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No? No. No! April 22, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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There is a fatal trap into which all IT Leaders fall, sooner or later.  It isn’t a sudden trap, sprung upon you all at once, but a slow, gentle descent into a disaster that can break your career if you aren’t careful.

It starts by saying “no.”

Every IT organization in the world is understaffed with respect to the total demand for all IT projects contemplated by the business.  While we may have enough people to keep the lights on and systems running, we’ll never have enough people to execute every project envisioned by our peers in the business.  That’s the way it should be: not every project needs to be completed, no matter how badly it is wanted by its champion.

As the owner of scarce resources, IT can become the arbiter of what gets done and what gets ignored.  And therein lies the trap: for every project you accept, you are telling one or more people “no.”  Each person that gets turned away views IT as an impediment to their grand plan, a speed bump on their road to success.  Over time, you’ll wind  up telling everyone no at some point.  You’ll have accrued so much resentment among your customers that they will begin to bypass you to get things done.  When that happens, your effectiveness as a CIO has diminished, and your ability to serve your company has ended.  Soon after that, you’ll be looking for a new job.

There is a better way, and savvy CIOs know how to avoid this trap.  The key is to engage your peers to decide, among themselves, which projects should or shouldn’t get green-lighted.  IT has no business determining the ultimate cost and benefit of a project.  That’s up to the project champion and his or her peers, debating the project in the broader perspective of the business as a whole.  When they finish their debate, your job is to step in and make their collectively-chosen projects successful.  The animosity of those whose projects were declined can be directed at their peers who made that decision, not you as the CIO.

Every CIO needs to develop this governance process in their company.  Whole books have been written on how to gather projects into portfolios, build governance teams at various management levels, and facilitate the debate among business leaders.  The IT organization provides guidance along the way, with scope estimates, impact statements, and technology assessments.  This is done objectively to support the conversation, not to champion a particular cause.

But, some CIOs complain, change only occurs when I initiate it!  How do I get things to happen while being objective?

You have two choices.  The right way is to present your big idea to another business leader, convince them of the merits, and allow them to champion the project.  With them as champion, you step back into your role of objective facilitator and implementation expert.  The more difficult path is to advance the idea yourself, acting as a business leader and not as the CIO.  This requires a deft hand and can be fraught with peril.  Honestly, if you can’t convince someone in the business to champion your idea, why would you advance it on your own anyway?

Good IT governance is a crucial part of every successful company and every successful CIO.  It takes time to develop the culture and process for successful governance, but your patient efforts will be well-rewarded.  Good governance gets you out of the position of being the “guy who always says no.”  That’s important, because the “guy who says no” is soon known as the “guy looking for a new job.”

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

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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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?