This topic describes how one might approach the conduct of a Proof of Concept project as encountered in the context of enterprise software. The content suggests a generalizable methodology that can be tailored for a wide range of scenarios. An exemplar application is introducing new Cloud based architectures into an organisation such as Platform as a Service (PaaS).
What do these all the movie titles have in common? Think about it, we will return to this later.
Change Through Story (CTS) is a methodology designed for conducting proof-of-concepts (PoC). This is is intended as a light or “right-weight” method appropriate in pre-sales scenarios.
The CTS manifesto is very simple 1) keep it simple and short (aka KISS) and 2) do not be boring (aka ENGAGE). ENGAGE and KISS are principles that attempt to overcome traditional project methodologies, i.e. heavy over-formalised frameworks insensitive to the human actors they are supposed to serve.
To honour these principles, CSG draws inspiration from three sources 1) story telling; 2) change management theory and 3) nuances of the PoC project. And these form the three ingredients of our PoC methodology.
Change management theory describes and suggests approaches as to how to help individuals embrace and accept change. Effective change processes underpin the organisation’s learning and development. Change management provides the theoretical foundation and informs the underlying mechanism at work inside RSG.
Humans connect with story telling. We construct stories to make sense of our lives and to define our identity. It is an evocative form that imprints lasting memories. Story telling and the narrative provide the structure that humanises the methodology. It also provides the metaphor to breathe life into the method, make it easy to recall, explain and connect with.
We talk more of PoCs shortly, but briefly the objective of the PoC is to accelerate the sales cycle to some concrete conclusion. At best this is a decision representing a commercial commitment to proceed. Success is not actually about fulfilling technical criteria but in observing behaviour changes in the prospect consistent with a clear decision. Note that accelerating to a fail state (fail-fast) can also be a desirable outcome as at least we have then succeeded in completing an otherwise, very expensive, qualification process.
2. Methodology Elements
2.1 The Proof of Concept
Let us start with the art of Presales, and so begin coverage of the first ingredient in the Methodology mix – the nuances of the PoC itself.
The goal of Presales is to be a catalyst in the prospect’s transformation process from some present mode of operation (PMO) to a future mode of operation (FMO).
The specific presale role is to influence the prospect such that his mental representation of the future state solution aligns with your view or that of the organisation you represent. This is sometimes referred to as reframing. This differs from the postsales role whose principle concern is in taking concrete actions to realise a solution.
Presales has succeeded if the effort is traceable to some observable behavioural event, e.g. the prospect makes a commitment of commercial standing.
We use various tools to effect this outcome such as advanced communications techniques “weapons of influence” and when necessary the most expensive and resource intensive of all, the proof of concept.
Obviously, it only makes sense to participate in a PoC if the chances of victory are strong. A PoC can boost your chances of success but it can also amplify the probability of losing the opportunity.
Needless wasting of resources in futile PoCs can result in employee burnout and in tarnishing the corporate brand.
This means that when we do compete, we should be as best prepared as possible. And this is part of the justification for considering a method for PoC execution.
Typically, PoCs are ad-hoc – both in project method and in the tools and resources developed in support. Success is contingent on the heroic efforts of a few individuals. This is symptomatic of low organisation maturity capability (see CMMI) which is a difficult to justify when the core competency of a Software Vendor should surely be in winning beach heads in new customers with new products.
With CTS, we aim to provide a standardised method to elevate PoC into a defined process, managed and repeatable, with a vernacular of its own that can promote organisational learning and development and so provide the foundation for continuous improvement.
We review here the PoC landscape in more detail. A useful way to discriminate is using “control over the scope” and “number of vendors”.
At the extreme end we have the scenario where we are one of many vendors competing in a PoC and the scope is fixed by the prospect. The worst case here is the blind PoC in which success criteria are unknown until the start of the PoC itself. This is labelled the “Beauty Pageant” and following the advice of Sun Tzu, such direct confrontations should be avoided at all costs – unless, and this is rare, one has some point of overwhelming superiority – which the prospect values. Low cost could be such a point of differentiation and if so the discourse should be framed around commoditisation defended up by proof points such as those based on an economic feasibility analysis.
The place to be, of course, is what is labelled the “Magic Quadrant”. Here we are in a trusted position with the prospect, thought leaders in the problem space addressed by the PoC. In these scenarios, we are driving the agenda and the PoC terms of reference as possibly one or at worst a few selected suppliers. It is the best place to change the rules of the game to our advantage. This is the Change Agent space, and the starting conditions optimal for the RSG method.
Success in the Classic Contest case, requires some asymmetric advantage, i.e. something we do very well that the other suppliers cannot match. This could be a technical advantage the prospect considers meaningful. For example, in a battle over JEE Applications Servers, PaaS deployment models and its – auto-provisioning and elastic scaling features could be just such a differentiator.
The remaining quadrant comes up quite frequently, i.e. just a few Vendors have been invited to showcase capabilities along some narrow set of use cases. A recent example here was a BPMS opportunity. In this case, the fact we have been specifically invited can be used as a negotiation point to charge for the PoC services – or at very least make it cost neutral. There was a reason this supplier was asked to compete.
2.2 Behaviour Change
A recap about behaviour change – the next ingredient in our PoC methodology recipe.
Behaviour is triggered by cues in the environment and then reinforced by a reward system. More of a good thing is positive reinforcement, less of a bad thing is negative reinforcement. This is known as the ABC’s of behaviour – Antecedents, Behaviour, Consequences – which Skinner labelled “Operant Learning”.
So you have two main levers to effect change, 1) manipulate the context or 2) tweak the rewards system.
As a technology vendor we can impact the customer using these same levers. Introducing new technology represents a significant exercise in context manipulation – technology as behavioural intervention. Indeed one could argue that technology is interesting only if its introduction drives behaviour change, i.e. people are positively impacted in some way.
Influence on the client’s reward systems is actioned indirectly. For example, a technology Vendor cannot directly change another organisation’s employee compensation policies, however, the usage of a particular new technology may contribute to improving key performance indicators (KPI) and so indirectly performances bonuses for specific individuals.
The platform as a service (PaaS) use case encountered in the IT infrastructure technology space provides an example of this behavioural interpretation.
Prospects are considering PaaS as a future state architecture because compliance with the current systems for application development are not reinforcing the outcomes the business wants. The new socially-connected marketplace has an appetite for simple customer-experience-management applications.
Some call these systems of engagement or solomo – social/local/mobile. The Gartner Pace models refers to systems of differentiation and innovation. The Business is finding that it is not able to meet this demand at a satisfactory rate. The KPIs are all swinging in the opposite direction.
In the client’s current state, the command and control systems currently in place are not scaling right to meet what the Business wants. So the Business responds by bypassing ITOps and seeking alternate supply routes to market. Similarly, the temptation is there for Developers to circumvent architectural standards. This is exactly reverse of the type of collaborative behaviours we want to reinforce.
So something has to change to redress this problem. That’s why PaaS matters. It is represents a change we can make to the environment to trigger new behaviours – PaaS playing a role in behavioural innovation.
In PaaS, the approach is to provide an enabling environment in which the constituencies that interoperate with the technology, be it Developers, ITOps and the Business, do so because it helps individuals realise their professional goals.
In this future state, rather than punishing non-compliance, adherence is rewarded. Faster time to market, less red tape, innovation with right-weight governance.
PaaS simplifies these processes and in doing so nudges behaviour change; desirable behaviours are positively reinforced. The technology speaks directly to what motivates people – a desire for autonomy and for mastery. That’s what makes PaaS stick.
Developers are quickly enabled and can choose from a technologically diverse polyglot PaaS the application-stack that makes sense; Business engages with internal ITOps because time-to-market becomes comparable to that promised by outside suppliers; ITOps becomes more accessible because they have more time as so much more is automated.
Ryan Granard of PayPal, in describing their PaaS implementation, stated this most succinctly “Our motto is enable and get out of the way”. That empowerment means self-determination and autonomy. Note that this kind of autonomy is only possible when the PaaS provides appropriate governance and control mechanisms. http://gigaom.com/2013/06/20/paypal-now-builds-products-on-its-internal-paas/
To recap, in this view of technology,
- PaaS matters because it helps create a context which nudges adherence with the organisation’s governance systems because in doing so desirable outcomes such as time to market and innovation are positively reinforced.
2.3 Story Telling
This is the cue for a short diversion into story telling – the final core ingredient in our PoC methodology. So what did all of those movie titles at the start of this essay have in common?
They are all examples of stories based on the Hero’s Journey archetype as attributable to the famous American mythologist, Joseph Campbell. For example, George Lucas’s “Star Wars” is an almost perfect reproduction according to the Hero Journey recipe.
The Hero’s Journey has many parallels with change management theory. To learn or accept something new, it can be necessary to be taken out of one’s comfort zone.
This deconstruct/reconstruct cycle is how mental paradigms are shifted. The PoC analogy is self-evident, our goal is to transport the prospect from some current state to future state somehow aligned to our own worldview.
Joseph Campbell labelled his Hero’s Journey the “Monomyth” as borrowed from James Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake:
“And then and too the trivials! And their bivouac! And his monomyth! Ah ho! Say no more about it! I’m sorry! I saw. I’m sorry! I’m sorry to say I saw!”
Campbell’s insight was that the Monomyth follows a universal structure, and this becomes our Agenda for today. In our story the hero will be the Change Agent, the supplier personnel charged with driving change for their client.
When we project the Hero’s Journey into a linear form such as a movie screenplay, some simple structures surface. We observe the narrative breaking down into three basic elements – a beginning, middle and end. And a management of the tension so that a crescendo is reached on the way to some resolution.
For the individuals involved, including the prospect, the PoC is also recalled as a story. All the raw elements of the Hero’s Journey are there. A PoC typically represent a short intensive episode. People are called upon to try new technologies and learn new skills in a high stress and highly visible situation. Emotions are on edge, success or failure is felt keenly.
3. Connecting the Dots
We know from the Hero’s Journey that to find the “boon” to solve our PoC method, we must step outside our comfort zone. The world of behaviour science then represents the dark world of our journey.
Recall that our challenge is that PoC success is not just about passing concrete functional criteria. To be successful, the PoC must drive real behavioural change in stakeholders with authority to action.
We learned earlier about some basic principles behind behaviour change and its importance in the introduction of new technology. Deploying new technology via a PoC can therefore be approached as an exercise in change management.
3.1 Organisational Change Theory
The authoritative source of change interventions when applied in an organisational context is known as organisational change management. And so it is to this specific speciality within Behaviour Change Sciences that we turn to find tools that we can repurpose in our quest for a PoC Methodology.
The change management literature offers up many change theory models and representations. Rather than attempt a comprehensive and critical review we summarise here a few commonly cited models.
Our change intervention needs to break existing patterns of behaviour. Change is hard because we are creatures of habit. Our brains are built to conserve energy and as decision-making takes a large toll on our resources, we form patterns and habits to save energy and maximise efficiency. Habits are not all bad – otherwise day-to-day living would be exhausting.
To break this cycle, the Lewin model for organisational change proposes the three steps of 1) unfreezing – thinking differently about the existing situation or status quo; 2) movement – move towards a new equilibrium and 3) refreezing – consolidating new beliefs and behaviours.
In the first step, the flawed organization is awakened to a new reality in which its performance has fallen behind. In the second step, the organizations establishes a new vision of the future and begins taking the steps necessary to achieve this vision. In the third step, new attitudes, policies and practices are institutionalised.
The parallels and agreement between Lewin’s model, the Hero’s Journey and the presales quest from PMO to FMO are there to see.
Another example of a highly regarded organizational change model is the “the Kotter 8” (1996):
– Establish a sense of urgency
– Create a guiding coalition
– Develop a vision and strategy
– Communicate the Changevision
– Empower employees for broad-based action
– Generate short-term wins
– Consolidate gains and produce more Change
– Anchor new approaches in the culture
This model is commonly referred to in the context of large scale and strategic organisation transformation programs. A PoC is typically positioned as a discrete activity (e.g. a short-term win) within a broader change programme. The Kotter-8 helps provide a sense for the wider overarching concerns that need to be addressed to set the optimal starting and segue conditions to ensure the PoC becomes a successfully embedded element of the initiative.
As noted, there are many change models from which to draw inspiration. Recent frameworks such as Changeology signpost important social conditions to ensure PoC project success.
These points tutor PoC leaders as to the more nuanced communication soft-skills elements relevent in introducing change and new technology via a PoC.
4. The PoC Method
Returning again to this PoC method, we are reminded that a PoC is experiential, it has a beginning, middle and end – and this experience makes for a story. Humans value experiences over objects. Experiences have more social value than objects and this can be used to our advantage.
All participants will remember the shared experience of the PoC project. Our PoC method is a theory of change. The key principles is to 1) engage – the client in the process, to own and become accountable to the success of the PoC project and 2) kiss – strive for absolute simplicity wherever and whenever possible.
The Method prescribes that the applying the CTS framework, the PoC project be organised into three discernible stages which we label as Ready Set Go (RSG). Specific content details may vary depending on the nature of the technology being considered. A PaaS deployment suggests a pattern or exemplar to begin tailoring for your project. In this instance of RSG we have phases as follows.
Ready – this describes a series of prerequisite steps performed by the client to ready the environment for the installation process. Supplier involvement consists of liaising with the designated client contact to guide and check progress and review outputs. Allow at least 3 elapsed days for the client to complete these steps.
Set – this describes the installation steps which is an on-site activity performed by the client with Supplier assistance. Estimate at least 2 elapsed days of effort consisting of 2 Supplier staff (platform and middleware specialists) and 2 client staff (systems administrator plus one backup or assistant).
Go – this describes a set of post-installation activities in which se cases are tested and rehearsed to validate and establish client familiarity with the deployed solution. The stage concludes with a client presentation of the system. Estimate at least 3 elapsed days of effort consisting of 2 Supplier staff (platform and middleware specialists) and 2 client staff (representing operations and application development).
Ready Set and Go phases and the key tasks there-in map directly to the traditional rising tension and climax of the beginning, middle and end story elements. We know it will always be so, so the point here is to set expectations and signpost and manage the prospect’s journey through this journey.
Recall that in the operational usage of this methodology, a specific usage instance, e.g. for a PaaS PoC is built by tailoring from the generalised Ready-Set-Go template and then populating it with specific tasks. This provides the pattern by which users can quickly become familiar with any given Ready-Set-Go based PoC is approached.
For intra phase management we defer the Deming’s work on Quality Management and adopt his plan-do-check-adjust cycle. Again this forms the template and guidance for how all Ready-Set-Go phases are conducted.
Note that as this post describes a generalised methodology, instance specific framework elements for e.g. how one might approach the deployment of a particular PaaS technology solution are outside the scope of this document.
And so we wrap up our story by taking a tour around the Hero’s Journey, but this time as applied in the recounting of the journey to find a PoC method.
Some suggestions for further reading:
Campbell, J. (2008). The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) (3rd Edition., p. 432). New World Library.
Cialdini, R. B. (2001). The Science of Persuasion. Scientific American, (February), 76–81. Retrieved from http://socialcommercetoday.com/documents/CialdiniSciAmerican_01.pdf
Deming, W. E. (2000). Out of the Crisis (p. 507). The MIT Press. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Out-Crisis-W-Edwards-Deming/dp/0262541157/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363563246&sr=1-1&keywords=Out+of+the+Crisis
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow (1st ed., p. 511). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Fast-Slow-Daniel-Kahneman/dp/0374533555/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1364087069&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=thinking+fast
Kotter, J. P. (2011). Leading change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard business review, (Product Number 4231).
Lewin, K. (1947). Frontiers in Group Dynamics. Human Relations, 1(2), 143–153. Retrieved from http://hum.sagepub.com/content/1/2/143.abstract
McKee, R. (1997). Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting (1 edition., p. 480). ReganBooks. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Story-Substance-Structure-Principles-Screenwriting/dp/0060391685/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1363562773&sr=1-7&keywords=screenwriting
Moen, R., & Norman, C. (n.d.). Evolution of the PDCA Cycle, 1–11. Retrieved from http://pkpinc.com/files/NA01MoenNormanFullpaper.pdf
Nicolay, A. M., & Moore, K. (1999). From organizational development to change management : The emergence of a new profession. Journal of Applied
Behavioral Science, 35(3), 273–286. Retrieved from http://academia.uat.edu.mx/pariente/DO/Lecturas/From OD to change management.pdf
Prochaska, J. O., & Norcross, J. C. (2001). Stages of Change. Psychotherapy, 38(4), 443–448.
Richard H Thaler, C. R. S. (2012). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness (p. 294). Penguin Group(CA). Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Nudge-Improving-Decisions-Happiness-ebook/dp/B009KERBQI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1365301614&sr=1-1&keywords=nudge
Robinson, L. (2013). Changeology: how to enable groups, communities, and societies to do things they’ve never done before (p. 289). Scribe Publications. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Changeology-enable-communities-societies-ebook/dp/B00BF37478/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1365301439&sr=8-3&keywords=changeology
The RSG naming and logos as represented in its current form is a draft working form only. The three cartridges and red-amber-green colouring is a pictorial metaphor for a traffic light. The cog arrangement was so as to be suggestive of action. Ready, Set and Go was chosen as it was an easy to recall phrase in triplet form that parallels the three stages of the methodology. Alternative names and associated graphics and logo suggestions most welcome.