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Whose Fault? Yours. June 19, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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As CIOs, we lead a service organization.  Although there is much talk of late about turning IT into a profit center, the reality is that most companies rely on IT to get something else done.  Just as finance, legal, and HR provide crucial support to help a company succeed, IT provides important services that allow the other employees to accomplish their jobs and serve the external customers.

By definition, service organizations exist to serve their customers. This may seem a bit obvious, but there are many IT shops that have lost sight of this core principle.  Our job is not to find cool new tools, or nifty phones, or the sleekest laptops.  Our job is to help people get their jobs done as quickly and efficiently as possible, using technology where appropriate.

When people fail to get their jobs done as quickly and efficiently as possible, it’s our fault.  Period.  It doesn’t matter why they failed; we still own the problem.  That’s a hard concept for some people in IT to grasp and accept.

Anyone who has worked in IT for any length of time has seen this happen.  We listen to our users and determine there is a need we can fulfill. We diligently collect requirements and build a potential solution.  With the users’ approval and assistance, we develop some new tool.  We provide training and support.  After scrupulous testing, we release the tool to its intended audience.

A smashing success?  Not always. Users get confused.  They make mistakes.  They didn’t attend all the training, or misunderstood the documentation.  They forgot to tell us everything during the requirements meetings, or didn’t provide a complete testing regimen.

Whose fault?  Ours.   We should have asked more questions. We should have asked for more testing.  We should have rethought usage scenarios.  We should have anticipated certain mistakes and found alternatives.  No matter what goes wrong, we are at fault.  Figure out why, fix it, and file away the lessons learned for next time.

IT folks at every level fall into an easy trap when they start complaining and fussing about the end users.  It’s easy to push blame onto the unsuspecting customers when a system is used incorrectly or mistakes are made.  After all our hard work, how could they still get it wrong?

Easy: because we obviously did not work hard enough.  We build this stuff; we must ensure people can use it effectively.  If they can’t, we dropped the ball somewhere.  Railing about the users does not fix the problem.  It only annoys the users, makes us look petty, and reduces our ability to serve them.

This concept, that we are always at fault, is at the core of our ability to serve and satisfy customers.  The burden sits with us to make it right, do it better, and meet our customer’s needs.  If you are in IT, and you cannot accept this or live up to it, you have chosen the wrong career.  Get out now, before you make the rest of us look bad.


1. Marc Sirkin - June 19, 2009

OH, wait, I thought you just blame marketing, right?

2. Wally Bock - June 19, 2009

Great post and a dose of realism, Chuck. Every effective manager I’ve known has accepted responsibility for outcomes, tried to learn from them, and realized that sometimes it’s not your fault, it’s just your turn.

3. Arun Manansingh - June 20, 2009

A nice perspective on IT. You are right the burden is on us to make things right.

4. Lui Sieh - June 22, 2009

Hi Chuck,

Nice article – it’s a necessary and good cold shower for us in the trenches. I’d like to build on this. It’s important that as part of our “day-job” we provide the right learning opportunities – because it is very important to have what I call “An Educated Consumer is our Best Customer(R)” environment.

It would be just so much easier with this in place for us to focus on the key differentiators of our service mission:
– to provide quality services and products
– to provide value for money in our company investments
– intelligent “account management”

With IT and non-IT folks having more of a common language is a win-win for all.


5. Bryan - June 24, 2009

“After all our hard work, how could they still get it wrong?
Easy: because we obviously did not work hard enough. We build this stuff; we must ensure people can use it effectively. If they can’t, we dropped the ball somewhere. Railing about the users does not fix the problem. It only annoys the users, makes us look petty, and reduces our ability to serve them.”

I agree with the thrust of your article, but there are some points on which I hold some slightly different opinions.

I do not believe that “IT is always wrong.” I believe that “IT should always be willing to admit they’re wrong.” You are absolutely right; railing about users does not fix problems. But having worked within many different IT environments, I can also say that taking responsibility for all failures does not fix problems, either. Sometimes the problems are outside of IT’s purview such as conflicting business drivers. IT is not always in the power to resolve such conflicts and should be unafraid of pointing out such issues to the highest levels of leadership.

6. Chuck Musciano - June 24, 2009

Bryan, taking responsibility doesn’t fix things, but it is the first step to getting things fixed. It may be the case that the problem lies outside our purview, but the perception of the user trumps reality. If they think we are at fault, we are. In the case of conflicting business drivers, there may be a problem in your IT governance model that is allowing those conflicting drivers to ultimately drive projects to fail. And as you note, pointing out those conflicts is our job, and should be a natural outcome of a good governance process.

7. Wally Bock - June 24, 2009

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock

8. Wally Bock - June 24, 2009

I don’t think Chuck is saying, “IT is always wrong.” I do think he’s saying, “IT is always accountable.” Your customers, inside or outside the company, simply don’t care about why things don’t work. They see it as your job to make them work or come up with a reasonable workaround. You can trot out excuses or reasons, but they both sound the same to the people you’re supposed to serve.

9. Mike Giuffrida - June 25, 2009

As the CEO of an IT consulting firm, I couldn’t agree more with this view point. For too many years IT has “blamed” the users. It is OUR job to “get it”, not theirs. Let’s take responsibility and get business done already. That’s how companies will survive economic times like these.

10. Chuck Musciano - June 25, 2009

@Wally: You’ve nailed it. Our accountability is assigned by the users, not by us. We need to step up, own it, and move on. Everything else is just perceived as whining and complaining.

@Mike: Ditto!

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