IT Management: A Million Reasons Why We Fail – a Continual Improvement Journey
Okay, so I might have taken a few liberties with the use of “million” in my blog title. However, if you can bear with me, I’ll try to show how I came to use this title. Over the years, I’ve worked with all manner of companies – from the niche player to the global mega-corporations. The patterns of chaos, however, seem to blur into one. And it has me thinking, and now writing, about why this happens and what we should be doing about it.
Let’s start with technology management capabilities
Now this isn’t a scientific analysis, but my anecdotal view is that the world is cut up into businesses which fall into a few categories where business technology management is concerned:
|The Leaders||The Maintainers||The Struggling||The Really Struggling|
|Probably less than 10% of the organizations I’ve worked with over the last 12 years sit in this category. These companies lead the pack and drive innovation and best practice.||Sometimes I come across organizations that are in a fairly good state, however their capabilities tend to be focused on traditionally strong areas.||Most of the organizations I’ve seen in my career so far would fit into this camp.||These organizations often have large cultural challenges on top of severe process and technology technical debt.|
This table might look a little bleak. However, if we look at the pace of technology innovation and adoption trends, would we really expect the level of technology deployment in businesses to be in a highly-mature state?
Maybe I’ve been unlucky, and the world is in a far better state than I get to see. But if you look at the colossal level of failure in technology projects, the level of security breaches, etc. you can probably at least appreciate that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows out there!Here @UK_Daniel_Card looks at the common traits in organizations that are struggling with getting a good handle on business technology management. Click To Tweet
The struggling 60%
So, what are the common traits I see and hear in organizations that are struggling with getting a good handle on business technology management?
I’m going to abstract here, because it’s too complex (in my opinion) to draw out every domain. So, I’m going to focus on the leadership, management, and cultural statements I run into:
- We don’t have a strategy! If we had a strategy this would be fixed…
- We would have completed this on time if we had the right skills…
- We can’t produce the report because the data is bad…
- We don’t trust the data…
- I can’t trust the team to deliver, we then end up outsourcing project implementation. But this creates operational headaches down the line…
- I can’t decide because I can’t be sure the information I’m being given is right…
- IT is viewed as a utility function, not a business differentiator…
I could go on, but one thing I’ve observed is that mindset seems to play an important role in why organizations struggle.
The losing mindset
I can parallel this with personal observations outside the workplace. Often, I’ve overhead conversations that go something like this…
Person A: “I could do a far better job but [insert a million reasons why they’re not able to succeed].”
Me: “If your mindset starts with reasons (or excuses?), then you can’t win. You’ve lost before you’ve even begun.”
Person A: “But they won’t let me…”
This is something I’ve seen time and time again… where there are reasons/excuses provided that create a losing mindset from the start, that seem to project an immediate failing position.
The real question here is why do these traits seem to repeat, not only on a personal level but also in a department or team cultural position?
In the back of my head I often have the wise words of Jedi Master Yoda pop up:
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, hate leads to suffering”
It might be fear that’s creating the path here. Because if people provide the reasons why they can’t win upfront, they’re somehow alleviating their fear of failure. Plus, in such cases, they can retort when things don’t work out: “I said so!”Mindset seems to play an important role in why organizations struggle with business technology management - @UK_Daniel_Card Click To Tweet
An iterative (dare I say it, continual improvement) approach
If you can relate to the picture I’m painting above, then don’t fret, it’s not all doom and gloom. The good news is that we don’t need to throw in the towel just yet… we can change things!
If we take an iterative approach to improvement, then we can start to break down some of the challenges we face. I’m going to go back to my sample statements from before, but this time round I’m going to suggest some iterative actions which can be taken to combat these (this approach may require bolstering depending upon your organization’s size, scale, complexity, etc.):
|Challenge||Possible Iterative Approach|
|We don’t have a strategy! If we had a strategy this would be fixed…||Make strategy part of the day-to-day and make time in regular team meetings to include strategy discussion. Capture this centrally and develop a set of principles with your team. Don’t make strategy a “point in time game,” the market and business constantly evolve, your strategy should as well!|
|We would have completed this on time if we had the right skills…|
|Take stock of your current state, work out your strengths, weaknesses, and gaps. Invest in enabling your people. Perhaps set aside dedicated training time on a regular basis. Use “show and tell” and collaborative sessions (I personally like to do a “pizza and tech” workshop). Investigate the use of computer-based training etc. (make sure the mediums work for your people!), but most importantly actively engage with people to support their development journey on a regular basis. Don’t leave it to that yearly personal development review (PDR), and make knowledge sharing part of everyday activities.|
|We can’t produce the report because the data is bad…|
We don’t trust the data…
(and many other statements about not knowing the current state)
|“In God we trust. All others must bring data.” – W. Edwards Deming. In this day and age, it’s possible to get all kinds of data from all manner of sources. A good place to start is with the IT service desk data set. Use a laser-like focus to improve key areas and keep chipping away at improvements. You’ll only have good data if you make it that way. It definitely won’t appear by magic! Perhaps set improvement objectives in a sprint-like fashion and encourage these into regular reviews.|
|I can’t trust the team to deliver, we then end up outsourcing project implementation. But this creates operational headaches down the line…||Bridging the gaps between projects and operations is something that a lot of organizations struggle with. To me, a simple yet effective method for dealing with this is to: improve project and operations’ collaboration/communication, ensure there’s time/budget allocated in the project for operations work’ but also ensure operations is involved as early on in the process as you can get (this includes the IT service desk, etc.).|
|IT is viewed as a utility function, not a business differentiator…||“No team ever failed because of too much communication.” This sentiment also applies to business engagement. A simple approach here is to bite the bullet and get out there into the business and start changing the tune. You can do this formally or with a more “coffee and chat” approach. However, make sure you record business objectives, challenges, and how IT can help in a central location and get that information socialized with teams. You might want to get this shared in something like a Trello board (or another suitable project/work management tool).|
Combatting the status quo
The above are approaches that are simple but effective and are based on iterative actions and feedback loops. They all look to combat major issues though regular small actions and have communication and collaboration as a key theme. They key thing here is to realize that by taking a measured approach, by getting faster feedback, and increasing visibility we can start to tackle some major challenges in a way that reduces the likelihood and impact of failure. Which could go a long way toward combating the likely statements of “We’ve always done it that way!”
I hope that this has given you some food for thought. Please let me know your challenges in the comments section below and I would love to see if I can suggest some iterative continual improvement approaches to solving them!
Posted by Daniel Card