Only the Swedes can change Sweden

Changing IBM is like trying to change Sweden, and it would require diplomatic and bureaucratic work.”
Edward Tufte

Interesting analogy from Edward Tufte. Give or take, IBM consists of around 400,000 employees globally (FWIW. Sweden has a population of around 9.5 million people). That’s a lot of people to persuade towards a future mode of operation, so Edward’s comment on Twitter is valid. But funnily enough, IBM has done a pretty good job of transforming itself multiple times over recent decades.

By comparison, Deutsche Telekom has around 225k people, British Telecom less than 100k, AT&T around 245k, China Telecom over 300k. Those small sample of figures also represent a lot of people to persuade. OSS / BSS transformations won’t directly touch every one of those employees, but they do have the potential to impact a fairly big percentage of them in some way, and that’s not even considering the number of impacted customers.

If Tufte is right (and I’d suggest he is), does this imply that OSS transformations at large CSPs would require diplomatic and bureaucratic work too? When kicking off an OSS project, how much effort do you dedicate to this type of “cultural” change?

I’ve seen multi-million dollar projects where the pre-planned cultural change was probably limited to 20 people x 2 weeks of training, or perhaps some train-the-trainer courses because it was the least-cost option proposed by the OSS vendors / integrators. As I always say, “OSS training isn’t a few courses, it’s an apprenticeship,” but organisational change is something else entirely!

What was interesting on those projects though was watching the unplanned diplomatic and bureaucratic work rapidly ramp up mid-flight when it inevitably became clear to project sponsors that they’d underestimated the organisational change efforts required (or perhaps they’d overestimated their organisation’s ability to evolve). But it takes more than a public domain copy of Dale Carnegie’s famous book to win friends and influence people.

To borrow from Tufte and metaphorically speaking, vendors will have little impact in changing Sweden. Only the Swedes can change Sweden.

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