“Inadequate on a good day.”
That’s how Peter Baskette described IT operations management when he first joined Riverbed Technology in early 2017. The IT department was using a dated on-premise tool. It was woefully underpowered, lacking even fundamental modules like change and project problem management.
His team lacked the tools to understand the context behind their colleague’s challenges and problems. They couldn’t track, analyze, and understand trends. As such, they had slipped into a highly transactional role.
But that was all about to change.
Baskette brought fresh eyes and new enthusiasm to the department. He latched on to an underlying desire for change and drove a comprehensive transformation of IT processes and technology. Not only did he improve the IT department’s operational performance, but he also ushered in a new strategic role for the business unit.
PEOPLE, PROCESS, AND TECHNOLOGY
Faced with a monumental task—updating Riverbed’s IT team, while the company was still operating—Baskette used a three-part framework to separate the challenge into smaller pieces:
The second and third components were easy, he says. By introducing an IT service management (ITSM) structure and adopting ITIL best practices, Baskette had a library of proven processes to call on. All he needed to do was tweak and refine them to fit Riverbed’s nuances. And the department had already selected a replacement tool: Freshservice. The platform had all the modules and functionality Baskette required, and he was impressed at the tool’s pace of development
With process and technology ticked off, Baskette turned his attention to the remaining element: people.
“It was only the people portion of my framework that was not clear from the outset,” he explains.
EIGHT STEPS FOR LEADING CHANGE
For five decades, John Kotter has educated the next generation of business leaders at Harvard Business School. In 2012, he condensed some of those learnings into a book called ‘Leading Change,’ updated slightly two years later in ‘Accelerate.’
One of his most impactful lessons was an eight-part process for leading change. It was this framework that Baskette used at Riverbed.
Step #1 — Create a sense of urgency
Baskette knew how dire Riverbed’s legacy technology was. He recognized how it was negatively impacting the organization and recognized how those detriments would compound over time. The problem was that few other people shared his insight.
He collected the key justifications for change—the demoralizing experience of using the old tool, compliance and regulation challenges, productivity woes—and built a solid business case. To strengthen his argument, Baskette obtained an executive mandate from the Chief Information Officer.
With strong evidence and clear direction from the C-suite, Baskette created a sense of urgency that permeated throughout the organization.
Step #2 — Build a guiding coalition
Like many Changemakers, Baskette recognized that dictating from above rarely engendered sustainable change. For everyone to support his transformation, it needed to be their transformation also.
Baskette began recruiting participants to a guiding coalition. That’s a group of volunteers sourced from across the organization who act as a voice for employees. They debate issues, provide guidance, and challenge leadership.
“Our guiding coalition hashed out all of the areas of discussion and tension,” he says. “We covered things that may seem obvious: how many groups do we define? What are the services we offer? What is our service portfolio? What are our SLAs? What does the process flow look like?”
The composition of the coalition was key to its success, says Baskette. It needed representation from across all departments. For Riverbed, that meant its network team, services team, application team, and so on.
Baskette was also careful to recruit people with different levels of enthusiasm. I looked for folks who were skeptical,” he explains.
Having folks who are going to pressure test your solutions helps you understand why they won't work or why they’re inadequate.
As well as being useful sources of information, detractors were great potential success stories. If he could engage them in the process and convert them into advocates, Baskette knew he would soften up other potential hold-outs in the company.
Step #3 — Form a strategic vision and initiatives
Change shouldn’t exist for change’s sake, especially when it’s disruptive to an organization. To keep colleagues and co-workers on his side, Baskette created a strong vision for the transformation and articulated it across the organization. By tying the upcoming disruption to potential pay-offs and benefits, he got ahead of any objections.
Step #4 — Enlist a volunteer army
If the guiding coalition is the brain of the transformation, the volunteer army is the muscle. These folk take ideas and make them happen. Unlike the diverse guiding coalition, the volunteer army is consistently bought in and energized. They’re there to rally around the initiative and drive progress.
Baskette deployed his volunteer army in myriad roles, including product testing, user feedback, and socialization. It’s this last function that he highlights as particularly important. Each team and individual has a unique viewpoint. When presented with potential disruption to their working environment and practices, they all want to know, “What’s in it for me?” His volunteers took the conversation to those individuals and teams. They sought to understand each individual's viewpoint and explain how the transformation would benefit them personally.
Step #5 — Enable action by removing barriers
The main driver behind Riverbed’s IT transformation was simple: The old tool was stopping engineers and technicians from doing their work. While Kotter’s fifth step technically encompassed the whole project, Baskette still searched for standalone opportunities to improve processes immediately.
By stripping away convoluted systems and unnecessary red tape, he allowed people the freedom to work more efficiently and drive a greater impact—long before the transformation proper had delivered results.
Step #6 — Generate short-term wins
Although Baskette talks about Riverbed’s transformation as one project, he says it was really a mosaic of seven smaller initiatives. The base implementation came first. Then he deployed each of the modules: change management, major incident management, request fulfillment, and so on
Each of these parts was like a miniature transformation and Baskette celebrated it as a discrete short-term win.
Step #7 — Sustain acceleration
Celebrating each milestone structuralized momentum. Each one built on the step before, increasing buy-in, confidence, and trust. With wider and deeper support, Baskette could push harder on each subsequent milestone, accelerating the pace of change and sowing the seeds for wider transformation.
“ You're demonstrating the success of delivering the milestone in a way that builds on itself, he says. “There’s a cumulative effect. Success begets success and it naturally evolves from there.”
Step #8 — Institute change
Riverbed’s IT department was only the start. As the transformation neared its end, Baskette began searching for other opportunities for improvement. He found his next targets in human resources, facilities, and billing
As service-based departments, he believed they would benefit from a powerful service management tool. He pitched the department heads on transforming their service and they agreed.
“This was a huge step forward for each department,” he explains. “They went from using nothing but email to having access to all of these features and benefits. It allowed them to step up their game in a major way and track a lot of information that they hadn't been able to.”.
TWO WAYS TO FRAME IMPROVEMENT
Reflecting on Riverbed’s IT transformation, Baskette highlights two ways to think about his results.
The first is short-term and operational. Overhauling Riverbed’s processes and introducing Freshservice allowed the IT department to work more efficiently. Workflows were “immediately cleaner, easier, and better understood.”
“There was an immediate uplift to our operations,” he says. “Since we were able to provide a better service, there was a net improvement to the company.”
The second framing is long-term and strategic. While “almost imperceptible,” Baskette says this improvement is almost more important. With access to new data and insights, Baskette and his team can now contribute to strategic conversations.