it can perform a number of roles, having good design principles.
Jason West: And how soon should people start thinking about their vision.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: The vision piece very much happens upfront, because that’s the point at which you’re shaping the programme and what you’re looking to deliver. And I think the earlier you start that, the better really. And it really is opportunity, as we were talking about in one of the other questions around speaking to external stakeholders, and customers of the function and really trying to sort of understand where you want to place the emphasis. Because you might start out with a certain emphasis and then you realise, “well, actually, we’re unlocking XY&Z does it present opportunities elsewhere?” To what extent you want to also include those elements and one of the dependencies as well. So very much starting that right at the outset I think is key.
Jason West: That whole kind of vision, strategic objectives, design principles they really do help guide decision making on the programme. And when we think about that decision making piece, it kind of brings us naturally onto governance; what in your experience kind of really works from a governance perspective? Especially on the larger programmes? What are those key elements that a governance structure needs?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think in terms of governance, the first element is sort of how you go about planning. And particularly on large programmes, with your large global corporates, you can’t centralise too much planning. I think at a central level you need to keep your milestones and understand where you are against each of those milestones, but you are looking for each set of workstreams really to have their own day by day, task by task, kind of plan. And where I’ve seen programmes kind of fall down, is where you do need to make sure that all the workstream leads have that sort of planning capability, and you do have to bring everyone up to the same sort of level in terms of what you’re looking for. Particularly if there are people in the programme who are focused on BAU or maybe have never having done transformation programmes before, who may not necessarily understand the value of that planning piece. I think that’s quite essential at the outset.
Jason West: In terms of that kind of programme management or project planning capability how have you gone about making sure that the workstream leads can do what they need to do in their new roles? Because it’s something that is a challenge on every programme.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yes, I agree. There are various ways to look at that. I think, as I’ve mentioned before, you do need each workstream to have a good view of what their day by day plan is, and who is doing what and therefore, out of that you can then understand what the resource requirements are. You can support essentially in-house PMO analysts who can who can support that. But ultimately you are looking for you do need a strong planning capability that is pervasive throughout the programme; it isn’t something that you just write that the planning team they do the plan and everyone else to do work. It does need to be quite pervasive, because you do have to make people accountable in the programme for delivering their bit. Part of that is understanding their plans, so I think my one bit of advice would be if you need an overall plan but everyone in the programme needs to play their part,
Jason West: Yes, don’t try and run a transformation programme with one big plan in in MS Project or Primavera or whatever you use.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: And I have been on programmes where they ask “can we produce a big plan?” And then you spent literally weeks, if not months, on that plan and it’s just updated for its own sake and then in the end workstreams end up working on their own plans, so that they could have somethings work itself. And then you have meetings that are just about updating the plan, which in itself has no value, so just be careful that you aren’t creating unnecessary work.
Jason West: And when we think about that frequency of various governance meetings, what do you find works at various levels of governance in a programme?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think at the workstream level particularly if you’re deploying sort of cloud-based technology you can have daily stand up with your team. When I’ve run workstreams, having a daily stand up and saying “right, what’s everyone working on? What did they do yesterday? What are they looking at today? What are the things that you need?” And then you are asking for information on your team members, and what they need support on – that’s a daily level.
I think overall workstream if you are managing a team or a small project you want something minimum monthly, if not weekly, and then in terms of steerco, I think – sorry: jargon, steering committees – for an overall programme, I think very often it could depend on how compressed your time scales are. I’ve seen programmes operating to quite aggressive timelines and I’ve seen certain periods of the programme you might want to run those steercos on a weekly basis. You might have a release or urgent red flag issue, that is really on the critical path and you may want to get sort of weekly updates on that issue, and therefore you have steercos on that weekly basis. If a programme is going well and you have confidence around how it is delivering and you’ve got a cadence where things are going smoothly, you can reduce the frequency of that governance. Steering committees does create a lot of work sometimes, and I think getting that balance right is important because what you don’t want to do is get everyone spending half their time worrying about the governance as well as delivering the programme, so getting that balance right is very important. But it’s very much a case by case basis.
Jason West: Yes, and it also depends on the amount of risk obviously, which you touched on earlier. I had an experience of a programme where we were we were meeting at least weekly at one stage because we were migrating a large number of suppliers from one master vendor to another, and there was a lot of commercial risk around that. There were millions at stake and the CEO, the CFO in the CHRO wanted to be updated twice a week at one point, because there were some really quite dicey commercial negotiations.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I had a very similar experience; I had something similar where we had a date of issue and it was involved in an external vendor and we had weekly steercos, but then at the end of each day there was an update to the members of the steering committee as well on that one topic.
But on the other hand I have seen it the other way round where we were doing an implementation of an ERP, and we selected a vendor and you start out planning for the worst. You think “we have to keep on top of it, making sure issues that come up are dealt with.” And in the end the vendor was actually really superb, they had a great team and the steercos really came down in frequency because it was going pretty smoothly, actually. They [the vendor] had experienced with their competitors in the same industry using the same technology, and they had a lot of material that they could reuse, and it went very smoothly. So very much judge it on its merits in that kind of situation.
Jason West: So you’re kind of describing the best case scenario on a transformation programme. In that instance how often did they drop their frequency to? What was it monthly?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Monthly. I think that’s probably a minimum I would suggest, because you do need to keep some accountability. I think the minimum is sort of monthly, and then make sure we have a sort of a standing agenda in terms of progress, and then you have updates around specific issues. So going back to the point around design principles, you could have a structure and design principles and say “if a programme is going smoothly then maybe having one each day, you can have a focus on some of the topics in that programme that align with those design principles.” Errands to any variation. There are many variations have been made it’s an opportunity to get on the front foot with some of those things.
Jason West: I really like the idea of if you’ve got that breathing space, really focusing on those design principles, and making that a kind of a key topic on the monthly steerco meetings. That’s a really interesting approach.
Jason West: So, as we move on and we start thinking about how we’re going to manage this behemoth of a programme or portfolio. There’s a wealth of different methodologies out there, there’s lots or toolsets or methodologies for managing different levels of project, programme approval. What have you found to be the most effective when you think about those different methodologies? Do you have a preference?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think the starting point, for me, is around making sure that everyone is clear what the plan is: what the milestones are, what the deliverables are, and then getting to the level of understanding in a plan where you know who is doing what when, so that you’re confident you’ve got the bandwidth within the team to do it. That’s a good starting point. So, at the programme level, making sure that you understood wanting to the worst teams are doing in the milestones and crucially the interdependencies between them. Understanding who needs what, from what part of the programme; that is something that you need to sort of manage centrally, I think. Particularly where there are dependencies into other programmes, or you are dependent on things from other parts of the organisation. Understanding what those external dependencies are is critical because what you’re looking to do as a programme leader is manage those issues. Typically, you are competing for resource; your transformation is not the only game in town, there are other things going on. There are other calls on people’s time in terms of value and what you need to be able to do is to articulate to your sponsor and external stakeholders what you’re trying to do, and who’s time you need. I think that’s critical.
Taking a slightly different emphasis, I think the ways of working are important as well, particularly if you’re managing global teams and thinking about how you can use collaboration tools. So Microsoft Teams is relatively new, and that has got quite rich functionality you can do group chats, but you can have documents that everyone updates and it can be in some cases a more effective way of working than just emailing documents or using SharePoint, for example. So, looking at collaboration tools and thinking at the outset, designing for that and having some guidelines around that; you might want to say, for example, “where possible we will have Microsoft Teams or whatever it is.” Thinking about how the tools you’re going to use to manage the programme is important as well because it sounds a bit dry, and not that important, but actually some focus on it can greatly improve the effectiveness of the programme in terms of the basics.
Jason West: When we have thinking on global programmes, I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of some interesting behaviours when it comes to kind of setting up those regular weekly calls, or monthly meetings. It’s so easy, if you’re sat in one time zone, to just go “we’re going to meet at 12 midday everyday of every week?” And I’ve always made a real point on any programme, any global programme, that I’m running, is to share the pain. It’s just not possible to get everybody on the same call at the same time, and for it to be within working hours but it generally tends to be Australia that suffers.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I agree, I was just going to say that, actually and I think one of the things that it’s easy to do, clearly we are UK based, so I guess we tend to run in UK based programmes predominantly. And a behaviour that you need to watch is that you’re not always asking Asia or Australia to dial in late. Sometimes doing things to their time zone you have to manage. The greater the time zone difference, the more sensitively you need to manage situations and constantly asking teams to dial in a sort of 6:00 am 7:00 AM or 9:00 o’clock at night, worse you know you’re going to work people quite hard, and when it gets to the end of a programme people will be physically and emotionally exhausted. So watching out for that, I absolutely agree Jason,
Jason West: Right at the point where you need them to be out there as ambassadors selling the vision and this new way of working and you know tools and all that great stuff that’s going to engage and motivate people, you’ve just burned them out over the course of the last eight or nine months programme and they’re not going to thank you for it.
We’ve talked about methodology, but now if we focus on the people element of programme and project management: so specifically about the capabilities that you need to be effective in these different roles. And there is a difference between being effective project manager, and an effective programme manager. So, I’d be keen to understand, from your perspective, what does a good project manager look like? What are the key attributes of a good project manager?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: A good project manager has a good handle on the detail, is able to build a plan that focuses on what the tasks are that need to be completed on a daily, weekly, monthly basis if the deliverables that have been agreed to with the programme. Making sure that all the members in the project team understand what their role is, and is able to run a workstream or project with the cadence tracks against that, and is able to effectively re-plan when things come up. So, you’re very much focusing on those outputs.
I think at the programme level, what you’re looking for something a bit different, you know. You are managing conflicting resources, you are looking at different priorities on the programme and balancing against those. You are managing, a lot of the time, particularly in global corporates, external environment and by external environment I mean external to the programme and making your sponsor aware of how the programme is going. But then any noise that might be created by the programme was being felt by the programme, that could influence things either way and you have got much more of an outward looking viewpoint.
At the project level, you’re more inward looking in terms of what the agency or what you’re looking to do.
Jason West: On the larger programmes, then you often get a kind of split programme level in that you’ll have a programme manager, but there will often also be a programme director. Have you worked in that environment where you have those two roles at the programme level?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yes; I think particularly on the very large programmes you can have multiple programme managers. You could have a technology deployment and there might be an operating model change, there might be an offshoring piece, there will be a change management piece. And in the large global FTSE 50/100/250 organisations each of those workstreams is a substantial programme in itself. So you are looking for people who can be inward looking, for want of a better expression, in terms of making sure that those elements deliver, and in that context of project director is very much scanning the environment, looking at the broader context, getting buy-in into the programme, because you are affecting quite a large change, and therefore, who are the people who need to be brought in? Is the programme still meeting its objectives? Is it still running to budget? And taking the pulse of steerco members and making sure that there are people who may be advocates, making sure that people are in the right frame of mind, so that you can do what you need to do, and being that voice of the programme. You do often have that split on the larger programmes, but you don’t always have to have that split, to be honest.
If you’re looking at a smaller programme, you don’t necessarily always have that split; you can have a programme lead reporting into sponsor, who can be the group CFO, CFO’s direct report. But a larger programme will have that split as you indicate.
Jason West: I think that as you go from project to programme management, the level of emotional intelligence, and influencing, and engaging; those types of capabilities skills competencies whatever you want to call them, just ramps up significantly and the ability to deal with large amounts of complexity and process a lot of data. And I think that there’s some of those things that really ramp up as you go up the ladder.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think fundamentally, in terms of what you’re looking for from project management is technical capability and skill set. Programme management is much more soft focus; as you say, every organisation has a different culture different, ways of ways of working and you have to understand that. The art of programme management is learning how to navigate that environment, so that you can achieve the change that’s required.
Jason West: What you’re doing is making a change to the culture of that business.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yes, and I think that’s where the mix of resources is important. And I think where the real benefit is of bringing external people in; be it contract, interim, or consultancies, where you can benefit from external experiences, is people who have been in a variety of environments and understood what has worked and have performed that role before. Because sometimes, in organisations if you haven’t gone through that kind of change before, it is a skill set in its own right, and recruiting externally for and getting up a sort of a consulting partner or recruiting a set of resources with that skill set increases your chances of success greatly.
Jason West: But working very closely with a senior member of the leadership team of that function that’s being transformed. If it’s a single function, somebody that’s on the on the payroll, that has that real accountability to the programme sponsor along with the programme managing director.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think ideally what you’re looking for is someone, if you are a sponsor, someone who can act as a sounding board who can provide you with a bit of coaching in terms of transformation piece. So you can have a have an ongoing dialogue with them around what sponsor needs to be doing. And someone who has got a bit of experience, and has seen the good points.
Jason West: The question we have asked of many programme sponsors is “has anybody ever sat down with you and given you a role profile or a job description for being a programme sponsor?” And unsurprisingly, the answer generally comes back “no.” I’ve yet to find anybody that says, “yeah they did actually, it was really good.”
So the role of the programme manager then really does become that kind of coach to the exec sponsor of the overall transformation. It’s an interesting role the programme sponsor.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: 100% agree.
Jason West: Before we leave off the topic of capability, one of the other areas we’ve identified as being a success factor is around solution design, and specifically this is where we’re asking to second really great operational people onto a programme. So great news: you’re a process owner or workstream lead, you’re now accountable and responsible for designing our future state. So you need to design policies, processes, systems, new ways of working, new organisation structures, new operating models. And that can be a really big stretch for people, so I was just wondering how you found that land in the world of finance? Do people really take to it?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: The solution design point has changed in recent years, for want of a better expression “old school” or on-premise there’s very much of a waterfall approach and you would design everything from the ground up. That would be across everything so you’re core finance processes, you record to report, order to cash, purchase to pay. Whereas, today, in terms of speaking from a technology perspective where a lot of the vendors be it Oracle, Workday, SAP they now have pre-built processes, and process taxonomy and you have processes that are configurable. So you don’t have to build it from the ground up, you basically configure who does what, when, and in what order, rather than building it from the ground up and then increasingly moving to a more agile ways of working. And I think it’s still relatively new in terms of finance and HR, but I think in terms of your solution design, you need to differentiate what are the absolute “must haves” from the “nice to haves”, so that you can navigate that environment, so that when you are assessing the various options in terms of what’s going to meet your requirements, that you’re picking the right one. Rather than doing everything from the ground up to the nth degree of detail producing 500-page blueprint documents witch no one’s going to read, actually tried to condense it down to those key elements. And making sure that you’re in agile sense, making sure that your vendors can meet those requirements is probably a more important lens than say we need to design everything from the ground up to the nth degree: “what’s the future state of the organization? What geographies are you going to be in? Speaking from a finance perspective, what are the accounting requirements around those around those geographies?” And then designing for the future state, and coming in from the high level and progressively going into more detail.
Jason West: So on that detail point, let’s say as part of our transformation we’ve selected a new cloud ERP solution that’s delivered as software as a service. At the scoping stage, what level of detail should an organisation go to in terms of their design? So their overall solution design, the key elements of that design, and how detailed should they go before they sign the contract and start putting people into design workshops?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think it needs to be as detailed as you can first of all understanding what processes are in scope, what geographies are in scope, what existing systems are in scope, for example. And I think being absolutely clear on what is “must have” and what is “nice to have”, and then in terms of understanding sort of volumes, integration requirements, all that stuff is absolutely fundamental because that is how you need to measure each vendor. It’s easy to be distracted by sales pitch of any vendor, when in reality probably what you have to do is understand what is on your list of must haves, so that you can get as specific as fast as you can in terms of those issues.
Jason West: So from a process standpoint, in the past on kind of traditional on premises ERP solutions, you’d need to design down to a really granular level, then you give that to you system integration partner and go “we want it exactly like this. Please go away and build that.” For people that are kind of used to that on-premise Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft type of solution, what are the differences between kind of that approach and technology, and the new cloud technologies?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: The new technologies have an out of the box sort of way of doing things, and I think the sort of mindset is they will have blueprints for each industry. So if you’re in retail or if you’re professional services, retail banking or whatever it is, they will have a predefined set of processes. And what you don’t need to do is design processes down to level 4 or 5; the approach that you need to take or something a bit different which is what is the overall taxonomy of processes? Which processes are you happy to take a preconfigured design? And which processes are you know are specific to organisations, that you do have a tailored process? So typically, from a finance perspective an example where you might see that is revenue processing: paying invoices, when paying an invoice there’s a right way in a wrong way basically. Revenue processes is an example where typically, that is bespoke to your organization. So you have to understand what your bespoke requirements are, versus where you’re happy to take something standard. And having that lens is more important than designing everything from the ground up, as you were suggesting.
Jason West: I guess you could waste a lot of time if you’re going to take it out the box and it works the way it; it’s an area that you could over design. Have you seen that? People kind of going too deep on their design in the scoping phase?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I have, I have seen that yeah. Because I think people fall back on tried and trusted ways of doing things: your sort of classic waterfall. And then you get lovely, well-constructed blueprint document that probably gets read once as part of the sign off, and then sit on someone’s shelf. You do see over engineered.
But I think there is a broader point to be made around agile approach; so how these solutions typically get deployed is in an agile way, so you will have an initial set of functionality and put that out to the business. And then maybe in further deployments add more and more and more. The important point, in terms of communicating with the business, is getting them educated on “that’s how it’s going to be.” So that when they get an initial wave of deployment, they’re not disappointed that “it only does this, it doesn’t do that.” You have to communicate, and educate the audience that to say “okay we’re implementing this cloud thing and this is what’s going to be in the first wave.” And be quite specific around what elements you want to add in further stages, and when those stages are going to be, so that you’re setting the right expectations.
Jason West: Absolutely. Before we just move onto our final point on business case, it would be really interesting just to get your perspective on the target operating model design, and how much should be done during the scoping phase, before you actually get to that final investment decision and you start bringing in external suppliers, new technology and the rest of it. Is there an ideal point you should get to, in terms of the granularity of your design, before you move on?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yeah, I think if we’re talking about target operating model design and future size and shape of that organisation, particularly if you’ve got a business case which is predicated on cost reduction, I think you do need to have an idea of what the sort of knew run rate of cost is going to be for the new function, based on a sensible set of assumptions around efficiencies etc. that makes up that business case. And to do that you do need to do a target operating model design, in terms of what activities are done where and by whom? And then looking at things like benchmarking, and making a sensible set of assumptions around any efficiencies that you might want to make, and that should go hand in hand with the business case.
Jason West: It’s one of those key inputs to the business case, obviously. And that’s final topic on our list of 10 critical success factors on the checklist. So all this has been leading up to putting together a business case, that’s going to go in front of the exec committee and decisions made to invest a good few million pounds/dollars/yens, whatever it is. When we think about transformation business cases, are there subtle differences or are there big differences between typical investment case that a board would see versus a transformation business case? And what are they?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Yes, I think it’s very important to understand that what the business case needs to articulate is the broader objectives of the programme. So if you have a business case that is predicated on cost savings, then typically your preamble to the business case is a context in which you are making the organisation more efficient, and therefore, the business case will be predicated on cost savings. However, you may well have a business case that is predicated on an organisation growing, which I’ve seen a lot and therefore, your business case isn’t necessarily predicated on reducing costs of IT, Finance, HR or whatever. You are emphasising some of those qualitative benefits, so you are meeting expanding future needs of the business and therefore, your emphasis on benefits in terms of qualitative benefits versus necessarily hard pounds and payback, for example might be different. So it’s important that you couch the business case in that broader context, so you set the right expectation. And then it’s your opportunity to get buy-in into the programme more broadly, so it’s very important that business cases is articulated in the right way.
Jason West: In terms of the key people that you need to get to, as part of getting your case through, how do you go about engaging the right people before you get to that meeting where you ultimately ask for the money.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I think every organisation has a different set of governance processes for those business cases, and it’s about understanding the context in which those decisions are made. And who are the key people who need to be influenced along the way, getting their feedback in terms of the business case, and engaging with them, not super early on, but at the right time in the process. You can say “look this is a business case, this is the way we’re shaping it, here’s an idea of cost, here are the benefits that we are proposing. Is this something that you can sign up to?” And getting those people on side. Because typically, if you’ve got a CFO or budget holder who is signing off a business case, they might go to their direct reports and get their advice on whether they think it will fly, and typically, you’re looking to influence those people in this process. So it’s understanding who those people are, and bringing them on the journey. And I think right at the outset we were talking about the change network, that sort of thing is part of that as well.
Jason West: I wonder if finance transformation business cases get an easier ride, because its finance, or whether they get extra scrutiny…I’m not sure.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: I would suggest that they get a harder ride, because they are finance. There is a broader point around business cases, which is to understand the broader priorities of the business. Because you might be focused on doing your transformation be it in finance, HR or wherever else, but the business might have different priorities. And actually, it’s about the sponsor speaking to their peers, and whatever governance forums are out there, and informal conversations, around understanding “is there an appetite to do this?” Because what you don’t want to do is distract people from their day jobs, and spend a lot of time on target operating models and designs, and costs, and business cases and then ultimately the business turns around and says “this is not a priority.” So I think having those initial conversations is also important. If you are C-suite holder, getting the views of your fellow C-Suite members around what you’re trying to do, so you can establish if you’re at the top four or five priorities for the year.
Jason West: Thank you, again, for your time on this week’s episode Shafiq. It’s been absolutely fascinating, and one of the key takeaways for me is just the more we speak to people in different areas of business transformation, the consistencies come out.
Transformation, I think in my view, is a process. It’s something that you can learn how to do, there’s no real magic here. It’s not easy, but, you know, there’s definitely a lot of consistency between the different functional areas, and how you go about making transformational change happen, which has been fascinating.
If you were to leave our listeners, whether they’re a programme sponsor or a transformation practitioner, with some kind of key thoughts, what would they be as you can reflect on the scoping phase?
Shafiq Barabhuiya: In terms of the scoping phase, definitely have a view of the priorities around what you’re trying to achieve, and have a clear view of those priorities. And also, take a holistic view of that transformation; you don’t just want technically strong people, who know their concept, you also need to be able to transition new capabilities into an organisation, and the focus around change management and people. And how to get the broader organisation working in your favour, to achieve your programme is important around resources and having the right people etc. so adding to the environment around the programme is important as well.
Jason West: Thanks so much for that, hopefully you’ll join us again when we have a look at our build checklist which will be coming out in the, hopefully not too distant, future. And we look forward to speaking to you again.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Sounds good, I’d be more than happy to speak again, it’s been very interesting. And you’re right, there is a lot of commonality in terms of how you do transformation in terms of HR, finance, customer or wherever else, so definitely the right topic.
Jason West: Yes absolutely. With another guest we’ll be actually looking at the sales side, the customers, revenue cycle and how similar or different are the function in the support functions, so we’re fascinated to see how much of a parallel there is. Thanks again it’s been great.
Shafiq Barabhuiya: Thank you.
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