So in prior posts about IT Strategy (The Goal of IT, Enterprise Application Value) I have talked about IT’s “Outward Facing Strategy”. So this post will be more about what are we doing to help ourselves deliver against our outward facing strategy.
At the top level of our Internal IT Strategy is our values: What we believe is important. What we value is the essence of our belief system.
The first thing we ought to value in Information Technology is Talent. What we do is abstract, complex, and it changes rapidly. In order to deal with complex, rapidly changing abstractions, we need some serious fire-power in the form of Smart Energetic Motivated Person (SEMP). Our biggest challenge is to find, develop and retain these SEMP’s. We need to be realistic about the earning power of SEMP’s, and we also need to realize that for SEMP’s earning is not the whole enchilada – they want to be able to actually accomplish. They don’t simply want to get paid, they want to get paid for doing amazing, innovative work with others of the same ilk. Information technology is essentially about makers, solvers and fixers; the people (talent) in each of these are not the same. We need to invest in hiring and retaining talent in each of these domains. Talent is not skill, talent is the ability to acquire skill. Talent is not competence, talent is the ability to gain competence. Talent is about WHO.
The second thing we ought to value in Information Technology is Patterns. Patterns are pre-defined solutions in abstract form. Those solutions have defined criteria, and they are aligned with specific problems or classes of problems. They may encompass one or more aspects of the technology delivery process. We should expect that our people (talent) will design the criteria for our patterns, and will ensure that they are appropriately aligned with business needs. Our people may adopt industry patterns from out side the organization, but will evaluate and adapt those patterns to increase the value of those patterns. Our people need to influence the adoption and adaptation of those patterns, and they also need to develop execution practices around those patterns. Our people can become highly productive, when we don’t need to reinvent pattern for every project. In order to make our people productive, we need to have patterns that align closely with our needs, and when we have a new need for which there is not already a pattern, we need the talent to recognize this, and the talent to create a new pattern. It is important that we recognize that patterns are only valuable when they help us by making us more productive. So over time, we should continually adapt our patterns to make them more valuable, and when they stop being valuable, they should be replaced. It is not necessary to have a single pattern in any given solution space – having options is not a bad thing. Our people need to know how select patterns and how to implement patterns. This means they need to deeply understand how each pattern adds value, and select the pattern whose value aligns most closely to the problem they are trying to solve. Patterns are knowledge about what to make, what problems those things solve. Patterns are about WHAT.
The third thing we ought to value in Information Technology is Practice. Practice is how we get competence. Practice is how we get effectiveness. Practice is how we get efficiency. We take our patterns, and we “do” them until we get good at them. We implement according to patterns and we learn how to apply patterns, what works and what doesn’t. We learn the limits of the patterns we have, and where they need to be refined, extended or replaced. We have practice leaders (more talent) who institutionalize the knowledge that comes from practice. We may practice combining patterns into new patterns. We have practice evangelists who advocate those practices into the organization. Practice is about how to make, how to solve, how to fix. Practice is iterative. Practice is about HOW.
The fourth thing we ought to value in Information Technology is Process. Process is solidified practice. When we know what works, and how to make it work, we need the ability to repeat, to reproduce, to reuse. Process is about taking what we have learned and using it to measure and predict subsequent implementations of patterns and practices. Process allows people (more talent) who know what and know how to deliver in a repeatable, sustainable, predictable situation. Process Is not innovative, or creative; it is restrictive. Process is the assembly of the what, according to the how, in a way that delivers the value that we sought when we started, according to our predictions of when the value would be ready. Process defines the limits of speed and quality and cost that we can achieve with the talent, patterns and practices that we devise. Process helps us understand how much talent we can efficiently utilize to effect a result. Process is about WHEN and HOW MUCH and HOW GOOD.
Sometimes, I think we get these values backwards, or upside down.
Process without practice is like following a recipe, without having any skill at preparing the ingredients. If you don’t know how to chop, slice, fillet, saute, etc – you can try to follow the recipe, but your results will be somewhat arbitrary. You may have to make several batches before one turns out good.
Process without pattern is like following a recipe, without having all the necessary ingredients. You can substitute tofu for meat, or one fruit for another, or simply leave ingredients out, but your results will reflect your choices. When you don’t have patterns, you “improvise” and sometimes your results are OK, but most things turn out mediocre. You can waste more expensive ingredients and achieve poorer results than when you use a less expensive but appropriate ingredient.
Process without talent is like following a recipe without knowledge of what the result is supposed to be. Whatever result I produce, I declare to be a delicacy, and I devour it. My customer may, however, have a different opinion. When the restaurant critic from the local paper shows up, I am declared a fraud, who knows nothing about cuisine, because my jambalaya tastes like pea soup. Your food is bad, and you don’t even know. You don’t know why your restaurant folds.
Sometimes, I feel that we act like we value process above talent, patterns and practice. We hire fleets of PMO’s, we build SDLC’s, ITIL’s, ITSM’s and hundreds of other acronyms to help wrap process around what IT does. We create all kinds of paperwork, tickets, documents, artifacts, as if by documenting the recipe and checking off the steps, we can produce world class meals. Not everyone who cooks is a chef. Not every meal is gourmet. We don’t pay $100 for a hot dog that you could make in a microwave in 45 seconds, nor for a whopper that some seventeen year old assembles and heats in a microwave, do we? We don’t follow Wolfgang Puck or Charlie Trotter or Rick Bayless because they write down their recipes. We follow them because they have talent, they use the best ingredients, they know how to prepare food. We trust them to tell us what food is supposed to taste like. They make new “concoctions” that we adore – they innovate, they perfect. Our customer is paying for Charlie Trotter – but we act like they ordered a happy meal, “Did you want a boy toy or a girl toy?”