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Taming Tough Enterprise Trails

I read an interesting article by Christy Woods, described as an extreme-cowboy-race competitor and avid trail rider. She is the owner-trainer of Wood N' Horse Training Stables located in Three Rivers, California. In her article titled, “taming tough rails”, she illustrates practically how and why to prepare the horse for tough trails in order to have better rides. Her key message being, have fun in extreme challenges.   

 
I am not a horse rider and I have never ridden one. I just stumbled upon her article in my endless thirst to unlock the conundrum that faces many an enterprise today in the sea of change that dots its landscape. This article was an instant connection and the more I read it, the more I saw vital lessons that many an enterprise transformation practitioners would draw from it. I have therefore attempted to repackage the trainings by Ms Woods through the eyes of an Architect.
 
Ms Woods identifies five challenges (use cases) that potentially face horse riders in tough terrains;
 
a)     Make a Splash
b)     Step Over and Through
c)     Dig In, Climb Up, Inch Through
d)     Slog Through
e)     Tight Spaces
 
Make a Splash
This is about water crossings. She says that the best way to get tame your horse is by getting it’s feet more wet a little at a time. By being patient and letting the horse discover that water wont hurt him. She suggests that the best way of doing this is letting the horse sniff the water while urging him through it. Then by riding back and forth the waters edge and getting closer and closer to the water until the horse’s feet start touching it. In other words, dymistifying the trail without intimidating the horse.  
 
Transformation can be intimidating. Standing on the water’s edge, there is bound to be enterprise anxiety about how to cross the waters. The goal is to cross the water and move to the other side. The water is in the way of the trail. The strategy requires the enterprise to move in harmony across the flowing river. By letting the enterprise sniff the change and feel it by getting the feet on the ground, strategy makes it alive. The “aggressive strategy” must not be to intimidate the enterprise but to encourage it to step in the water. Ultimately, a rider cannot swim alone, he needs the horse just as much as numbers cannot deliver a strategy, the enterprise does.
 
 Step Over, Step Through
This is the challenge of fallen logs and trees or debris along the trail. Belly high obstacles are even much harder to navigate, says Ms Wood. Her advise her is to prepare beforehand using tree stumps or rail roads. The objective here is to train the horse to figure out how navigate (pick his way out) through fallen objects. The horse must look at the logs or obstacles by himself. He must drop his head in order to look. He must learn to know where to step first, next and so on until he has navigated through.
 
While “transformation” has been a much touted term, it seems to have been left to the hands of a few to “run with it”. The rider may know the end game but he may be unaware “how to pick his way out of logs and obstacles”. This must be done by the part of the enterprise that will carry the responsibility of actually stepping through. There must be a culture that trains and rewards people for “dropping their heads to pick their way out” and pushing back where there are risks. Just because we must upgrade this or that service doesn’t mean we should do it today. Perhaps there are fallen logs that need a bit more figuring out how to navigate through them.
 
Dig In, Climb Up, Inch Through
This is a challenge on steep hills either going up or down. Ms Woods says that “horses often want to hurry up and down the hills”. The key point here is to train the horse to slow down and pick there ascent or descent carefully. She adds that if the horse tries to rush either up or down, make him stop and wait—repeatedly, if need be—until he learns to proceed rhythmically and deliberately at the pace you choose. 
 
Motivation for change can be different for different people in the enterprise. Some may choose speed so they can get done with this thing. For instance, hurriedly discussed and signed off user requirements may be due to pressure by line of business teams to get back to their “normal work” because their KPIs are being affected by long days away from their “normal work”. Additionally, aggressive go-live dates and short cuts that compromise on quality may be informed by a project team that is ready to “go live” so they can earn that much needed promotion to the next level.
 
So when steep hills come like further examining a particular process that is unclear, the team chooses to pack it for “phase two”. This denies the initiative the opportunity to learn how stop and wait rhythmically choose the pace of navigation due to pressure to “get it done”. More often than not, the rush leads to futuristic debt that costs more to fix. An injury to the horse’s leg perhaps which puts him down for fixing over a longer period of time and therefore delays the progression to achieve desired objectives.
 
Slog Through
This is a trail challenge in marshy areas. Ms Woods says that even those horses that are willing to cross clear water often balk at mud and moist ground that sinks beneath them. She advises that a good practice would be to go back and forth through a marshy ground to accustom the horse to the unstable ground. By stopping and turning around in the middle of the pile rather than simply crossing, makes the horse feel the ground and banishes the fear of marshy areas.
 
Most projects I have been involved in give little airtime to risk or audit during the project. The audit reports (hard hitting ones) create a marshy ground for the enterprise. So either such activities are delegated to be performed after the fact or they are denied vital information that may otherwise may the ground on which the horse is running even moister. To accustom the horse unstable ground is an admission that a marshy ground exists. Exposing risks early (not just some template risks in some risk log) and discussing them with a view to mitigating them is critical. By looking at the risks in various perspectives (turning around the middle of the pile) rather than just simply rushing to develop mitigative actions makes the enterprise feel the weight of the risks and banish the fear of them.
 
Tight Spaces
This is a trail challenge of navigation between tight spaces e.g narrow hills, between trees or boulders etc. She advises that the objective here is to make the horse stay calm in order to proceed carefully through the tight spaces. She says that the horse must learn that when space is tight, he waits for the rider’s signal to ease his way through, so his default is to pause rather than rush.  
 
When times are tight, there is tendency to focus on the “go live” date in comparison to the unfinished work. The default is to increase hands, extend hours, work on weekends etc in a bid to meet the timelines. The project enters are “rush” rather than a pause mode. Sometimes staying calm becomes a distant vocabulary. The coffee flows to keep people awake and at such moments, people lose their heads and say or do things they ordinarily wouldn’t have done especially when they feel pushed too much and that pushing compromises their ability to meet the deadlines.
 
Proceeding one step at a time and pausing for a moment in each step enables easier navigation of tight spaces. Getting done what needs to be done today and pausing to review it enables a better visibility and traceability of steps without the adrenaline rush caused by awareness of the cliff on the side or the tight boulders. Waiting for a signal to proceed makes the progress much better and chances of successfully navigating much more easily. The objective is cross this terrain and remain intact not just to escape the intimidating objects posed by the terrain.
 
In conclusion, I think these are vital lessons to draw from this seemingly unrelated article to the subject matter. Enterprise transformation will bring with it a water splash situation that demands getting feet wet, a step over obstacles along the way, a steep incline of too many requirements or a decline of too few, a slog through of risks that need to be understood before being addressed and tight space of too little money for too large a project with too little time to execute. Those responsible for driving transformation must learn a thing or two from Ms Woods’ training in order to “have fun in extreme challenges”.
 
About the Author

Peter Muya, is an award enterprise transformation practitioner, possessing 15 years experience conducting mid and large-scale transformation projects in the telecommunications, financial services and public sector industries. He is the co-founder and a managing partner of PTI Consulting, a pan-African consulting practice providing ICT related business advisory services
 
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