Methodologies: Why you really need one
Today I attended a talk by Roman, who is the VP of Information Technology at the local university. When he started his job there, he had a huge task ahead: amalgamating the various IT services across campus to leverage economies of scope and scale. He quickly realised that if he was to bring any kind of order to this task, he required a methodology…or two.
Consultants talk a lot about “Methodologies”. They encompass the policies, processes, and systems that we re-use over and over again to accomplish our work. Some of them come from published best practices, e.g. ISO 9000, while others evolve with organizations over time; most are a hybrid of the two. Some are clearly documented, others are internalized without true documentation. A lot of companies have methodologies that simply define the way NOT to do something.
Methodologies can also be simple, personal things like the sequencing of tasks involved with getting ready for work in the morning. You might never think about the right way to do it, but most of us have a routine that we follow daily like clockwork.
For businesses, I recommend following the best practices with possible minor customizations.
Following best practices is infinitely simpler than developing an entire methodology yourself. With existing standards, you have a variety of resources readily available to help with your implementation AND to train your staff. Rather than trying to think through every activity and the best way to approach it, you can leverage the experience of many who have encountered a similar task.
At the University, they elected to go strictly with published best practices, a choice that was quickly validated. Adhering to these guidelines meant that:
- They were using standard terminology, which other departments understood even if they weren’t precisely following the same standards.
- Standard training was already available for staff. And, since future hires might already have taken the training, on-boarding new staff would be quicker and cheaper.
Most organizations do require some level of customization to suit their culture and business. Best practices are aggregations across virtually all industries, so some sections might not apply to all situations. If you are tweaking the system, make sure you consider the complete package first and limit your urge to customize. Remember that with infinite flexibility comes infinite room for error.
Before making any customizations, try a small pilot with the standard package. You will need to resist reverting to your old ways for this pilot to be successful. At the end of the pilot, you can start looking at which aspects will or will not work for your organization.
In some cases a gradual implementation is a better option. Change one part of the process at a time so that people have time to learn and adjust without being overwhelmed by change. In that case, start with the activities that are the most similar to what you already do. You will likely find that the other changes are a lot easier once people start to shift their thinking.
Regardless of the methodology you choose, it is that shift in thinking that will be your greatest challenge. The key is finding a reason compelling enough that they WANT to change. Think about the methodologies in your office and share your observations. Where did they come from? What strategies motivate people to follow them?