17 July 2007

IT process definition

By Andrew Clifford

Defining processes makes new ideas, techniques and products much more credible, and forces you to think through practicalities.

One of the great things about running a small business is that you can admit mistakes. You do not need to spin a tale about how you were right all along. There are no political repercussions, and as long as you have not let your customers down, no commercial impacts either.

Well, I was wrong. Last year, I was convinced that system governance did not need any significant process definition around it (see System governance: less is more). I have spent years of my life fighting with unwieldy methodologies, and did not want to burden our new technique with similar bureaucracy. I thought that the tool and materials we had produced were enough. Any organisation could weave system governance into what they do, without us defining processes for them.

Over the past year, I have spent some time working with a large systems integrator, who have rich processes defined for every aspect of their IT. Although some processes seem a bit bureaucratic, they do give predictability and control to the work. If we want to be successful in presenting system governance to companies like this then we have to show how it can fit into their rich and mature processes.

To address this, I spent some time writing a System Governance Handbook. This contains a complete set of processes for implementing and working with system governance, including roles, techniques, report templates, meeting agendas and training needs.

Defining processes has been much more valuable than I had imagined.

Having a complete "how to" guide shows that we are not just a tool vendor. We can now show a much more complete solution, which helps us present a much more credible offer.

Defining processes has forced us to think through system governance much more carefully. We have had to think through how to set objectives for system governance, and how to make system governance part of the decision making process of the organisation. We have had to consider how to deliver compelling investment cases out of system governance. We have had to think through an effective implementation process. Defining processes has turned an interesting idea into a ready-to-go practical proposition.

We have not completely abandoned our original ideas (perhaps I am succumbing to spin here). We have tried to keep unnecessary bureaucracy out of the processes. And we fully expect organisations to tailor the processes, and take the bits they need and weave them around their own processes.

But I have to admit to a change a heart. In hindsight, I can see that many of the proposals I have presented over my career would have benefited from more emphasis on process, and less emphasis on the nuances of the idea.

If you are struggling to get a new idea, technique or product accepted, spend some time thinking through processes for working with it. It will help you be more credible. It will force you to think about practicalities and interactions, and spot the problems and opportunities that you will face. And don't worry if doing so means you have to admit a mistake - I think you're in great company.