These are my top tips for what gets in the way when we try to implement technology to improve what we do at work.
1. IT managers are generally poor communicators. Hmm, not really, but they do speak with a different language and are more comfortable with virtual media than face to face communication. This is the opposite communication approach to many of their customers. Specialist language and acronyms are used by both sides in planning meetings so misunderstandings happen.
2. Front Office and Operations Managers generally over-estimate the ability and flexibility of new technologies. In turn, the IT managers tend to over-promise on these factors. We need to be realistic when implementing new technology, it can do most of the stuff we want it to do fairly easily, the rest is exponentially more difficult. i.e. Pareto’s rule – 80% of value with 20% of the effort. Over-promising leads users to think that 100% is the norm for IT projects. I think that IT managers are often led down this route, when trying to add the marginal benefits to a business case; they usually do this when they are under pressure to defend their project spend.
3. IT Training needs are underestimated. First, technical developers do not generally prioritise ease of use when designing a product. For example, SAP and Oracle originally had horrible user-interfaces requiring lots of end user training, but user managers wanted systems that are intuitive and therefore it is easier to on-board new staff. I can see this culture is beginning to change with cloud applications, but it often arises as an unexpected end of project issue and therefore a disappointment to end user managers. (Consider – would Amazon be successful if we needed to be trained to use it?)
4. Data migrations are difficult because IT usually takes the view that they are required to secure the transfer of data only. i.e. The end user is responsible for the quality of their data. Conversely, end users assume and expect the data to be cleaned up on transfer to a new system. The key here is lack of ongoing housekeeping by end user teams and lack of organisational policy rules about retention. These are often labelled “IT Issues” but are really operational. I fear that some CIO’s are only just beginning to tackle information management alongside their technology management.
5. Decision making is often a cause of big delays in IT projects. Every project should have a responsible officer who takes the decisions, but project decision points are often omitted or ineffective, therefore squeezing the time-scales for the later implementation. It is easy to see how this happens. IT applications are often infinitely variable and with so much choice it is difficult to decide. The solution is to have the scope driven by the operational needs of the business, not the potential of the technology. Unfortunately we get drawn into the latter.
6. Time-scales can be arbitrary. Who knows how long a development will really take? Our best guesses are based on our experience of past projects, or worse, they are arbitrary targets set by management. Also, at the initiation stages IT project managers are often asked to use a crystal ball to predict a delivery date for a project, with an outline scope, uncertain costs and unidentified technology. They do this to win strategic board commitment to the project. Somehow these dates and estimates are translated into targets before we have all the information available.
7. Finally, commitment by end user managers to the project organisation. I have lost count of the times I have explained that there is no such thing as an IT project. They are all business projects, with the aim of improving business output etc. As such they should be called Department X’s Projects. IT is then generally part of the project as a supplier, not as core co-ordinator. Projects will fail because the IT team leads and the user manager stays focussed on business as usual, delegating their change responsibility to a junior member of staff who is unsure about decision making, and therefore refers all decisions to the now disconnected user manager. This behaviour is a bit like deciding to extend your house and delegating the job to a relative. You are not likely to enjoy the result.
Have a great week.
About the Author: Adam Blackie is the author of Your Digital Personality and a professional Interim Manager who leads information management teams through their change programmes. He works with CEO’s and their Boards in the UK to change the way technology is used by staff and their customers.