Monday, June 4, 2012

My Company or Yours


De Ja Vu

An esteemed colleague of mine remarked today:
“I am not sure if it is because I am getting old, but somehow I cannot get over the embarrassment of this business. No matter what organization we work in, it appears that where you turn you are disappointed at the lack of quality, poor delivery and consistent incompetent management found in our IT organizations.” 
I thought he was only having a bad day. However, somehow I feel that I’ve been here before. It is the same place, yet it looks different. I guess I am the one that changed like he did - and I am not even that old.
In this IT industry you can change employers and in most cases not even notice a difference apart from the change in the employer’s name on your pay-slip, and a few new faces at the water cooler. 
Changing Jobs

What are the driving forces for changing jobs in IT when it is more of the same? Does it go better in other organizations? Classically we changed jobs for more income, better career prospects, more training, new opportunities, or more exciting work. 
Are we still changing jobs for the same reasons? What are the right reasons left open as options for consideration when one finds the same issues, the same challenges and the same problems repeating itself in organization after organization? It is a different day. It is a different company, different employer, but somehow it feels like the same job of yesterday, with similar challenges, opportunities and frustrations. 
The people change, the brand changes but the same patterns are recurring. Company after company I identify the same challenges, the same practices, the same attitudes, and I ask myself: Is it me or is it the industry in which we are?  Often I’ve spoken with IT Professionals who made a career change only to get more of the same. Some argue that at least they are earning better. However, is it worth the effort? Is there another way? 
What has to change for IT to become the success it should be?
Organized Confusion 

I still find IT vendor organizations not sure in which business they operate, adding to the confusion at employment and at management level. 
We have the customer, how can we make money out of them this time around? These companies still have not defined if they are “Body Shops”, “ Solutions Shops” or “Service Shops” or one of all three. What do we sell this year to make our numbers?
I continuously find IT Professionals in the wrong jobs. People that do not know how to act or what is expected from them. They are without skill, without applicable experience, and little knowledge of their place in the I.T. machine. Project Managers as Support Analysts, Designers as Administrators and Analysts as Managers. 
One finds less than competent IT managers trying to solve the same problems in the same ways, over and over with standard resumed I.T. people claiming to be the professionals they are not. Improve the processes they say, and the industry as a whole will benefit. Change the man. Upgrade the solution. Replace the manager, and it will all be better. 
I argue not necessarily. 
We are stuck in a frame of reference that is not doing us - the professionals and managers in this business any favours.  Somehow we cannot escape from the curse of conventional IT wisdom. For smart people, we somehow are making very dumb decisions.  I am making a case that we fundamentally need to challenge our assumptions of what we do and how we do it for the sake of our sanity and for the benefit of our business and that of our clients.  
One good thing thought - at this point any change promises improvement.
It Doesn’t Make Sense

We find in our business that CV’s are focussed on vendor driven acronyms of faceless technology plays in a people dominated and driven business. 
“Do you have Java or are you into DotNet?” No one asks if you can administer a system or design a solution. Are you analytically inclined or strategic in approach. Can you build a team or assemble a system. People are our business’ biggest asset. Wrong! Good people are. 
One problem though: We cannot seem to define what good is in I.T. Professionals. We remain stuck in a view that if a person can spell the technology of a tool then he should be competent as professional, yet we see evidence daily of this not being the case.  We fail daily in delivering quality with our Projects Managers as Support Analysts, our Designers as Administrators and our Analysts as Managers.
Models Models Models

We have more frameworks than is ever required to build the Eiffel Tower of IT delivery. We have models to determine the maturity of our models, yet we fail to effectively and accurately define the mere building blocks of what we do each day as I.T. Professionals.  I am surprised and slowly have come to accept a lack of depth in conversations with IT Professionals claiming to be experts in their field. Real professionals are hard to find. 
Every week it becomes more of a challenge to find an insightful person for my Podcast interviews. Most appear to be well trained parrots regurgitating hotshot technology speak from some white paper, product brochure or generally accepted industry myth, framework and model. 
It is an industry dominated by commonly accepted process driven best practices for the sake of compliance, instead of business value outcomes. We cut corners to balance the books and make our numbers or deliver our projects, but we fail to quantify and own the responsibility for claimed business benefit. We speak in millions when we require investment, and in tongues when we have to justify return.
IT has become a function managed as a risk in many businesses. It is an asset that has long since turned into a liability.
Idiosyncrasies

IT service delivery is primarily a people concern, yet we leave our procurement and human resource departments in charge to formulate the hiring policies for our organizations.  If IT was a car manufacturing business and we left the steel buying to procurement and finance, we will end up with cheap, low grade steel in massive quantities when we don’t need it. We will be out of business very fast.
As IT organizations we end up with unqualified and incompetent IT professionals assigned to the wrong jobs, managed by poor management, looking to hire more people like themselves. They will use over priced and under performing archaic recruitment practices, based on preferred supplier agreements that adds little to no value. 
We still employ Professionals on standard employment engagements and out of date hiring policies -  if we can find talent at all. And, yet we survive another missed service level, late project, and over budget delivery. Surely, one of an I.T. manager’s most important attributes should be the selecting of competent talent for his team and for his processes. The right person in the right job is the key ingredient to achieving an expected service outcome. Our science should be knowing our people and their jobs as well as we know the limitations of our technology. 
When we do miss a delivery we usually saddle the process horse blaming non compliance, poor tools and poor management control.  This can be compared to a bus not reaching its intended destination because of not following the rules of traffic or because of a lack of speed or the wrong tyre pressure. Although these can all be valid causes, the primary concern should initially be that the driver is competent to drive the bus in the first place and did he know where he was going? 
Through the driver’s competence he should know how best to navigate the traffic rules, compensate for a lack of performance, or limitations in the equipment. If this base requirement is satisfied, then only can the equipment be expected to contribute to reaching the stated and intended objective. An incompetent driver will most certainly ensure a failed objective of reaching the intended destination.
If we have the wrong IT professional for the requirements then the customer needs won’t be accurately defined. If the wrong professional compiles the design, then the limitations and potential of the tools will be overlooked. If the wrong professional test the solution against the requirements then errors will slip through. If the wrong professional administers and maintains the solution, how on earth can we expect that the solution will remain available as required. Lastly, if the manager cannot cast the right person in the right role, how will we ever succeed in getting compliance and value through our processes, and achieve our outcomes. 
Am I missing something, or am I over simplifying the key deficiency in the way that we conduct ourselves in this industry - the right Professional for the job. Surely, it cannot be that hard to understand that this simple focus will fundamentally lift the game of our business?
As always I welcome your opinions and comments. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch via email.
Hendrik van Wyk

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