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System governance

System governance is a cheap and effective method for improving the cost, risk and quality of your IT. It helps you implement high-quality systems, manage existing systems proactively, and improve failing systems.

Minimal IT has been working with its partner company, Metrici, to develop system quality management. Metrici provide methods, tools and materials to help you implement and gain the value from system quality management.

Metrici provide tools for performing system governance assessments.

For more details of system governance products and services, please contact Metrici.

Note: over the years, system governance has also been presented as Metrici System Quality Management and Metrici Extensible System Quality Management (ESQM). Some of the newsletters below refer to these names.


The System Governance Handbook is a comprehensive guide to implementing and working with system quality management.
This whitepaper shows how system governance is a vital part of IT governance. It describes system governance, its benefits, its uses, and the services required to implement it within the organisation.
This whitepaper shows how a typical organisation can adopt system governance, and how the benefits of system governance map to different levels of adoption.


A series of Minimal IT newsletters deal with system governance:

In IT we are obsessed with projects. Focusing your effort on the systems themselves, not just on projects, can deliver significant tangible benefits.
Many persistent IT problems relate to the qualities of the systems themselves. Tackling these is not a technical problem, but a management problem of communication, justification, control and accountability.
We apply governance to IT investments, change projects and service delivery. Extending governance to include the systems themselves can give us the management tool we need to overcome many persistent problems in IT.
Project management and architecture are two of the main tools we use to manage IT. To manage systems better, we need another tool that is simpler and more direct.
System governance is not an expensive new bureaucracy to be imposed on IT. It is a way of cutting costs on work you would do anyway.
System governance does not need heavyweight methodologies. It needs a lightweight framework of guidance, processes, materials and tools.
Defining criteria for system governance involves looking widely to get a long list of possible criteria, and then filtering to focus on what is really important to your organisation.
Criteria used for system governance must be defined in detail. This includes their business significance, what questions you would ask, and model answers.
There are a lot of problems in IT that we find really hard to fix. You can make a huge improvement just by measuring how well systems fit your standards.
You can use system governance to identify and prioritise improvements to your systems, and justify your improvements. Automating this helps you tackle all of the problems, not just the obvious ones.
I have an admission to make. I tried to fix a system assessment so that I would look good. But in the end I had to accept and act on the recommendations.
There are surprising similarities between system governance and agile methods. Although they address different problems, they share many core values.
To get closer to the business, IT must recognise and promote its role as stewards of the business' IT systems.
To gain the benefits of system governance, you only need simple materials, processes and tools. Anything more complicated would get in the way.
System governance solves problems that affect everyone in IT. But it is hard to position system governance because few people are directly responsible for solving the problems.
Writing a single, definitive list of the IT systems within your organisation is a simple task that can deliver significant long term benefits.
IT risk management overlooks critical long-term risks. With system governance, you can identify and manage these risks.
Current IT governance frameworks such as COBIT focus on IT's internal processes. Governance can be made even more effective by including metrics structured around systems.
To govern outsourcing you need to establish service levels, check the supplier's development skills, and negotiate costs. But how can you make sure that the supplier will maintain and improve the systems?
We think of governance as a long-term strategic initiative. But governance of IT systems also delivers short-term tactical benefits.
An effective system review reduces risk and cost in your project, and helps you make the best use of scarce technical staff.
When you are selecting a new software package, do not rush the preparation of your vendor questionnaire. A well-prepared questionnaire helps you review the impact of each option easily and effectively, and saves you time in the long run.
There's no such thing as a future proof IT system. Good design can prolong the life of your systems, but what's really important is that you care and know about the state of your systems.
We can not make the IT investments that we need to make because we can not calculate the return on investment (ROI). Using a basket of management objectives lets us estimate ROI, and can justify the investment we need.
We can model the financial benefit of any IT investment by using a handful of simple calculations.
To calculate a financial benefit for any IT investment, we have to put a value on meeting our own objectives.
You can justify any IT investment by measuring where you are now, modelling the benefits of making improvements, and putting an overall value on running your IT well. This seemingly simplistic approach is an effective IT management tool.
Defined, repeatable processes are a major focus of the IT industry. But there are limits to what can be achieved by process management alone.
IT process management initiatives like CMMI and ITIL can be made easier and more effective by including formal reviews of system quality.
How long should IT systems last? There is no wrong answer. Whatever answer you give is self-fulfilling.
If you want to increase the life span of your systems, you have to clearly define your systems so that you can manage them effectively.
Effective owners are vital for long-lived systems. Without effective owners, systems fall off the management agenda and quickly decline into unsupportable legacy.
Systems that are clearly separated from each other live longer than systems that are coupled.
Long-lived systems need to be based on long-lived technology. This often means picking less fashionable options.
Long-lived systems do not just happen, they are designed that way. Long-lived design involves keeping things simple, and being risk-averse to the point of paranoia.
Change is inevitable. Long-lived systems must be insulated from change, but must embrace change when the time is right.
If you do not monitor your systems, they will die.
You can extend the life of your IT systems indefinitely, but you do have to DO SOMETHING about it.
We can reduce risks by shifting our management of risk to earlier in the system life cycle
Application Portfolio Management (APM) is set to become the next big thing in IT. But different vendors have a very different view of what it is.
Defining processes makes new ideas, techniques and products much more credible, and forces you to think through practicalities.
System governance can be summarised in just three pictures.
IT has a rich ecosystem of service providers. They are critical to bringing new products to market.
In IT we need to achieve three things: delivery of service today; change for tomorrow; and fitness for the future. Each requires a different management approach.
Management control should focus on listening to and acting on the recommendations of staff, not checking that they are doing their job properly.
You need a simple, shared view of your IT to create joined-up solutions to IT problems.
Management controls in IT overlook many important aspects. To be more effective, we need to do more than just borrow control methods from other areas.
The concept of systemhood makes IT easy to understand. It helps us see how to do less work.
Systemhood could challenge project management and service delivery as the basis for managing IT.
What do "governance" and "portfolio management" mean, and which should we use when?
Defining "IT system" creates a powerful tool for IT management.
Portfolio management is so strongly associated with projects that it can not be applied to other types of portfolio.
To manage quality for the long term, you need a system quality management process that takes quality management off the critical path of business change projects.
IT cost reduction methods fall into ten categories. Some have much more potential than others.
If project management never existed, we would have to invent it. For the same reasons, we have to invent system quality management.
You can cut IT costs and still deliver IT change and services if you can stop IT itself being so demanding.
We have all seen projects and systems treated as special cases, but in many ways all projects and all systems need to be managed the same.
In the past, major shifts in IT architecture have hidden weak long-term management. With no prospect of a similar shift in the near future, it's time to tighten up our act.
You can achieve a test-driven IS strategy by implementing a simple, high-level evaluation process.
Test-driven strategy is easier to communicate and more flexible. It provides a clear mechanism for ongoing improvement.
To solve problems of IT ownership, we need to make IT ownable.
Most technical evaluations are unnecessarily difficult and do not deliver good results. Making evaluation easier and more effective is common sense.
We need a way of managing things that do not sit comfortably under our project management and service delivery umbrellas.
Quality management is only effective when it is linked to decision making. To link it, you need to clarify your IT objectives and your decision-making processes, and build a balanced body of information about your IT.
You can achieve the alignment and flexibility of departmental IT, and still keep control and co-ordination at the centre.
To stop standards becoming a bureaucratic monster, spend at least 10% of standards effort on reviewing and changing the standards themselves.
It is hard to measure the business value of IT. But there are a few simple things you can do to make measurement easier.
If you believe and act on business estimates of the value of IT, organisational pressures will drive the figures to be accurate.
To manage technology effectively, you need methods that let you manage at different levels of detail at different times and across different subjects.
No IT objective, such as cost reduction, can be managed in isolation. You need to adopt methods that let you manage a basket of competing objectives.
To successfully navigate the IT of mergers, acquisitions and reorganisations you need to quickly establish high-level visibility, direction and control across the new structure. Here's how.
Should we design IT so that every system is entirely independent of every other system?
You can measure the strategic contribution of an IT system by thinking about two separate things: the strategic contribution of the work supported by the system, and the contribution of the system to the work.
It is hard to ask for money in a recession. Any case you make needs to be understandable, objective, fact-based, prioritised and transparent.
Sustainable IT isn't about low-power hardware and recycled paper. It's about recognising the importance of the ongoing management of IT.
You can manage IT much more effectively by asking the question "What's really important?"
What does advanced IT management look like?
We can significantly improve IT value, cost, risk and responsiveness if we understand what's really going on with our IT. To start, we need to understand what's really going on in our IT organisations.
Consistent, long-term success in IT is impossible because IT management is fragmented and inward-looking.
Despite the effort put into managing people, processes and technology, IT management is chronically fragmented and inward-looking. We need to think of IT differently.
The combination of shared understanding of IT, long-term proactive management and evaluative theory is a powerful tool for addressing the problems and opportunities of IT.
You can learn a lot about managing legacy IT from tidying your home.
The ongoing management of legacy systems is the last big problem in IT. It requires a level of co-operation that we have not yet achieved.
To explain value, you have to look deeper than features and benefits, and understand how your products add value to your customers in a way that distinguishes you from your competitors.
Specialists have an important role lighting up the dark corners that management can not see.
The only way out of the mess of IT is to manage IT proactively.

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System governance

System governance helps you implement high-quality systems, manage existing systems proactively, and improve failing systems.

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