Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Losing the Battle but Winning the War

Over the past 2 months since Labor Day, I've been given hundreds of challenging controversies to resolve.   I'm not sure if it's the economy, healthcare reform, or the uncertainties of an election year, but in general, the Fall of 2010 has had more emotion, discontent, and chaos than most years.

Whenever I'm asked to play Solomon, I always ask myself - do I want to win the battle or win the war?

I could use formal authority to force a short term outcome.

I could raise my voice, leverage my reputation,  or utilize negative commentary (think political advertising) to win the day.

All such victories are temporary and I would never use such tactics.

Imagine that I forced customers to use a technology solution without gaining their buy in.  I'd win the battle.   Inevitably, the users would try as hard as they could to make the project fail, blaming all negative consequences on the products I mandated.   I'd lose the war.

It is far better to take the long view, devising a solution that stakeholders will embrace as their own and feel motivated to make successful.

The day to day battles rarely matter.  The trajectory over years is the best measure of success.

Similarly, in the world of technology, if you go live a few months late because you focused on user acceptance, no one will ever remember.  If you go live too early to meet an arbitrary deadline, no one will every forget.

Thus, pick your battles.   Ignore most of them.   Keep your eye on your long term vision and work toward it incrementally, focusing on change management and stakeholder alignment.

It's the war, not the battle, that people will remember long after you're gone.


Tomcat said...

Dr. Halamka, you wrote "Imagine that I forced customers to use a technology solution without gaining their buy in."

In '82 I was lucky enough to be able to work for a small engineering company in Japan, right down on the front lines. Like most such outfits, it supplied the large Japanese companies. On each of our visits at these large companies to discuss proposed projects, there would always be at least a couple of hourly workers present. They wouldn't say anything or ask questions, merely be present and listen. When I asked my interpreter the purpose of the workers' attendance, he said that the company knew that the first thing that they would do on their meal break was to blab about what went on in the meeting. He went on to say that the Japanese companies didn't want new projects taking the workers by surprise. I witnessed such behaviour several times in the six months that I eventually worked over there. No secrets, even from the beginning.

Compare that to a project that I did in an international oil company's chemical refinery just before that Japanese gig: After I arrived at the refinery and unloaded all of the computer gear (and, after taking the last cup of coffee from the workers' pot, made the next fresh pot, which gained me some unintended points), I sat down with the control room's crew and explained the project in detail. At the end, their senior fellow said, "Y'know, you're the first person to tell us what this was all about." Management later told me to stop talking to the workers. Right. Typical.

W C Hitt said...

Great advice Dr Halamka