In a previous blog, I spoke of the fact that the rate of failures in digital projects hasn’t changed much, despite more than 50 years of history and countless methodologies, advice and books, ICT projects keep failing.

Today I will talk about one of these frameworks that date from the early 60s. The framework is one of the most often quoted; People, Process and Technology (PPT).

People, Process Technology Framework

The PPT framework is all about how these three elements come together and interact to deliver an outcome. The people do the work. Processes make this work more efficient. Technology helps people do their tasks and helps automate the processes. Sounds simple, doesn’t it.

An effective way to think of the framework is to think of it as a three-legged stool. If one of the legs is a bit longer or shorter, the whole stool will lose its balance. So, if the technology changes, you need to modify the people and processes to adapt to the new tools.

For example, over the past 2 years, many organisations have implemented new collaborative capabilities (MS Teams, Zoom) to support the remote working requirements. However, technology is only as effective as the processes utilising it and the people who drive it. Have organisations made the necessary changes to people and processes to fully realise the benefits of these capabilities?

If organisations haven’t implemented optimised processes, the remote work context and the efforts of the people will be highly ineffective. They’ll also waste a lot of the possible value that could be created through these technologies. If people don’t have the right skillset and mindset to operate in this new paradigm, then the organisations won’t create value from their investment.

Thus, businesses need to find the right balance between these three critical components.

The PPT framework encourages organisations to think multi-dimensionally. But what do these three components encompass?

The PPT Framework

The People

The “people” refers to the human resources available at the organisation’s disposal. The people are the ones who do the tasks described in the process, sometimes by leveraging the technology. It encompasses the skillset as well as the mindset and culture of the organisation.

Often, organisations fall into the trap of the people element being all about the need to get a buy-in from the people. Buy-in is essential; staff need to understand what they have to do, why they’re doing it, and how the changes affect them. But it is just as essential to upskill staff in the future, empowering them to obtain the skills necessary to be effective.

The Process

A process is the steps or actions that combine to produce a particular outcome. The process in the PPT framework mostly defines the “how” aspect. How will we achieve the desired result? How do we utilise people and technology to solve business problems? Processes are repeatable actions that theoretically produce the same result independent of who performs them.

The Technology

The technology provides the tools that people can use to implement the process. It also helps automate some parts of the process. It’s very tempting to get attracted to shiny new tools. However, organisations need to ensure that the technology fits into the organisation. Trying to implement an open, collaborative capability in a closed command and control style organisation just won’t work.

Too often companies make huge investments into technology, then try to fit the people and process into this modern technology, or they constrain and adapt the technology to fit the current state of people and process. Technology is nothing without people following the right process to optimise it.

Challenge for Digital Transformation

How we view the PPT framework shapes our approach and the outcome.

Some see an equilateral triangle when they think of the PPT Framework. Each side represents one of the elements. If one element is out of balance, the triangle becomes lopsided and unbalanced.

Others choose to see the intermingling of the three elements as a Venn diagram with three circles. Each circle represents one of the elements. This shows that the elements exist on their own as well as with one another.

That was Ok for a long time, let’s face it the framework has been around for 80 years. For many years the only use of technology was through work, change was slow, and expectations were manageable. In the modern digital age, almost everyone is exposed to technology of some form in their day to day lives. Expectations on what is achievable through digital have grown, but also as people interact through different mechanisms, organisation cultures are also changing. Modern digital strategies now talk about adaptability and agility, which is challenging the balance.

The key to transformation success is understanding that although they all must stay in balance, they each also provide the drivers and enablers for change in the other elements.

To be clear, all three of these elements must balance one another and drive your new state. The three elements may exist independently, but they do influence one another. This means that the actions of one component will drive the state of the other two.

If you change any one element such as technology, you’ll see changes in people and processes. In fact, as soon as you change one element, the relationship with the other two changes, which will inevitably drive change.

For example, if I implement a workflow tool to automate some actions in a process, which will free up people to look at other improvement opportunities, which will influence changes to the process that will drive new requirements for technology. A change in one will always drive a change in the others as the same driving and enabling relationships exist with each intersection.

Some people refer to the relationship between these three elements as a ‘triple constraint.’ If one element shifts, the other two must do so as well. Without compensation, the three elements would fall out of balance.

When considering the balance, another way of looking at the framework is that the elements are like three planets in orbit with each other. They exert forces of attraction and repulsion to maintain balance.

Once these relationships fall out of balance there will be a cascade as the forces reassert themselves to restore balance. Without action, these will lead to failures, mishaps, and more.

How to cope

To help respond to this new paradigm here are some initial steps:

  • People are the key resource and constraint as they take the longest to change. When embarking on a change consider the cultural impacts first, designing a change strategy from the outset to ensure all three elements can deliver change in synchronised steps.
  • When eliciting requirements, consider the impact of the current culture on them. Identifying requirements for a modern digital collaboration capability, in a legacy analogue organisation, will not achieve the desired outcome. Elicit requirements from those with the skillset and toolset to support your new state.
  • Design technology solutions with adaptability and change as key requirements. In an adaptable organisation, technology needs to be able to respond to the changing culture and process needs. Cloud-based platforms and services enable organisations to rapidly adapt processes and ways of working while keeping the technology safe and secure.
  • When designing processes, assess their impact on the people and technology. If your organisation is not set up to fully embrace the new process, define a change plan to bring all three areas back into balance. Trying to implement new processes without the supporting capabilities will lead to frustration and failure.

Understanding the balance between these elements can be difficult in organisations. The balance is different for each organisation so don’t assume a standard change approach, take some time to gain a better understanding of the relationships between people, processes and technology and the impact they have on each other, in your organisation, when designing a change program.

Next Steps

If you would like to talk more about the challenges of Digital Transformation or how I could help with your own initiatives, contact me via the link below.