What to do in the first 30 days of an IT turnaround?

There are two types of objective in the critical first 30 days; the short term ones that should be completed in the first week or so and the remainder that can take the rest of the 30 days. Those in the second category often need input from the short term objectives in order to proceed.

5/20/20245 min read

Short term objectives for the first 7 days

So, let's consider the four short term ones first. For this process to be most effective and expose the most efficient, pragmatic solutions, you need to have the mind set that you are an IT Assessor. In other words, you are here to watch and review as an outsider (at least initially anyway)::

1. Meet and Greet

Meet everybody in the department, the senior management, major customers and the key suppliers. You may not get to meet everyone in the department on a 1-2-1 basis in the first hours as there may simply not be enough hours in the day. However, as a minimum, meet your stakeholders, your direct reports and the key suppliers that you would be relying on to deliver projects and/or services.

2. What do you ask?

The questions that you ask each group are different. For example, questions to the internal IT staff could be: name 3 things that we do well and 3 that we don't. If you get time then a final question would be "if you could change 3 things then what would you change and why?". For the senior management and other stakeholders, the questions revolve around what do they see as the most pressing issues and what does success would look like. Prepare in advance a number of questions for each group and swap them around so that people don't know what is coming. Nonetheless, try to keep them reasonably similar so that if you are making notes, you can concentrate on the answers and any follow-up questions. Hopefully, in the first few 1-2-1s with stakeholders, some common themes should develop. However, it is not unusual for these themes to not match what was discussed when you applied for the role. There is likely to be nothing sinister in this fact; it is simply that you are being relied on to actually diagnose the root causes of the challenges. I often use some of the questions highlighted in a couple of other blog posts, namely: 10 questions to help you know if your IT department needs some help and What to do if your IT department is broken.

3. Review the product offering

This is important from both a technical viewpoint and also from a business one. Part of this is looking at competitors and their offering and analysing the differences. A review of the limitations of the architecture together with a review of the proposed development roadmap gives an indication of where the product is likely to end up over the next 12-18 months or so. This together with the competitiveness analysis can often provide several important building blocks for a strategic plan. It is also important that during this part of the process, you look at the licensing for the product and in particular, any software libraries used or referenced within it. Open source licensing is generally fine but occasionally, you can come across copyleft licenses and that can be a big risk to the commerciality of the product. Additionally, it is worth asking questions around the IT and Cyber Security at this stage. If there has been a potential breach then make sure to drill down until you fully understand what happened, the effects and what has changed as a consequence.

4. Product differentiators

The final objective at this stage is to look for short, medium and long term differentiators between the current product offering and any competitors. This is where the 'dreams' that have been pent up within the organisation are brought out into the cold light of day and dispassionately reviewed. Often, at least one and usually several more of these make it onto the strategic plan, with a business sponsor for each one. The review process that involves all of the stakeholders and as much factual data as is available, is vital for the future success of the IT turnaround. It starts to cement a discipline into the wider organisation that will stand it in good stead for the trials that are yet to come.

Objectives for the remainder of the 30 days

Having completed the early objectives, it is time to move on to the three remaining objectives. These will take the remainder of the 30 days and once defined and agreed with all parties will form the basis of a 'contract' with the business. Deliver on these short term and strategic goals whilst still maintaining a very high availability for the production systems and success is assured. That being said, changes occur all the time so being able to be flexible with the plans and understanding of the need to change them is also important. In fact, it is a good idea to review the plans at least once a month, ideally with all of the business stakeholders, to ensure that they are still right for all concerned. It is also important to be able to explain the impact of decisions and ideally, on an immediate basis. This allows for decisions to be made quickly and acted upon swiftly. As those impacts become better understood, there is the opportunity to guide the decision making towards the most efficient solutions (where these make sense).

The remaining objectives for the rest of the first 30 days, build on what has been discovered and understood so far. Those objectives are:

5. Tactical Plan

Continue putting together a tactical plan to address any time-critical issues and decisions. Merge this plan with the short-term objectives mentioned in (4) above. Review the merged plan for resource issues and budget constraints, and then schedule accordingly. Communicate and agree with the stakeholders and then cascade across the IT organisation and relevant suppliers, having got the 'buy-in' of the IT management team first. If possible, cascade across the entire organisation.

6. Strategic Plan

Use the medium and long term objectives from 4 (above) as some of the building blocks for a 2-3 year strategic plan. Add to the strategic plan any technology requirements that are necessary to deliver the plan as well as any requirements that are necessary to maintain very high levels of system availability. Again, communicate and agree with all stakeholders the plan, then discuss with the IT management team before cascading across the entire organisation (or at the very least IT).

7. IT organisation review

Conduct a review of the IT organisation from a structural perspective. I cover some of this review in another blog post (Reviewing the Technology team during an IT due diligence assessment) which may be helpful as a starting point. Do this on your own, at least initially, in order to prevent staff from having unnecessary worry. However, if necessary, do get external help, particularly if partial or complete outsourcing is actively being considered. If IT is not really business aligned then fill some key positions with people from the business. Again, communication and agreement with stakeholders, IT management and any other concerned parties is vital for this objective to be achieved.

The first 30 days are absolutely critical to the overall success of an IT turnaround. Get off on the right foot, deliver some short term objectives and the organisation will rally round behind you. Don't do so and it will be extremely difficult to recover both the momentum and the "hearts and minds" of the wider organisation. So prepare well and if you happen to be in this position then I wish you good luck. If I can help in any way then please use the contact tab on the right or my contact details at the bottom of this page to get in touch.

All the best