Experiences Nov 12, 2020

The Impediment Breaker – A cross-team tool for digitalisation programs.

Digitalisation programs and projects often have to battle with the same old issues. The Impediment Breaker can help. Read on to find out how it works.

Share article

Michael Möllers
Consultant Digital Solutions

“Leverage digitalisation” is a mantra that is preached again and again. Sadly, digitalisation programs and projects often come up against issues that impact their success: A patchy overview of the program, control elements that are often used in the wrong place entirely or used inefficiently, a lack of cross-functional agreement and chaos within and between teams.

A leading German energy company had to face up to these challenges several years ago and, after many attempts at organising itself both in a more traditional manner (with to-do lists and GANTT charts) and more flexibly, it finally developed their own solution—Impediment Breaker. The Impediment Breaker consolidates methods and tools which are aimed at creating transparency into overarching topics, and delivers a better way of managing complex programs and projects. I’ll explain how it works using the following five topics.

  1. 1. A brief overview of the program.

The digitalisation program’s team lead presents any topics that affect multiple teams within a pre-defined framework in a one or two week cycle. These topics come under the categories, problems, successes and next steps. In order to only report on the topics that are of interest to a larger group, the team leads bundle, extract and check numerous team-internal micro-topics such as user stories and to-dos for their relevance for others, before finally uploading the filtered results to the software. The team lead has a maximum of 5 minutes to present these topics, and should they be of no relevance to other teams or the presentation take longer than the allotted time, the moderator intervenes. This means that the participants (e.g. management and team leads) have a compact overview of the program within a very short period of time.

The benefit of this overview is that team leads are in a position to coordinate their activities, which is essential as, when it comes to digitalisation projects, there are so many known and unknown dependencies between teams. Of course, in an ideal world, if a dependency is known, the teams should discuss them outside of these kind of meetings, but in reality, this isn’t always possible to do in advance. By holding meetings, previously unknown dependencies come to light and can be actively addressed.

This compact overview and the cross-team coordination makes regular meetings so valuable that participants will want to take part, creating an air of transparency even within a large group.

  1. 2. Eliminate problems.

As just described, team leads report problems that affect multiple teams, but that’s not the only requirement that has to be fulfilled as the team leads only present problems for which they need external support. Any issues that can be addressed within the own team are not presented.

Team leads are encouraged to present problems within this framework and do so willingly as from the various participants with differing backgrounds, there is normally someone who can help. Of course, not many problems are resolved within the 5-minute time limit, but it provides an opportunity to make an issue public and after the meeting has concluded, participants can create a team to collaborate on finding a solution. In this respect, this jour fixe is a way to initiate problem resolutions and therefore increases the success of the program as a whole.

Typically, any solutions for acute issues are hashed out in management and stand-up meetings or by task forces and tend to be relatively closed processes, limiting access to available expertise. In contrast, an Impediment Breaker meeting creates so much value that it is characterised by being open and having a large group of participants, and therefore delivers a large pool of expertise.

  1. 3. For and because of culture.

In order for the above-described support and expertise sharing to work, it needs to be backed by a suitable company culture that embeds values such as trust, responsibility, focus and honesty, which in turn facilitate communication between employees and collaboration to resolve problems. If this isn’t the case, the Impediment Breaker won’t succeed. Collaboration and support that the program can facilitate are rooted in transparency, review and adaptation.

Although the Impediment Breaker needs these values to work, it’s not only built on them, but can also strengthen them to a certain degree and practice has shown that collaboration and support between employees has given a boost to corporate identity. Successes are the result of the work of many teams that had to consult and coordinate with each other beforehand. It has become clear that in the companies where the program is used saying “thank you” has become increasingly important when it comes to collaboration, fostering the will to collaborate and a more positive tone.

  1. 4. “What you see is what you see” – Minimalism is embedded in the software.

The described framework is itself supported by an in-house developed software, designed according to the principle of minimalism which puts the focus on simplicity and only the most essential features, so the tool only comprises status information, the related presentation mode, an archive and dashboard, which serves as a central contact point where links to feature backlogs or organigrams for example, are collected and can therefore be used as a point of reference.

Limiting the available features to only those which are essential saves time compared to conventionally used Excel and PowerPoint templates, which also mean that document admins no longer have to worry about preparing or reworking templates in the Impediment Breaker software. The software automates processes such as creating, sending and saving reports, reducing overheads.

It’s not only meeting admins that benefit from the Impediment Breaker, but team leads, too. The time needed to update statuses is reduced thanks to the software’s pre-fill feature, plus, they will automatically be reminded when they haven’t  submitted an update or when they have been assigned a problem.

The question is, how does the Impediment Breaker compare to well-known project management tools such as MS Project and Jira? The main difference is that existing software focusses on micro-managing individual tasks, teams and sub-projects through the in-depth detail of displayed content (e.g. user stories, to-dos, GANTT charts), in stark contrast to the Impediment Breaker which is all about macro-management. As mentioned before, micro-content such as user stories lays the groundwork for the team lead’s report. These are then bundled, extracted and checked for their relevance before being presented. Within teams, micro-management tools and methods such as Scrum and Waterfall continue to be used. Impediment Breaker is used to gain an overview and develop solutions and this minimalist solution is now being leveraged in a growing number of environments.

  1. 5. Other prospects – PMO as a Service.

The solution has proven itself in many areas of application and has been further developed. It has been proven that introducing Impediment Breaker is particularly successful if there is already some experience in all aspects of customer support (e.g. understanding the operational environment, planning and implementation) and with the tool, and we at Bechtle already have experience of the tool in a range of different application areas.

Ultimately, digitalisation admins must ask themselves whether their programs and projects are running as well as they could be. The challenges presented by these programs are both well-known and extensive, but the Impediment Breaker is the solution. By bundling methodology and tools, a framework is created in which cross-team agreements and decisions can be made, consigning challenges such as an incomplete overview and incorrectly placed control elements to the history books.