Understand the situation


This post is part of a series on IT consulting.


When asked to provide a solution to a problem, step back and look at the environment as a whole. It helps to spend time understanding a situation before assuming you have appropriate ideas about changing it.

The first step in understanding a situation is to bound it. The situation you’re interested in will have a transformation process at its core.


Once you've uncovered the transformation, look at the environment that the transformation happens in. Someone starts a transformation. Someone measures and manages it, and someone decides when it should be changed. There are a number of useful perspectives of the evironment that, if understood, can help deliver a successful solution.

Organisational Culture

Culture is the outlook that an organisation has. It determines whether a problem is seen as a challenge or opportunity. It determines the nature and direction of decisions. A building society in the UK, for example, is typically more risk-averse than a bank. Government departments usually have complex procurement processes that are ritualistically followed with little or no regard for the suitability or fitness for purpose of the procured product or service. Also pay attention to the mantras. Some popular ones are dogmatic adherence to agile, SharePoint reverence, and the transformation obsession.


The environment consists of the immutable aspects of the transformation. This applies to anything that affects a transformation, but is unchangeable by it. An example could be an organisational pre-disposition towards iPads, even though all business services within the organisation are domain-joined to an Active Directory. Such constraints can be identified by assessing the organisation's technology landscape. In addition to the technology landscape, the transformation may be affected by regulatory requirements, competition, suppliers and customers.

Social System

The ways in which people relate to each other and to the transformation have a significant impact on the success or failure of your project. The social system within an organisation consists of its people's roles, values and norms.

  • Roles are the social positions that people recognise as important. Contrast this with organisational positions or job titles, such as manager, business analyst or developer. A developer might, for example, assume the role of mentor, confidant or sales person. Each role says something significant about what's important to the transformation and the organisation as a whole.
  • Norms describe the expected behaviour of people. Is it ok to arrive at work in shorts and a t-shirt? Some organisations, for example, have the expectation that employees remain signed into instant messenger applications while at the office.
  • Values are used to judge perfomance in a role. In the instant messenger example, being signed in might be construed as a sign of productivity.

Asking people directly about roles, norms and values doesn't always work, especially when you're new and have yet to gain people's trust. Instead, pay attention to people's behaviours, body langauage and work habits to make inferences.

Power and Politics

Finally, gain an awareness of the political landscape that the transformation occurs in.

Home | Blog | Photos | Contact | About

Wittenburg.co.uk and all content copyright 1995-2019 by Michael Wittenburg, unless otherwise stated.
All content on this site is licensed under the Creative Commons license, unless otherwise stated.

Wittenburg.co.uk uses a single session cookie because it's required by the tech underlying the site (Microsoft ASP.NET). The cookie stores no information and seves no functional purpose.