IT is a People Business
I’ve made the case in a previous Blog that IT business is a people business. If it is a people business, then one has to pay particular attention to how people think, act and orientate themselves to achieve success. This will allow the manager of an IT business or department to get the best outcome from the people or IT professionals in his organization.
What follows, is a short summary of an IT Management approach that I’ve refined over the years. I cannot take the credit for the model. Management gurus like Peter Drucker and others, knew the details long before I knew the meaning of the word ‘management’. However, what you will get here is an IT business flavour of a model for effectively managing IT professionals.
The main objective of the model is to improve current management practice in IT. If IT professionals are effective because you manage them well, then you have the grounding for a successful IT department - you have the DNA right. The rest follows from here.
The Management Approach
The approach has five main (or pain) points:
- Firstly, define a clear outcome worth pursuing (Motivation).
- Then, choose the appropriate I.T. professional capability to effect the outcome (Capability).
- Agree the playing field by setting constraints and agreeing rules of engagement and resources or tools that is to be used (Process).
- Provide a structured innovation approach shared by all participating parties to refine everything (Innovate). A structured approach used by all should make collaboration more effective.
- Lastly, keep score to measure progress (Measure). How else will you know if you are making progress?
This is not just a management approach, but it can equally be used to understand the key processes for one of the most fundamental purposes of life, and of being human - to learn. It includes the 4 key elements for human learning and creation. We will use this to learn how to get the most from IT professionals in the business of IT service delivery.
Let us take a closer look at each part of the steps in the approach.
“If you don’t know where you want to be, it doesn’t matter which route you take to get there.” This valuable Alice in Wonderland saying is as true as ever. There are numerous examples of how people tend to gravitate towards a focus or goal. It doesn’t matter if the focus is positive or not.
Professional sports people spend lifetimes mastering focus. At the high end of the game, they know that sometimes their ability to clearly focus on a desired outcome is the only distinguishing factor between them and the competition.
We don’t need to only observe professional sports people to confirm the importance of focus. One can observe the same phenomenon in a child that really wants to do something. For example: If a toddler wants to walk, then he will continue trying and adjusting his approach, until he reaches his goal. The same goes for learning to talk, riding a bike, etc. A clear understanding of the end state and the individual’s desire to obtain it, drives all subsequent factors.
As managers we know: “What you measure is what you get.” If we focus our motivated staff’s attention on a clearly defined goal or objective, and we continue to measure progress towards this goal, then only, do we have a chance of attaining success.
I’ve made the statement before that IT is not a complicated business. It is a business occurring primarily in three business models, and 99% of the outcome is determined by people in the business.
There are also numerous operating models and frameworks that describe the main activities and outcomes in these businesses. Some of these include ITIL, RUP, COBiT, CMM.i, USDP, PMBOK, etc. With varying detail the main models complement, if not duplicate each other.
It is therefore easy to construct outcomes at a Professional Role level using the above, also considering that above mentioned models provide clear (although high-level) process outcome views to guide such focus.
Therefore, the first step is providing a clear and motivated view of the outcomes to pursue on a personal level, aligned with the team or process level outcomes, and finally aligned with the organizational goals and objectives.
In IT, like any other knowledge worker organization, IT Professionals own the means of production. Therefore, they also own the levers of productivity. If people’s personal objectives are aligned with the organizations objectives, it is a winning recipe. Ask any entrepreneurial upstart organization, and they will confirm that they do not mind the hours and hours of effort, because: They are having fun, know why they do it, and is clear about, and motivated to achieve the envisioned outcome.
There is certainly not enough time to define IT Professional capability in this Blog entry. It will be covered later.
A few comments through: I play ice hockey, and I found using team sport in general as an analogy to illustrate the value of professional capability, to be most effective. For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere that don’t know hockey, I am using rugby as substitute.
When a team of ten year olds play hockey or rugby, they are like a swarm of bees. They know the objective is to get the puck in the net, or the ball over the line, but they are unsure of their individual part in the process of achieving this outcome. The result is that they are all trying to do it, mostly individually, which makes for an uncoordinated swarm of highly inefficient activity. There can be no doubt that the professional capability of this team’s members are lacking. They may have talent, but do not yet know how to utilize it for their role, in a system, with the right tools to achieve the desired objective.
On the other hand, when an NHL Hockey Team or a world class rugby team play their game, their can be no doubt that the level of professional capability is significantly higher. Each player knows his position and role, knows what the team is expecting from him, and in doing a specific part ensures that the team collectively, and the game’s objectives are met. Not only does a player in this league know what is expected from him in his position, but he also has a duty to refine and redefined this role above the generally accepted and expected, to the advantage of his team, sponsors and the sport. In other words, he is a world class professional.
An IT Professional’s capability has a direct impact on the cost and the duration of reaching a desired outcome.
Some real world scenarios we are confronted with each day include cases where IT Teams are staffed with a mixture of high and low professional capability. The result is usually conflict, role ambiguity, poor quality outcomes, late projects, unstable systems, immature processes and costly learning experiences.
The challenge on had is identifying and including the highest level of IT Professional capability in a team. If they are aligned and motivated with a clear picture of the desired outcome, you will find that the time and cost it takes to reach these outcomes are greatly reduced, not to mention less stress to their manager.
If this is the case, why has it taken the IT industry so long to devise an industry professional role model, with clearly defined levels of competence? Such a model will guide professionals to becoming more competent and capable, and companies to have better execution and outcomes.
Two companies come to mind that has attempted to address this issue. The Project Management Institute (PMI) and Profile-IT Limited are examples to consider.
The third part in the management model is agreeing the playing field. This includes setting constraints and agreeing rules and resources or tools. This part is primarily concerned with the steps the person takes and the tools he uses to achieve the outcome.
Naturally, the higher the Professional’s capability the more familiar the playing field will be, and the more likely that the outcome will be achieved along tried and tested routes. On the other hand, if the capability is low, this is where it starts to show. The person will tend to repeat mistakes, and have many learning experiences over and over, each time correcting their course until they eventually achieve the outcome.
Many IT Organizations blame a lack of process, people not following process, or process immaturity for their outcome failures. I argue that these are all symptoms of low professional capability, and unclear rules of engagement. High level processes may be understood, but the steps the professional take within these processes are not determined by his level of process compliance, but rather his capability and competence. Good outcomes cannot be legislated, it can only be appreciated.
If we use our team sport analogy again we will find that every observer of rugby or hockey soon realize that each player on the field has a specific role to play, their position in the team (the high level process framework of the game). These roles have standard processes associated with them, and each process has a number of discretionary steps, which in detail is within the control of only the player.
The player decides which steps he will utilize to achieve the desired outcome. Some steps are well rehearsed due to practice and learning, and others are discovered during the game. The more the player has in his experience, and talent in devising new and improved ways, and given that he has good equipment available, the better he will tend to do at achieving the outcome.
IT is much the same. The industry frameworks coupled with the business models set the process playing field with the main rules and constraints of the game. In ITIL, the rules for the IT Services Organization (business model: “Services Shop”), this may be the Problem Management process, the Incident Management Process, the Change Management Process and others.
If it is a “Solution Shop” then the project management and solution development frameworks provides the process landscape. In PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) these are the Initiation, Planning, Executing, Management and Control, and Closing Processes. In USDP it may be Requirements Management, Design and Implementation, Testing, etc.
In summary, processes are the game, and it is also the steps the IT Professional take to achieve the desired outcome. High capability Professionals know the game well, and are well experienced in the steps required to achieve the desired outcome. They use fewer steps, and their quality of delivery is higher. Low capability Professionals will require guidance on the game, and will take many more steps while learning how best achieve the desired outcome.
In managing IT, be very clear in which game you are playing with your team. Be clear on the processes, rules, constraints and equipment of the game. This determines the probability of you reaching your motivation or outcome. Lastly, know that the capability of the team members will have a direct impact on the duration and ultimately the cost of achieving the game’s outcome.
Provide a structured innovation approach shared by all participating parties to refine everything.
The game of IT is well defined, but it is no way near finalized from an evolutionary perspective. This means that there are numerous opportunities to question and re-invent, change and enhance just about every part of it all.
The outcomes for your team may change from the standard IT objectives of availability, on time, within budget, and to requirements. Latest trends are to make IT organizations more accountable for business value, so you may find that you have to re-think the traditional objectives and outcomes of an IT organization.
As technology and the game of IT change you may find that different capabilities are required. People will require different knowledge, skills and experience. Already, this requirement is evident from more mature business models where technical people are less in demand, and business understanding valued more. SAP Professionals have a strong obligation to add business value, and therefore need to know their customer’s business better than they do, over and above their knowledge of the solution and how to implement it. As software become more mature, the need for lower-end tool knowledge may disappear, however the need for integration capability will increase.
When IT business models evolve, processes are modified to support these models. IT Professionals refine their own capability within the roles they are required to play, which makes them more competent, capable and in demand.
If there is one constant in IT, then it is “change”. We are guaranteed that things will change. However, is change always for the better? To ensure that we are not changing for change’s sake, we have to consider adopting an innovation approach that will standardize how we approach innovation in our teams and organizations.
Some of the more well-known structured innovation approaches include Demming’s PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act), and the latest followings of Six Sigma.
I am a personal advocate of a much simpler approach - "Turbo Sigma". It was developed in New Zealand by a good friend of mine: Grant Ford. This is an approach which the whole team can apply individually and within the team organization. It is a data driven assessment of problems, causes, solutions and results.
The main reason why I favour "Turbo Sigma" is because it facilitates structured innovation by emphasizing natural personal learning processes. More about "Turbo Sigma" later. If you cannot wait, you can get more details in the mean time here: www.busxarchitects.com.
The more rapidly the innovation process is practiced in iterations, the more feedback the group gets to correct course and explore alternatives. It is therefore imperative that the innovation process not only be structured (for the benefit of the group), but that it is iterative in nature. (See the Marshmallow Challenge for more evidence of how this materializes.)
It is important that there is feedback on the progress towards the objectives at hand. The game can only be won if there is a score that tells us how well we are doing in progressing towards our goals.
While good structured innovation techniques as discussed above has built-in feedback mechanisms that helps the individual and group to adjust course, it nevertheless is recommended to select at least three (and note more than five) basic measurements to verify progress.
The measurements provides overall feedback on progress, but it also helps to keep the group and individual focussed.
When a team and its individuals are empowered to improve everything they do, and they are equipped with a state of the art technique to do this, then there cannot be anything but success.
In conclusion, a lot more can be said on each of the above. But at the risk of turning this into a book, I will rather elaborate on further details in later Blogs.
Please make contact and let me know if the above is useful, and if you want to contribute or criticize. All contact and content is welcome.
Hendrik van Wyk
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