A Tablet Project Using Systems Thinking

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International 4-8-2012

Table PCPart A – LEAD
Join me as we touch on all four stages of Lead, Think, Plan, Act in a tour of the now very hot  tablet market. What I’m talking about are those book or folder-sized computers that include the ubiquitous iPad and Kindle variations and a whole bunch of mostly Windows-based computers, and now Android-based ones, we all call tablets.

Their legitimacy in the business world is literally on the pace of a Southern California firestorm. Today we are going to explore some Systems Thinking techniques that can be applied to the deployment of tablets in the workplace. Mind you, many topics we’ll cover actually apply generically to mobile computing devices in general (e.g.: smartphones), so please keep your mind open, yes, like an open system, as you take this journey with me today. I will use the Lead, Think, Plan, Act  framework to illustrate how Systems Thinking can be applied to a project involving these tablets.

You might first think this is about early adopters and you are correct, but that’s not really the point. Discovering new ground is risky but the payoff can be great and exciting, and the risk can be mitigated enough to justify the effort. The point is THINKING systemically about how to lead your organization into the adoption of tablets in the workplace. Stephen R. Covey says “begin with the end in mind” and that applies here in spades as it does in any planning.

I propose we consider deploying a tablet solution in a warehouse setting. Let’s first ask the REALLY important question: “How is this going to impact our customer?” That is our “end in mind”, isn’t it?  If our actions do not support delivering a better product, faster and less expensively to our customer, then why are we doing it?

Because tablets are cool? That kind of thinking will eventually get you fired or your project will fail. Where does leadership fall into this process? Simply having the discipline to recognize that LEAD is the first step in considering our project is a great start!  Now our job is to gather the other leading stakeholders in the project and rally them around creating some structures and processes to follow. One suggested structure is this framework of Lead, Think, Plan, Act, essentially the motto of the Association for Strategic Planning.

Ensuring each stakeholder has a clear role in the process is a key element to support sustainable outcomes, so leading this project requires defining those roles for the stakeholders and gaining their buy-in for those roles. Some roles will be functional and others will be cross-functional. Having clarity on each of these elements will create the stay-in necessary to support the implementation of the project. The project leader should manage the interpersonal relationships involved and facilitate the creation of communication resources to support effective communications among the stakeholders.

Another part of our jobs as leaders is to facilitate gaining the consensus of the stakeholders to pursue a task. In this case the task is to explore the feasibility, costs, ROI, value to the customer and, yes, the unintended consequences of deploying tablets in our warehouse. I am not proposing a brain-storming session here folks. My research tells me those sessions rarely pay off compared to disciplined, well-facilitated processes. As leaders we may have to inform and engage stakeholders such as executives outside our direct reporting lines, vendors, customers and perhaps outside counsel, legal and PR, depending on the products we handle.

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