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Missing Users October 14, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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A common conversation among CIOs these days is how they are dealing with the current recession.  We talk of budget issues, staffing concerns, reduced resources, and a general reduction in our ability to execute and expand our services.  Especially at this time of year, the conversation turns toward next year’s budgets and what we might expect to see in the coming year.

One of my big worries for the coming year is a shortage of users. Not in the sense that there won’t be people to use our systems, but in that IT cannot survive without those critical users that help define, build, test, and deploy our systems.  The economy is affecting the supply of users that are able to help us do things.

For many years IT worked in a vacuum, building things as we saw fit.  The prevailing attitude was that users should be happy with whatever they got, and little time was spent engaging users to ensure we were building the right things the right way.

Many of us (or those of us still employed in IT) realized that this methodology was less than effective and changed our approach.  We actively engaged our user community in every aspect of the development process.  From project charter through requirements analysis, testing, training, deployment, and post-production support, users with specific business knowledge are key to the success of our projects.  Without them, we are doomed to fail.

Unfortunately, the economic pressures being exerted on IT are being felt by everyone else.  People are busier than ever before, doing more with less.  As a result, they simply do not have the time to engage with IT to partner for success.

In a sense, finding that time to help is harder for our users than it is for our staff.  The reality is that many IT shops can easily augment staff by backfilling with contract labor.  If you want to focus a few developers on a new project, you can bring in additional contractors to take over the day-to-day stuff while your developers dive into a new project.

This is rarely possible with non-IT staff.  Business people, especially those that assist with IT projects, usually have deep knowledge of your company’s business rules and processes.  If they are added to a project team to contribute that knowledge, you cannot easily hire an outside contractor to backfill that knowledge gap.  For the most part, IT skills are fungible; non-IT skills are not.

This has deep implications for our ability to execute and deliver results to our companies.  As we seek funding to do things, it can be easy to overlook the non-IT assets needed to make those things successful.  Funding can’t expand those resources, yet our success depends on engaging those very important people.

What to do?  There is no easy answer.  First and foremost, coordinate early and often with you business partners to ensure their availability and willingness to help.  Be very respectful of their time and engage them for your most important work first.  And like most things in life, these times will pass, things will improve, and we’ll re-engage with our previous fervor.

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1. Fibol - October 14, 2009

Very true Chuck. As CIO I’m contemplating the same trend and similar difficulties.
I love your blog.


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