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12 January 2010

Tidying IT

By Andrew Clifford

You can learn a lot about managing legacy IT from tidying your home.

I am not a naturally tidy person. I tend to leave things where they are when I have finished with them. My desk collects clutter. But over the years I have learned that having things tidy makes life a lot easier, and out of necessity I have developed some rules for tidying effectively:

  • Everything needs a place. If you do not know where something belongs, you can never keep it tidy.
  • Tidy the worst first. Tidying can go on forever. You need to develop a good eye for what is really untidy, so that you get the best effect for the least effort. If there is a mess of snacks and drinks on the table, tidy that before alphabetising the CDs.
  • Do a proper job. When you have picked something to tidy away, put it away completely. Merely sorting things to be tidied later just makes more work.
  • Have a method. It does not have to be complicated, but it should show you what to do next without procrastination, and let you see progress.

I have also learned that you can not tidy everything at once, and abandoning a big sort-out half way through can leave things more untidy than when you started. My favourite method for tidying is very simple: find something that belongs somewhere else; put it away; repeat. It is not sophisticated, but it means I can stop tidying at any time without things looking worse, and it is easy to start again.

There are lots of parallels with tidying and the management of older "legacy" IT systems — IT's equivalent of a messy house.

Some try to avoid tidying their IT by buying new packages. This is like moving house. It is a lot more expensive than tidying what you have, and inevitably you just take the mess with you. You can get someone in to tidy for you, but that does not stop the mess from having to be sorted.

To sort out legacy systems:

  • Define strategy and policy. This is the IT equivalent of knowing everything's place. Knowing that a system is running on an unsupported database is not enough; you need to know what you can support.
  • Prioritise. You will make more of a difference and spend less money if you tackle the most important things first.
  • Provide resources. Tidying is not just a management exercise. It requires actual work. You need to commit resources to fixing things.
  • Have a method. It does not have to be sophisticated, just something that gives you guidance, shows progress, and lets you stop and start the work to fit in with other commitments.

These ideas about tidying have had a strong influence on the SQM method. SQM provides a practical way of defining strategy and policy. It sets priorities. It guides you what to do next. It shows progress. It lets you tackle the mess of legacy systems without committing to huge and risky transformation projects.

It is a new year, a good time for making resolutions. Make 2010 the year you tidy up your old IT.

Next: The last big problem

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