By Christoph Goldenstern, Kepner-Tregoe
It’s often said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
By this standard, the IT world could be considered a bit on the crazy side. Below are seven of the most common mistakes made by IT companies and IT departments. Avoiding these pitfalls may help you and your organization get off the crazy train.
1. No clear vision or strategy
Sun Tzu, the great sixth century Chinese General, military strategist, and philosopher (who penned The Art of War) said “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Modern day management gurus agree that having a clearly defined strategy is one of the keys to success. In the information age, one of the biggest problems is that IT projects and digital services aren’t aligned with business goals and don’t support the strategic vision. People in IT are easily seduced by what’s hot and cool. There’s a tendency to do something just because you can. It’s also common to work on multiple projects in IT without any sense of how these initiatives tie back to any coherent strategy or defined business objectives.
What to do?
With a defined vision and strategy in place, document a plan to execute. Every company for the most part has a Vision Statement or mission statement. Where most companies fail is they forget to properly document a plan against the strategy and mission of IT. Using a plan for a roadmap is a simple way to stay on course.
2. Thinking a new tool or technology will be the silver bullet
There always seems to be some new tool, technology, or concept on the horizon that is supposed to solve everything. In IT everyone is looking for the next “killer app.” Another word for this is “hype.” At one point, the conventional wisdom was that Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems were going to make every organization operate like a finely tuned Swiss watch. The hype around SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), data warehousing, “the paperless office,” and SaaS (Software as a Service) promised similar miraculous results.
“Cloud computing,” “Big Data,” 3D printing, “The Internet of Things,” Artificial Intelligence, and Quantum Computing are some of the more recent additions to the list.
Somehow these so-called “wonder-technologies” were/are supposed to remove the need for rigorous management, process, strategy and other “old fashioned” notions.
A similar thing can be said for outsourcing. For many, the allure of outsourcing is that you can pay someone else to take responsibility for handling all of your IT concerns. In other words, you can pay an IT service provider to make your IT problems go away.
Inevitably, none of these solutions fix everything. In many cases, these exciting new tools, technologies, and/or services create as many issues as they resolve if not handled correctly.
What to do?
Quit looking for quick fixes. Tackle problems holistically and consider solutions from an integrated People, Process, and Technology point of view. When you look at the entire picture and identify areas in need of improvement, only then will a new tool or tweak to a process deliver value to the business.
3. Forgetting about the customer
As mentioned above, “doing IT for IT’s sake” is rarely a good idea. Just because the technology is neat does not mean it’s appropriate to implement the idea. IT professionals often forget the simple question… “How will this benefit the customer or the business?” It’s easy for the customer to get lost in the fog of IT hype, development activities, politics, operations, etc. Some in IT consider the customer or the business as a hassle that you need to work around, instead of their primary stakeholder. For some “customer service” tends to be more lip service than a valued objective.
What to do?
Keep the focus on the customer. It is important to document and adhere to customer defined Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Make sure you set and manage expectations and always look for areas where the customer may be able to provide valuable input to the customer facing part of how IT operates.
4. Insufficient automation and integration
Even now, it’s still common to see many routine and relatively simple tasks done manually. Also, information and technologies are commonly not connected in any meaningful way. For example, data is manually entered into multiple different systems. This leads to data conflicts and errors that go unnoticed or need to be manually reconciled. Valuable resources and time are frequently wasted by having highly skilled (and sometimes highly paid) staff doing relatively low value/skill routine work.
What to do?
Leveraging automation to replace manual and tedious tasks where possible is critical to driving value from IT. When it is useful to do so, integrate systems so that unnecessary redundancies and inefficiencies are reduced. Free-up your best people so they can work on high value activities. An example of a simple thing to do is to implement a self-service password reset solution to automate the thorn in IT’s side, “I forgot my password”
5. Poorly designed organizational structures and processes
IT teams are often organized into silos with separate management reporting structures, inconsistent (and possibly even incompatible) processes, procedures, metrics, policies, tools, objectives, and reward systems. This often leads to unhealthy organizational conflict, and even to outright hostility between different departments.
What to do?
Ensure your organizational structure and processes do not cause unnecessary bureaucracy and bottlenecks that impede innovation. Utilize systematic, efficient, and effective processes for decision making and risk management. Implement service management and project management best practices and use a “flatter” organizational structure, if possible.
Good technology, tools, processes, policies and procedures are necessary,
but it’s easy to forget about a key ingredient: People!
6. Lack of agility and flexibility
Business people are often frustrated by the IT Department because “everything in IT takes so long and costs so much money.” Inter-departmental rivalry, bureaucracy, rigid policies and complicated processes all stymie innovation and lead to a lack of agility. In this type of situation, many people resist change. This makes it incredibly difficult to make forward progress on both strategic and tactical initiatives. The disconnect and misalignment between “The Business” and IT becomes exacerbated.
What to do?
Be more responsive and flexible. Consider implementing Agile methodologies and DevOps concepts in the organization. These types of models allow organizations to move forward and not get stuck in analysis paralysis.
7. Forgetting about the people side of the equation
Good technology, tools, processes, policies and procedures are necessary, but it’s easy to forget about a key ingredient: People! IT managers often forget that their people are their most important asset. Information age knowledge workers need training in “soft skills” too. In a lot of IT shops, stakeholder buy-in, effective communication (especially listening skills), properly aligned feedback and incentive systems (rewards and punishments) are not addressed in any meaningful way. IT managers are often better with computers than they are with human beings.
What to do?
There is no substitute for good organizational change management practices. In particular, excellent communication and coaching skills (talking face-to-face, listening, etc.) are worth the time and investment.