Recently I experienced a situation that challenged me professionally and personally at a level that I have seldom encountered.
Having lived to tell the tale, I have reflected on some parallels with the challenges we see frequently in the work that my team does supporting our clients in technology implementation and adoption.
So what was it that caused this challenging scenario I hear you ask? Well, I was asked (volunteered actually, as I was absence from the meeting of the Fathers' Association that allocated roles!) to co-ordinate two “pop-up” cafes for the Spring Festival/Fete at my kids' school, an event that attracts over 20,000 people each year over a weekend period.
What could possibly have made this such a difficult scenario? I mean surely a volunteer-run cafe that puts on a bit of tea and coffee with a pastry or a sandwich would be, well, a piece of cake (groan ) for someone who has wrestled multi-million dollar HR technology programs and dealt with the politics of some of Australia's largest corporates, whilst building a 30-person consulting business? And besides, I drink four cups of coffee a day, undertook a 3-hour barista training course four years ago, and I have Italian heritage – I'm eminently qualified to run a cafe surely.
You know where this story is going to go from here don't you?
Yep, this quaint little cafe concept consumed me in the weeks leading up to the event with planning and negotiating with numerous suppliers, school administrators, volunteer co-ordinators all interlaced with the usual politics that are associated with well-meaning people deftly juggling multiple agendas. Yet, when the show began we were hopelessly under-prepared and rapidly overwhelmed by a caffeine-ravenous hoard of visitors to the event.
We had no milk until 9.30 on the first day having opened for business at 8am with milk scrounged from fridges in staff rooms, praying that the use-by dates wouldn't result in a major food-poisoning scandal for the school. By mid-morning we had realised that our coffee machine was hopelessly inadequate for the task at hand and spent several hours trying to rent another one at short notice. We hadn't sorted out enough fridge space for the amount of food we would be managing over the weekend either. And this is but a snap-shot of what we had to manage over the course of a weekend where we sold 2000 cups of coffee to a discerning and very patient bunch of customers who experienced nothing like the service they should have done.
By 4pm on Sunday we finally had our groove having refined our systems and processes to a point where we were fulfilling coffee orders before they had even been placed. Sadly, an hour later we pulled the shutters down and dismantled our pop-up cafe with only the physical and mental fatigue to remind us of the monumental effort that had produced a tremendous financial result for the school. A financial result, however, that was skewed by unnecessary cost overruns from poor planning and the need to make decisions on the fly.
What would I do differently next time I'm in an equivalent situation?
Seek expert assistance in the planning and execution. Put simply, don't try and do it all yourself! A bitter pill to swallow for someone who has a healthy sense of self-belief and loves the adrenalin rush of flying by the seat of my pants.
Fortunately, my situation was never going to result in anything permanently disruptive nor would it leave anything but a positive legacy given that effort and activity was always going to be the primary determinant of praise and gratitude.
But what if you took the same mindset into a high impact implementation of technology that affected everyone in your business?
Could you reasonably expect to achieve the best possible outcome and deliver the return on investment that you have strived so hard to get from your miserly CFO? Maybe. But I'm not so sure to be honest.
So, why then do so many seemingly sensible and effective executives and practitioners try to take it on themselves? No doubt for the same fundamental reasons that I did. And inevitably with the same sorts of outcomes that I experienced - high stress, leftfield problems to overcome, cost overruns and a potentially disgruntled end user population. The impact to your reputation and your ongoing job prospects may also be a casualty of this gung-ho mentality.
Now, I run a consultancy that specialises in partnering with organisations to successfully deploy and adopt workforce technology so of course I'm going to purport the need to engage external expertise to support your technology implementation projects.
It's actually a no-brainer. In the same way that you should seek expert medical advice rather than self-diagnosing using Dr. Google, you shouldn't just Google your way out of trouble trying to reduce the perceived costs of engaging external expertise.
We've done it before. We understand the intricacies better than you could yourself. But, you know your business better than we ever will. Getting the right sort of expertise that partners effectively to deliver shared business outcomes will always be better than attempting to go it alone.
So, the next time you're sipping on your morning latte, spare a thought for the predicament I found myself in last weekend and make sure you don't fall into the same trap yourself in taking on more than your own experience, capability and resources can handle.
Let me know your own stories of getting in over your head with a DIY project? Did hindsight dictate a different approach would have been better?