A common strategy framework used by management consultants is the familiar three-phase project approach—current state analysis, future state design, followed by the gap plan/roadmap.  Some will de-emphasize the current state analysis because they are all about the “visioning” exercise.  And clients often buy into this approach, because, after all, who’s interested in figuring out how we got here, when it’s more interesting to talk about the future?

Unfortunately, these clients don’t realize until it’s too late that their resulting roadmap has significant blind spots and is headed toward the back shelf.

The reality is that it’s hard to develop a concrete, executable roadmap without being grounded in the complexities that form the current state. Current state analysis may not be the most important phase, but it is critical to an actionable roadmap that accurately captures the necessary steps to achieve the vision.

Current State Analysis Shouldn’t be Interview-Driven—It Should be Artifact-Driven

One reason many companies dismiss or short-change the current state analysis is because they see it as a way for the consulting company to “go to school” on their business, on their dime.  In other words, the exercise helps the consultant get up to speed on the context of the client’s environments, but it doesn’t reveal anything that the client didn’t already know.

And indeed, this is not far from the truth, because the analysis is often interview-driven.  There are template questions, follow-up questions, requests for documents, etc., with a lot of attention paid to getting in front of the “right” interviewees (people whose opinions “matter”).  Interview responses are dutifully recorded, collated, correlated, and summarized.  And the result is an output that tells the client what they already know.

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Now these clients may not have ever received an analysis that aggregates or integrates their own collective insights in way that an unbiased consultant can deliver, so there is certainly value in conducting interviews.  But the value to the overall strategy is still questionable.

There are still more opinions than facts, and consequently, there are conclusions that are debatable by those inclined to dislike the implications.  In a worst-case scenario, the debate over the conclusions comes off feeling like a search for placing the blame for all the ills of the current state.  And that is definitely not what you want from a current state analysis.

The better alternative is an artifact-driven current state.  Artifacts are inventories, process designs, organization charts, budget actuals, capability maps, data models, operational statistics, and all kinds of data that have often never been collected before.  Or they may have been collected, but they exist in multiple formats across multiple organizations, and have never been normalized for analysis.  Or they may be available in a single format but are not relatable to other, equally important artifacts, or they are missing critical attributes for analysis.

For example, a client may be able to inventory all the applications that support a business function, say, order management.  But that inventory is not mapped to a canonical enterprise capability model for order management, so it’s hard to determine which system has coverage for which order management capabilities.  

This makes functional gap analysis during the future state phase very hard to do.  Or that inventory may not capture the annualized labor and licensing cost of supporting (versus improving) each order management application, without which it will be impossible to assess the relative budget impact of replacing any of these apps during a given year of the roadmap.  Or it may not capture the technology stack sitting underneath each order management application, which makes it very easy to oversimplify the effort to modernize the order management process, or the technology skills required to do it.

An artifact-driven current state analysis should feel more like an archeological dig, searching for concrete artifacts that in turn point to other artifacts.  Even the absence of the needed artifacts (a dig with dead ends) can be a valuable observation on its own, as it may point to a poor governance process for example.  But it should not be the end of the story.  

Every current state analysis should anticipate the need to dig elsewhere and dig deeper, with added resources and effort to collect the needed artifacts.  Finding the right people with access to this data is just as important as identifying the right interviewees for the interview-driven portion of the analysis.

For example, in an artifact-driven process, you must gain access to the lower-level IT leaders that have intimate access to databases and spreadsheets that are the foundation of how your technology stacks are managed. This data can take you from simply understanding there’s a complex mess to knowing precisely which applications, which business capabilities, which business locations and business units, and which variations of each are costing the most money to support.

Also, with an artifact-driven approach, visualization of the problem areas becomes possible.  Whether through simple charts, integrated dashboards, or advanced 3-d simulations of your business from multi-dimensional data, the process of understanding the true state of your business becomes much easier to digest and more objective.  No more debating the opinions of interviewees.  The truth is in the data, and the conclusions to be drawn from it are often a surprise to the client.  Contrast this to the more typical feeling that the current state analysis was primarily for the consultant.

An artifact-driven framework like the Feld Group Institute’s management framework, with its models for analyzing business systems, IT processes, economics, etc., is once such framework for visualizing the complexity of interdependencies within your technology organization.  This kind of insight is needed to describe an equally integrated future state that addresses current pain points, and prevents current state issues from recurring.  

More importantly, it is critical in developing a fact-based understanding of the foundation upon which all transformation efforts are initiated. It creates a starting point for your gap plan that is highly accurate in terms of understanding the work necessary to reach your future state, and the sequence in which it should be tackled.  

And this, in turn, is what creates a gap plan that prescribes how to achieve the future state.  Instead of a collection of individual projects, at best, related to each other only through a thematic lens, this kind of gap plan describes an integrated construction sequence, paced across time and across each of the dimensions (business, applications, technology, budgets, and organizations).  It creates a gap plan that builds the future state as opposed to simply pointing thematically in that direction.

The Value of an Evolving Plan of Record for Your Business

Subjective current state analyses lead to vague gap plans that your business leaders read once and forget immediately. Once it’s digested, it no longer drives the specifics of what must be done.  It allows all the factors that created the current state to begin with to be glossed over and not attacked directly in the early execution of the roadmap.  It creates a roadmap that is directional instead of explicit.

Deep, artifact-driven current state analysis helps you come to grips with “reality”.  It leads to gap plans that are consulted and refined every step of the way during execution.  It produces roadmaps that become the “plan of record” by which progress is continuously measured.  In fact, the artifact-driven visualizations from the current state analysis should be updated every year as a part of that measurement.  

It is even common for these current state artifacts to become key management tools used in day-to-day technology operations. These kinds of current state analyses (and the gap plans they initiate) do not sit on a shelf.  They become the lingua franca for execution.

There is a reason why so many companies don’t conduct this kind of deep, concrete current state analysis:  It’s not nearly as simple as typical interview-driven approaches.  It requires consultants to have a deep understanding of why symptoms revealed in interviews are just that – symptoms.  It requires an understanding of how to inspect key artifacts in an integrated fashion so that the true nature of the symptoms can be explained to executives.  It requires a framework that integrates all the artifacts into a holistic, multi-dimensional view.  It requires data.

These days, literally anyone can give you a vision.  Anyone can propose a future state for the enterprise.  But few can give you a concrete, actionable roadmap for that vision without an artifact-driven current state.  The time and effort invested in producing an artifact-driven current state analysis pays dividends well beyond the executive read-out from that first phase.  The usefulness and shelf-life of the outputs from the last two phases (future and gap) are wholly dependent on the quality of the current state analysis.  

If you want to learn more about an artifact-driven framework for reducing enterprise technology complexity in your organization, download our free ebook, Enterprise Technology for Business Outcomes.


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