We consultants live and die on methodologies. Just as double-blind therapeutic trials are what make modern doctors are more reliable than shamans for preventing and curing diseases, the methodologies we consultants use are what make our analyses and recommendations more reliable than an executive’s gut feel.
Take, for example, the methodology I use for application, application portfolio, and application integration rationalization (AR/APR/AIR).
It starts with collecting data about more than twenty indicators of application health, redundancy, and integration for each application in the portfolio. It’s by analyzing this health data that my colleagues and I are in a position to reliably and provably recommend programs and strategies for improving the enterprise technical architecture’s application layer, along with the information and platform layers the applications rely on.
For large application portfolios the process is intimidating, not to mention invasive and expensive. Fortunately for you and unfortunately for me when I’m trying to persuade clients to engage our services, there is a more frugal alternative. In most situations it’s amply reliable for guiding AR/APR/AIR priorities as our sophisticated methodology, while costing quite a lot less.
Call it the TYE methodology, TYE standing for “Trust Your Experts.”
But first, before we get to TYE, take the time to clean up your integration architecture.
Maybe the techniques you use to keep redundant data synchronized and present it for business use through systematic APIs are clean and elegant. If so, you can skip this step on the grounds that you’ve already taken it. Also, congratulate everyone involved. As near as I can tell you’re in the minority, and good for you.
Otherwise, you need to do this first for two big reasons: (1) it’s probably the single biggest architecture-related opportunity you have for immediate business and IT benefit; and (2) it creates a “transition architecture” that will let you bring new application replacements in without hugely disrupting the business areas that currently rely on the old ones.
And now … here’s how TYE works: Ask your experts which applications are the biggest messes. Who are your experts? Everyone — your IT staff who maintain and enhance the applications used by the rest of the business, and the business users who know what using the applications is like.
And a bit often missed, no matter the methodology: Make sure to include the applications used by IT to support the work it does. IT is just as much a business department as any other part of the enterprise. Its supporting applications deserve just as much attention.
What do you ask your experts? Ask them two questions. #1: List the five worst applications you use personally or know about, in descending order of awfulness. #2: What’s the worst characteristic of each application on your list?
Question #1 is for tabulation. Whichever applications rank worst get the earliest attention.
Question #2 is for qualification. Not all question #1 votes are created equal, and you’re allowed to toss out ballots cast by those who can produce no good reason for their opinions.
Once you’ve tabulated the results, pick the three worst applications and figure out what you want to do about them — the term of art is to determine their “dispositions.”
Charter projects to implement their dispositions and you’re off and running. Once you’ve disposed of one of the bottom three, determine the disposition of what had been the fourth worst application; repeat for the fifth.
After five it will probably be a good idea to re-survey your experts, as enough of the world will have changed that the old survey’s results might no longer apply.
You can use the basic TYE framework for much more than improving the company’s technical architecture. In fact, you can use it just about any time you need to figure out where the organization is less effective than it ought to be, and what to do about it.
It’s been the foundation of most of my consulting work, not to mention being a key ingredient in Undercover Boss.
TYE does rely on an assumption that’s of overwhelming importance: That you’ve hired people worth listening to. If you have, they’re closer to the action than anyone else, and know what needs fixing better than anyone else.
And if the assumption is false … if you haven’t hired people worth listening to, what on earth were you thinking?