Over the past year, I have encountered more businesses utilizing the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) to improve their results. Described in the book Traction by Gino Wickman, EOS provides tools and disciplines for managing a business to higher success.
There are of course many business books advocating various models and methods that business owners can choose from. Thanks to knowledge sharing from some EOS Implementers I know here in Houston, I am becoming a fan because its six components directly address common organization obstacles that IT leaders face.
One: "The Vision Thing"
Ask any IT leader what would make their job easier. They will almost always say that if the company has a clear business vision and roadmap, they can create an IT roadmap to generate value with technology. This is a similar theme to what is described in my blog about Turnaround situations.
There are many methods to align on a vision. EOS’s method emphasizes a 10 year target and a rolling three year picture. The rolling three year picture is what will guide the IT roadmap the most. But, IT leaders can significantly contribute the 10 year target by helping the overall leadership imagine how different a business they could create that far out.
- “Getting everyone in the organization aligned around a clear vision, and rowing in the same direction, acts as an amazing catalyst for growth. All functions, including IT, begin making more progress and faster progress after alignment is achieved.” - Lorie Clements, Professional EOS Implementer.
Ask any IT leader what a common obstacle to making progress is. They will often say that it is unclear who should be making decisions about IT investments and that different parts of the organization want to invest in different things.
IT leaders often create their own governance structure that operates alongside of standard hierarchy. EOS solves this problem by defining clearer accountabilities and putting in place a regular structure for planning and issue resolution (see below). There is no “IT governance”. IT decisions are fully integrated with all other decision-making under EOS. This is as it should be.
- “Bringing the leadership team together to agree and commit to IT priorities through the EOS system results in less frustration, wasted effort, and cost. When the team is crystal clear on the priorities and it’s communicated throughout the business, IT team members can focus on what they do best – delivering solutions, not debating.” Lorie Clements, Professional EOS Implementer.
This would seem to be the most obvious point where IT makes a huge difference. IT leaders are bombarded with technology pitches for Big Data and analytics. There is always more data to analyze!
However, one of the great things about EOS is it stresses simplicity. Having 5 to 10 key metrics that are straightforward to track weekly is the goal. So, as I mention in an article for CIO Review, it can be more productive for certain businesses to focus on what I call “little data” which is to target very specific pieces of information that will actually be used to make decisions. EOS covers this to a tee.
EOS has an issue solving track. Most importantly though, if a leadership team is aligned on a vision; has a clear organization with good people in the right roles; and agrees on what data to use to make decisions, then issue solving should become dramatically easier.
For an IT leader, having a standard approach to framing and solving issues is good. However, because EOS drives accountability and facts, an IT leader has to be transparent and able to make themselves understood to be an effective contributor to business decision-making. An EOS culture is a good framework to develop these skills together with other leaders.
- “An organization’s ability to succeed is inherently tied to its ability to solve its issues. Strong leaders must set the tone that it’s crucial to be open and honest about anything that is holding the organization back from achieving its vision.” - Lorie Clements, Professional EOS Implementer.
Similar to defining a vision (above), a company taking a process focus is the gift that keeps on giving for an IT leader. In the book, Gino describes how one business owner says that the secret of his success is consistency. While customization strategies can work for IT, the reality is that companies that focus on standardizing processes tend to have a higher success rate implementing base systems like ERPs. And, they tend to be able to run their IT more cost effectively.
In my experience, these processes do not have to be super-detailed flowcharts and narratives. As with metrics, simpler is often better. For most companies I work with, I spend time creating a one page description of how their business operates (a “Level 1” diagram) and a one page vision of how technology can support the business model. This can then spawn the detail plans that drive progress toward the vision. Which leads us to…
I think where EOS seeks to differentiate itself the most is how it takes all of the above decisions and translates it into achievable action plans. In the book, Gino describes how he noticed that leadership teams would start off aligned and then become misaligned about every 90 days. He opted to recognize this as a normal aspect of the process and took a practical approach of having companies define their tasks in 90 days milestones called “Rocks.”
- Crazy speculation: Maybe the 90 day window fits because most life on earth is adapted to the natural cycle of the seasons. If your plan required summer to last a whole year, you failed. So, maybe it’s in our DNA to move on to something else every 90 days.
For IT leaders, they will need to become skilled at having a longer term roadmap but knowing how to break the path into 90 day achievable chunks. When I worked at Lyondell Chemical, we utilized a quarterly release process for our SAP system. All major changes were bundled together once a quarter. In retrospect, we may have stumbled onto the adaptation that Gino uses.
Great Stuff, But Where to Start?
In Traction, Gino Wickman explains all of the above but then emphasizes that implementing EOS begins in phases. EOS Implementers like Lorie Clements (firstname.lastname@example.org) help companies navigate to meaningful and lasting improvements. A follow-up blog available here focuses on how business owners can incorporate IT into their EOS implementation even if they feel they lack expertise within their core leadership team.