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12 December 2006

If you can't beat them, join them

By Andrew Clifford

Politics, bureaucracy, unrealistic projects and over engineering are all blamed for IT's problems. But these problems can not be solved, and we have to learn to work with them.

The problems of IT are often blamed on a few usual suspects:

  • Politics. Politically motivated projects. Project scope as a power struggle between senior executives, not a rational analysis of costs and benefits. The IT organisation as the IT director's empire.
  • Bureaucracy. Unintelligible procedures. Every problem must have a number. Every change must go through a process. Everything has to be agreed by a cross-functional committee.
  • Unrealistic projects. Projects start with unrealistic estimates of cost and time, and then these are slashed. More time is spent on planning and control than on actual work.
  • Over engineering. Tecchies play with new technologies. Enterprise architecture seems meaningless. Analysis paralysis.

It is tempting to think that we can solve IT's problems just by tackling these issues. But we can not. These issues reflect basic human motives and they are unavoidable.

But the same motives drive us forward. We can rewrite the list above.

  • Position. IT must establish itself as a credible player within the organisation. IT must build alliances. IT must recognise the pressures on other parts of the organisation.
  • Process. IT is complicated, and must constantly develop repeatable, quality, auditable processes for its work. IT resources are expensive, and must be consistently directed to the highest value activities.
  • Growth and development. IT and business are constantly changing. As well as managing the steady state, IT must pursue step change. IT must drive change by building buy-in and retaining momentum. It must control the impact and cost of change.
  • Passion for the product. People are motivated by an inherent interest in technology and elegant design. Organisations that encourage this passion will benefit from better products.

The same motives underpin both lists. We need to understand our position and our responsibilities. We need some routine, and to understand how our work fits with other people's work. We need to develop and grow. We need to be stimulated by our work. These motives push us forward in everything we do, personal and professional. Sometimes these motives cause problems, but we can not get rid of them and still function as humans.

Looking back over the Minimal IT newsletter, I have oversimplified this. I have suggested that we can solve IT's problems by rationalising IT to simple automation, and by structuring IT to be easy to work with. I have ignored many of the problems of IT as if we could simply wish them away. But we can not get rid of these problems because they are a manifestation of who we are.

I want to explore this over the next few weeks. I want to understand how we rationalise IT, but at the same time promote IT's position, strengthen process, encourage growth and development, and fulfil our passion for technology. As well as being rational, we have to be human.

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