Good reads – business

By Tony Collins

Business- related

Cut the Cards – making SAP work. Liam Donnelly.

Excellent case study-based book with so many lessons on why projects go wrong that its pages are  littered with my highlighted paragraphs where I’ve scribbled the words “good” and “key” in the margins. Some of the lessons are obvious with the benefit of hindsight – but they were not obvious to those running the projects at the time.

“The fact that SAP allows so many variants is a tribute to its flexible specification; if you have enough time and money you can make a package like SAP do almost anything. But the fact that you can be liberal with someone else’s money and enshrine permanently bad practice in your design study does not of course mean that you must, or should.”

“… Any belief that partners have some sort of moral responsibility to keep the project aligned with some with some unstated natural order is misguided. The partner’s obligation is to deliver a solution in accordance with the client’s stipulation… if that specification is incorrect or flawed, then it is the client’s problem.”

“… Given that the objective was to create a single national solution for HR management, it seems self-evident that processes should have been aligned and made uniform. Such activity is nothing specifically to do with implementing software packages; it goes to the heart of managing any organisation effectively.

“What that takes is consultation and some decision-making, typically involving process owners holding workshops to identify some desirable high-level objectives openly and honestly, and then comparing these design criteria with the functionality supplied as standard with a package, and reporting the outcome to stakeholders. It can be argued that determination of high-level functional imperatives like these should have concluded and been communicated even before the software vendor selection process took place.”

The Challenger Launch Decision – risky technology, culture and deviance at NASA.  Diane Vaughan.

It’s 500 pages but stuffed with evidence of how a big organisation [NASA] can seem to do everything right and yet not always make the right decisions when it’s crucial to get it right. NASA learned some of the lessons from the Challenger disaster – but soon went back to its old culture. Then came the Columbia disaster.

The loss of Challenger is probably the most investigated and documented disaster story ever – and yet its cause and the events leading up to it are still argued over.

“No rules were violated; there was no intent to do harm. Yet harm was done. Astronauts died… It is a story that illustrates how disastrous consequences can emerge from the banality of organisational life.”

“… the responsible organisations proceeded as if nothing was wrong in the face of evidence that something was wrong.”

Conundrum – Why every government gets things wrong and what we can do about it. Richard Bacon and Christopher Hope. 

Full of good third-party quotes and examples of project disasters, Conundrum gives an entertaining insight into what government doesn’t do well and why. It has a remarkably detailed chapter on the National Programme for IT in the NHS.

“It was an eloquent comment on the seriousness of the problems facing the programme that a firm such as Accenture, which undertook so much government work, and thus potentially faced such a risk of reputational damage by leaving the programme, had nonetheless walked away.”

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