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Making quick wins your springboard to success

Aga Wicinska

CIO Update

4 November 2009

Many organisations that are working on service improvement programs identify “quick wins” as a tactical way to create short-term visible improvements, relieving pressure points affecting customer perception of services and generating confidence in delivery capability amongst stakeholders.

However, despite the good intentions of delivering quick wins, organisations often fail to deliver expected outcomes, resulting in a loss of stakeholder confidence and frustration amongst the business and IS staff.

Avoiding this demoralising outcome should be a matter of priority for service improvement teams. Following some simple rules for managing quick wins will increase the likelihood that you’ll deliver those vital early gains, which are your springboard to longer-term success.

Define what a “quick win” is

Don’t take it for granted that everyone knows what you mean by ‘quick win’; there is a good chance that people will understand the term slightly differently. It is crucial at the outset to clearly define what “quick win” means to your program, your team and – most importantly – your customers and sponsor. Agreeing a timescale that represents “quick” delivery, and defining what success will look and feel like for your customers, will avoid wasting time on unproductive discussions about why you haven’t achieved what was actually expected.

Typically, a quick win should take no longer than 3 months to deliver, but make sure that your timescales match the sponsor’s expectations; it may be that they are looking for a faster outcome. And bear in mind that you can’t always implement a permanent fix when the pressure is on to make fast improvements, so the outcome of a quick win can be a temporary (tactical) step to relieve a specific pressure point. Make sure your customers understand that if this is the case, it may require you to spend additional time later on in the improvement project to make the fix permanent.

Agree what you want to fix and stick to your scope

Managing scope is important for all projects, but the short timescales and high visibility of quick wins means that it is vital to maintain your focus and avoid getting burdened with additional requirements which will derail your delivery. Prioritising your efforts and sticking to a few, key outcomes will give you a much higher chance of success than trying to hit all of your target issues at once.

Make sure that each of your quick wins has a defined problem statement which relates to an outcome that can be “seen and felt”; if you aren’t working on things that have a visible result, you will have a much tougher task proving that you’re making a real difference. And fixing some of the key pressure points quickly is preferable to delivering a new process which is hidden away in the background.

Once you’ve agreed your list of outcomes, fix the scope and stick to it. Don’t allow ‘just one more thing’ to be badged as a quick win, and avoid the temptation to replace items on the list – your timescales and limited resources won’t allow you to keep starting new tasks. If and when new things come up, add them to a list which will be worked on when the current list is complete!

Use your “rising stars” to lead recovery

When you’re up against it to provide quick wins, you need to make sure you are using your very best people to deliver them. Finding quick solutions requires quick-thinking; delivering to short timescales needs people who can break down barriers, get others involved and who don’t taken no for an answer. Strong and effective leadership is required from the outset, so make sure that your quick wins efforts are led by someone who is absolutely committed to achieving the outcomes and is prepared to “take the doors off” to get things done.

This doesn’t mean relying on your senior team; use the energy, enthusiasm and fresh thinking of your rising stars, and give them a chance to shine. Their involvement will act as a stimulus to other members of the team to get involved and will generate a stronger culture of participation within the organisation. Using people with cross- functional experience and good links into the customer / business organisation (e.g. client service managers) will also provide the vital connections that make things happen.

Expect to have to re-prioritise workloads and make sure you agree how much time your team will need to dedicate to the task, especially if they have BAU delivery to deal with as well.

Communicate regularly and make it a two-way process

Speaking to your customers and teams about the activities you plan to undertake and listening to their views about the effects you are having along the way, should be a fundamental part of quick wins delivery.

Engage in dialogue with your customers as soon as you can to confirm whether the things you are working on match their priorities and be open to their suggestions. In some cases, it may help achieve a quick outcome if customers assist in delivery – for example, where a business process needs to be changed - so make sure you get their commitment to be involved, if you need it.

As well as talking to customers, don’t forget to make sure that the whole team knows what is going on and what the short-term priorities are. Again, make this a two-way dialogue, so that you can draw out ideas and suggestions from the wider group. Add quick wins progress to the agenda of regular team meetings, so that the profile of the activities is maintained; the short timescales you are working with mean that you will need to communicate “little and often” – not just at the start and end of your delivery. Any silence will be assumed to mean that nothing is going on and impetus will be lost.

Make sure the whole team is ready to contribute and celebrate when you succeed

Delivering quick wins isn’t just up to a few individuals; speedy outcomes depend on support and commitment from customers, colleagues and suppliers or partners. The whole department needs to know that quick wins delivery is a priority, and everyone will need to be prepared to contribute to support the cause.

Make sure that your suppliers are aware of the priority of your activities, and use their capability to help delivery, temporarily reprioritising existing initiatives they are working on, if necessary.

You will find that successfully delivering quick wins will provide a major boost to people’s appetite for continued improvement and to their commitment to deliver longer-term outcomes. So share the successes you achieve as widely as possible – this is your big chance to shout about the fact that something of value has been delivered and ensure the contribution of all involved is acknowledged.

What should you do now?

Following these simple rules for managing quick wins will lead to a higher likelihood of delivering successful and timely outcomes. Take a critical look at how your quick wins have been defined. Is the scope clear and fixed? Have you kept everyone informed about what you’re doing? Have you succeeded in delivering what you wanted to achieve and if you have, does everyone know?

The key things you should have in place are:

  • Your agreed timescales

  • Your list of activities and outcomes

  • Your core team of quick win “deliverers”

  • Two-way communication


Aga Wicinska is a consultant analyst in PA Consulting Group’s IT Management & Operations practice. She has a depth of knowledge and experience in IT Services Management within ITIL oriented environments, and has developed processes and procedures compliant with ITIL methodology. 

ITIL® is a Registered Trade Mark of the AXELOS Limited.

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