If I Could Do It All Again... (11: Jim Whitworth)

If I could do it all again… I’d be bringing to that first project all sorts of experience and knowledge that I didn’t have at the time. The experience comes from that first and subsequent projects. The knowledge comes additionally from the maturing of the whole shared services industry over the last 10 years or so, with the accompanying availability of reading matter and opportunities for discussion among peers. Most of the experience would probably be beneficial, as hindsight often is, but the knowledge should be handled with care.

We should be wary of trying to package shared services into a single, neatly defined formula. The debates over relative merits, of  brownfield v greenfield, centralisation v shared services, legacy management v new recruits, what processes to include v what not to, etc., are healthy in that they feed our thoughts and help us form opinions, but we must never assume that there is one right answer under all circumstances. Our knowledge gained from others should broaden our range of options rather than narrowing them.              

Experience should give us the ability to understand what may be needed but not to assume that it must always be so. With experience comes the ability to  consider the options, to apply judgement, to prioritise, to avoid common mistakes and, most importantly, to challenge current perceived wisdom as well as adopting the tried and tested where appropriate.

But, perhaps, if I could do it all again,  there is one most critical thing I learnt from that first project, from subsequent projects and from a recurring theme in articles and presentations…….don’t underestimate the need for metrics and at least internal benchmarking of the "as-is", pre-shared services state. From that stems the equally important need to engage experienced existing internal staff within the project team to provide the understanding and validation of the "as-is" structure, processes and performance. It can be so easy to let enthusiasm for progress distract from the need to really understand what it is you’re trying to change in the first place. Later, when the performance of the shared services organisation is discussed, reviewed and sometimes criticised, the benchmarking of the "as-is" becomes invaluable.    

The challenge and excitement of a new shared services project comes as much from its unpredictability and the anticipation of new problems to solve as it does from the opportunity to apply our knowledge and experience towards another resounding success. Every shared services programme has similarities but each will certainly have considerable differences.

(If there's something you'd do differently if you could do it all again, why not let us know?  Email the editor with your thoughts - anonymity will be respected upon request!)

About the Author

Jim Whitworth cut his shared services teeth in the late '90s, building an EMEA SSC for one of the world’s largest software companies. He has subsequently developed shared service strategies worldwide and, working more recently as an independent consultant, has provided hands-on management support for shared services programmes in both the technology and manufacturing sectors. Jim has worked on programmes located in Western and Eastern Europe, separate from and inextricably linked to ERP implementation.  Email:  jim@hwml.fsnet.co.uk