Avoiding technical and operational debt through an end-to-end view

Ross Kemp — 26 September, 2022

All too often in workplaces we see inefficiencies, waste, unreliable systems and processes and wonder how these came to be. Core business processes often include workarounds that were introduced to save time, reports used to inform business decisions are based on ‘local’ copies of data or there is an excessive reliance upon manual tasks across the business. The list of examples goes on and tend to be the same – irrespective of the type of company, the size or even how profitable it might be.

Over Chamonix’s more than 10 years of experience in providing business advisory services, we have found that these technical and operational ‘debts’ have built up over time through a series of individual, point-in-time decisions. Often each of these decisions will have been valid and justifiable at the time. However, as these decisions tend to be made in isolation, gradually the systems and processes that allow the organisation to function increasingly deviate from a strategic path.

Another common contributor to these issues relates to how changes tend to be initiated – as requests for solutions rather than by articulating the problem or opportunity. It is human nature to describe what we want in terms of the solution however this very often results in an increased focus on short-term, or business unit specific benefits. This adds further inefficiencies across the business and can cause further strategic deviation.

To avoid these outcomes, we need to ensure all changes are aligned to, or cognisant of the organisation’s overall strategic objectives, especially for short term tactical initiatives. Such initiatives may individually seem inconsequential but can very often introduce constraints which can compound and cause significant impacts longer term. To facilitate this strategic alignment, a clear understanding of the vision is required along with a tangible view of how this vision will be delivered, across all aspects of the organisation. This includes the products and services the organisation provides, its operating model and structure, how core business processes execute to deliver these services and what platforms and foundations are required to facilitate these processes. Without this comprehensive view of the future state, it is easy to label a change as ‘aligning’ to the strategy while in fact it may be introducing future constraints if decision-makers are unable to truly understand the longer-term impact of these tactical decisions.

These concepts are widely known and form the basis of the common methodologies and frameworks like Porter’s Five Forces and Value Chain Analysis through to TOGAF, PMM and Human Centred Design. The problem tends to arise if these concepts are not applied effectively or not sufficiently woven into the capital delivery capability.

Chamonix’s advisory team provide a range of services, across most aspects of organisational design, business planning and change execution. Irrespective of the type of engagement, our outcomes will very often target these three key themes; a simple and concise view of the target state, the ability to identify the full impacts of tactical decisions on the organisation and ensuring the fundamental business architecture activities are incorporated into the capital delivery process.

These outcomes can be achieved very quickly by leveraging well established concepts, incorporating insights from how they have been used to most effect in different types of organisations and most importantly, by utilising the knowledge from within the organisation. We find it particularly effective to include stakeholders from across the organisation as active contributors to these engagements, as it forms the beginning of the organisational change function. As a result, any recommendations and required changes have increased buy-in and ownership.

Once we have a clear understanding of the organisation, its services, operating model, and strategic intent, we incorporate insights such as knowledge of the industry sector, implications, and opportunities. This may include implications of looming market disruptions, relevant macro-economic considerations, threats relating to the organisation’s areas of differentiation, or constraints we have identified within the organisation. 

The Chamonix advisory team then utilise a range of business design frameworks and models to capture, assess and describe this information. These ‘tools’ can be constructed rapidly to assist in the analysis and often remain within the organisation to aid future decisions or processes. For example, the tools used during the analysis to highlight the divergence between the organisation’s core areas of differentiation and its current capital and operational expenditure provide a valuable day-to-day planning tool for determining the risks and benefits of a short-term tactical decision. i.e., what is the full impact a stop-gap solution may have on the organisation’s longer-term objectives and what inefficiency or waste it might introduce.

The concise articulation of the target state generated through this process allows everyone to have a clearer understanding of the organisation’s direction and in doing so, ensures greater alignment of stakeholders, decisions, and departmental strategies. Incorporating key business architecture concepts into the capital planning processes, often via lightweight and simple tools, ensures investment and prioritisation decisions have greater end-to-end visibility of organisational impacts such as impacts on other initiatives, the operating model, or operational costs.

It is common for businesses to accumulate this operational ‘debt’. Very often it can be addressed using pragmatic, well known methods combined with an external perspective to benefit from broader insights and experience.