Make Quick Wins Your Springboard to Success

By Derek Lonsdale

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Despite good intentions, organizations often fail to deliver expected outcomes, resulting in a loss of stakeholder confidence and frustration among the business and IT staff. Avoiding this demoralizing outcome should be a matter of priority for service improvement teams. Following some simple rules for managing quick wins will increase the likelihood that you’ll deliver the vital early gains, which are your springboard to long-term success.

Define what a “quick win” is - Don’t take it for granted that everyone knows what you mean by "quick win". There is a very good chance that people will understand the term slightly differently. It is crucial at the outset to clearly define what quick win means to your program, your team and, most importantly, your customers and sponsors. Agreeing on a timescale that represents “quick” delivery, and defining what success will look and feel like for your customers will avoid wasting time on unproductive discussions about why you haven’t achieved what was expected.

Typically, a quick win should take no longer than three months to deliver, but make sure that your timescales match the sponsor’s expectations. It may be that they are looking for a faster outcome. Bear in mind that you can’t always implement a permanent fix when the pressure is on to make fast improvements, so the outcome of a quick win can be a temporary (tactical) step to relieve a specific pain-point. Make sure your customers understand that, if this is the case, it may require you to spend additional time later on in the improvement project to make the fix permanent.

Agree what you want to fix and stick to it - Managing scope-creep is important for all projects, but the short time scales and high visibility of quick wins means that it is vital to maintain your focus. You have to avoid getting burdened with additional requirements, which will derail your "quick" delivery. Prioritizing your efforts and sticking to a few, key outcomes will give you a much higher chance of success than trying to hit all of your target issues at once.

Make sure that each of your quick wins has a defined problem statement which relates to an outcome that can be seen and felt. If you aren’t working on things that have a visible result, it will be much tougher proving that you’re making any kind of appreciable difference. Fixing some of the key pain-points quickly is preferable to delivering a new process which is tucked away in the background.

Once you’ve agreed your list of outcomes, fix the scope and stick to it. Don’t allow "just one more little thing" to be labeled as a quick win. Avoid the temptation to replace items on the list. Your time scales and limited resources won’t allow you to keep starting new tasks. If, and when, new things come up, add them to a list which will be worked on when the current list is complete.

Use your rising stars to lead - When you’re up against it to provide quick wins, you need to make sure you are using your very best people. Finding quick solutions requires quick-thinking. Delivering to short timescales requires people who can break down barriers, get others involved and who don’t taken "No" for an answer. Strong and effective leadership is required from the outset, so make sure that your quick-wins efforts are led by someone who is absolutely committed to achieving the outcomes and is prepared to “take the doors off” to get things done.

This doesn’t mean relying on your senior team. Use the energy, enthusiasm and fresh thinking of your rising stars, and give them a chance to shine. Their involvement will act as a stimulus to other members of the team to get involved and will generate a stronger culture of participation within the organization. Using people with cross functional experience and good links into the organization (e.g., client service managers) will provide the vital connections that make things happen. One caveat: expect to re-prioritize workloads and make sure you agree how much time your team will need to complete the task; especially if they have BAU delivery to deal with as well.

Communicate regularly and make it a two-way process - Speaking to your customers and teams about the activities you plan to undertake and listening to their views about the effects you are having along the way, should be a fundamental part of quick wins delivery.

Engage in dialogue with your customers as soon as you can to confirm whether the things you are working on match their priorities and be open to their suggestions. In some cases, it may help achieve a quick outcome if customers assist in delivery. For example, where a business process needs to be changed make sure you get their commitment to be involved.

As well as talking to customers, don’t forget to make sure that the whole team knows what is going on and what the short-term priorities are. Again, make this a two-way dialogue so that you can draw out ideas and suggestions from the wider group. Add quick wins progress to the agenda of regular team meetings, so that the profile of the activities is maintained. The short time scales you are working with mean that you will need to communicate “little and often”; not just at the start and end of your delivery. Any silence will be assumed to mean that nothing is going on and initiative will be lost.

Make sure the whole team is ready to contribute and celebrate your success - Delivering quick wins isn’t just up to a few individuals. Speedy outcomes depend on support and commitment from customers, colleagues and suppliers or partners. The whole department needs to know that quick wins delivery is a priority, and everyone will need to be prepared to contribute to support the cause. Make sure your suppliers are aware of the priority of your activities, and use their capability to help delivery―temporarily reprioritizing existing initiatives they are working on, if necessary.

You will find that successfully delivering quick wins will provide a major boost to people’s appetite for continued improvement and to their commitment to deliver longer-term outcomes. So, share the successes you achieve as widely as possible. This is your big chance to shout about something of value.

Following these simple rules for managing quick wins will lead to a higher likelihood of delivering successful and timely outcomes.

Derek Lonsdale is a managing consultant in PA Consulting Group’s IT Consulting practice. He is an ITIL manager, an ISO20000 consultant and has contributed to the design and deployment of service management solutions for numerous clients.

Michael Harman is a principal consultant in PA Consulting Group’s IT Management & Operations practice. He has a successful track record of developing and improving IT service management capabilities, underpinned by his broad IT service management knowledge. Michael holds the ITIL Managers accreditation.

Aga Wicinska is a consultant analyst in PA Consulting Group’s IT Management & Operations practice. She has a depth of knowledge and experience in IT Services Management within ITIL oriented environments, and has developed processes and procedures compliant with ITIL methodology.