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Right Or Wrong? Well or Poorly? March 2, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
Tags: , , , ,

In a previous life, my boss had this chart hanging on his wall:


Pretty straightforward: everything can be placed in one of these four quadrants.  We are either doing the right things or the wrong things.  We are either doing them well or poorly.  In contrast to all the complicated governance models that are being bandied about these days, this is a simple way to run your IT shop, your business, and your life.

As an eye-opening exercise, take all the major business processes in your company and place them in this grid.  We all like to think that we live in the upper right, doing the right things the right way.  In reality, way too much of our world is in the lower left.  Every business has outdated business practices, ancient processes, and needless bureaucratic overhead, firmly entrenched in horrifically bad tools and mechanisms.

It is not hard to find these “red” processes and set out to fix them.  Ideally, we seek to push them to the up and to the right, into the land of “green” processes: the right things, done right.  More often than not, we wind up just moving to the right, or just moving up.  That’s certainly a better spot, but only as a resting point, not as a final destination.

Doing the wrong things right is often known as “paving cowpaths.”  Some awful business processes are so entrenched that they cannot be rooted out.  Discretion being the better part of valor, we choose to automate bad processes, throwing good technology at a bad system.  Life does get better, but you’re still left with a bad process.

Doing the right things wrong is a little better.  By eliminating the bad process, you’re much better positioned to ultimately do the right thing the right way.  If you wind up stalled on the way to the upper right, I’d rather be in the “right things wrong” world instead of the “wrong things right” world.

It’s easy to understand why.  Technology is easy; people are hard.  The worst part of our jobs is the social engineering: getting people to change their ways, adopt new practices, and learn new tools.  Actually installing a new system can be a pain, but it can be done.  People, with their delightful quirky personalities, pose real challenges to change and growth.  If you move a process to the right, you’re still stuck with the difficult people problem.  If you move a process up, you’ve solved the people problem and are left with the simpler technology concerns.

It is often said that managers get things done right, while leaders get the right things done.  On our chart, good managers push things to the right.  Good leaders push things up.  Are you a manager or a leader?  Which way are you pushing?


1. Bill Petro - March 2, 2009

Doing the right things: effectiveness
Doing thing right: efficiency

paving cowpaths = sacred cows
doing right things wrong = learning

Very insightful comments as always Chuck.

2. PM Hut - March 2, 2009

I think the graph is the easy part. The hard part is to agree on the metrics that define what is right or what is wrong.

3. Bill Petro - March 2, 2009

Well, the permalink for this blog post is not right when it is spelled “rght” but don’t tell anyone.

Perhaps Chuck is moving to the Twitterpation of permalink URLs?

4. Chuck Musciano - March 2, 2009

No, Chuck misspelled the permalink when first creating the post and failed to correct it before the bit.ly short URL went out this morning. So it stays that way, forever.

5. Doing the Wrong Things Right (part 1) « Mike Urbonas – Product Marketing Blog – Business Intelligence – Personal Branding - June 19, 2009

[…] blog, The Effective CIO by Chuck Musciano.  Here’s a quick excerpt from his article Right or Wrong? Well or Poorly? that should be read in its entirety: Doing the wrong things right is often known as “paving […]

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