Category: Management Theory
Discussions of various aspects of Management Theory and its application in the business and IT arena.
Data, facts and interpretation
Are managers and employees on your team comfortable with absolute truth and honesty? Are your organizational processes and management decisions transparent? Can you and your team discuss data, facts and interpretation without anyone’s hair catching on fire? I am not talking about ad hominem attacks, although members of an organization may take the presentation of facts personally. I am talking about the ability to rationally and objectively discuss subjects such as performance, weaknesses and failure in order to find solutions.
Will you shoot the messenger?
Naked Truth and Brutal Honesty are my two most valued employees. Clients sometimes ask for them by name, but they accompany me on every engagement regardless of whether or not they were invited. Don’t worry — there is no extra charge for them.
Over the years, one or two clients have not appreciated their input and we’ve all been summarily dismissed. Oh, well. Who needs those kinds of clients, anyway? Honesty and truth are essential components of the “whole package” comprising personal integrity. If you are willing to mold the truth for a fee, you lack the critical firmware package that also includes ethics and morality.
We worry about artificial intelligence, and we should. If A.I. eventually turns out to be made of the same malleable moral and ethical clay as the natural intelligence possessed by humans, we’ll be in big trouble when A.I. finally breaks out of its nursery. Sometimes, it’s not even a matter of ethics or morality. We often can’t recognize truth when it’s flashing furiously right in front of our eyes. Why should we expect better of machines?
Can facts be offensive?
One time I offended one member of a group by calling them all troglodytes because of their antiquated and inefficient business processes. I said it in an affable, humorous sort of way, but it was on the West Coast! What can I say?
However, I have often had hard pushback from organizational management when presenting straight facts such as, “Your organization lacks statutorily required privacy and security policies including X, Y and Z.” You can put a copy of the law right in front of them and they will still engage in virulent refutation.
You can’t handle the truth
In the consulting business, one is often asked to provide assessments. Most of us try to keep it real, but let’s face it — bogus assessments didn’t disappear when Arthur Andersen LLP was buried in 2002. Smashing through the granite wall of denial that is a cultural characteristic of many organizations can be a Herculean task, and sometimes one has to accept failure when the wall proves to be impenetrable. Observing the nature of denial is both fascinating and frustrating, and it is sad to watch otherwise intelligent people explode in an angry burst of denial when you attempt show them that 2+2=4.
One wonders why organizations so often contract assessments and then completely reject not only the conclusions but the facts. Arthur Andersen the person (1885-1947) lived by motto “Think straight, talk straight,” but such behavior is not a part of the culture of most organizations I have encountered. When it came to audits, Andersen believed that the “responsibility was to investors, not their clients’ management.” Had his company continued to embrace that philosophy after his death, it would likely still be in business.
Honesty and transparency are essential foundations of sound management. At investment management firm Bridgewater Associates, for instance, brutal honesty is a workplace requirement. Sadly, in most organizations, the pursuit of truth is neither familiar nor welcome. Bridgewater is governed by a set of “Principles” compiled by founder Ray Dalio. In an online presentation of the principles, Dalio instructs the reader, “When digesting each principle, please… ask yourself: Is it true?” Truth is always the best starting point.
Is it true?
My best teachers and professors all taught me to relentlessly ask that question about everything. I recall one graduate seminar where we went through some pretty lengthy scholarly works dissecting every sentence. It was a brutal exercise. What I learned is that a great deal of what was considered to be definitive and scholarly was questionable or sometimes just flat out wrong once it was closely examined.
Consensus is not proof
The traps of lazy thinking, false assumptions and groupthink are permanently set and perfectly positioned to capture us. In spite of decades of training, I still have to consciously avoid being snared by them. Conventional Wisdom and Consensus have no place in business, science or public policy but they often control and dominate the conversation.
In 1980, the consensus among physicians was that “stress and lifestyle factors were the major causes of peptic ulcer disease.” Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren discovered in 1982 that the actual cause was Helicobacter pylori. They were initially ridiculed, but were awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery in 2005. There is an extensive history of ideas that bucked consensus. When consensus rather than fact is presented as evidence, we should be skeptical and demand proof.
Equivocation, rationalization and justification seem to be acceptable management tools in too many private- and public-sector entities. Honesty shouldn’t be considered “brutal,” and it is only thought to be so because we so rarely encounter it in its natural form. Introducing honesty and naked truth to your organization might be a great goal for 2017.
This article first appeared on cio.com at http://www.cio.com/article/3162094/leadership-management/is-naked-truth-part-of-your-business-model.html
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2017by
In 1987, I was in the army and stationed at Camp Red Cloud in the Republic of Korea. One weekend morning, I had to track down a colleague whom I knew to be shacking up with one of the bar girls from our favorite hangout in Uijeongbu (의정부시). We’ll call him Sgt. Bob and we’ll call her Miss Kim. They were both really nice people and made a cute couple. Miss Kim answered the door and WHOOOAAA! Holy Cow! 아이고! I had only seen her at night, in a dimly lit dive bar wearing a kilo of makeup. The person who opened the apartment door that morning was much different in appearance.
I was reminded of that experience recently when I read the project charter for a troubled and failing software implementation. If bogus management mumbo jumbo actually got projects done, this undertaking would have been a fantastic success rather than drowning eight figures deep under water.
Beautiful planning documents
The project documentation was elaborate and beautiful. In 30 years of working on some pretty big projects, I have neither seen nor produced anything so impressive. It was all right out of PMBOK (the Project Management Body of Knowledge) and included all the pretentious, pseudo-business jargon one expects from graduates of third-rate business schools.
Discussing the project with management in the rarified environment of the C-suite, I could see all the butterflies, unicorns and balloons the executives were describing. They made it clear that any problems with the project were someone else’s fault. In the raw light of day, though, without the management makeover, the project started to look a lot more like Miss Kim did that Sunday morning.
Had this been a private-sector project, the PM and a couple of the executives would have been forced to change their LinkedIn headlines to “seeking new opportunities.” In the public sector, depending upon the organization, you can screw up big-time and generally still keep your six-figure job. You might even get promoted!
No one involved in the grossly overstaffed and overbudget project had a clear vision of what the final product was supposed to look like or how it should function. As things continued to go wrong, more money and more unqualified people were thrown at the problems. There were no quality control mechanisms in place, and no one was really accountable for anything. It was all overseen and managed by people with PMP certifications. Typical public-sector IT, really. Firing the entire team was certainly advisable and justified, and many organizations would have taken that approach.
One problem was that the people leading the project really believed they had the required skills and knowledge, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. After all, they had official-looking pieces of paper that said they were certified to manage projects. They thought they were brilliant managers and no one had ever told them anything different.
Do you think the $2.14 billion Affordable Care Act website was an anomaly? Nope! In smaller county and municipal government organizations, six- and seven-figure IT disasters aren’t uncommon. In larger municipalities and counties, eight-figure FUBARs aren’t rare. Once you get the state and federal level, the disasters can easily hit nine figures and the losses frequently end up buried in unmarked graves. Taxpayers rarely hear about these massive failures. The culprits get to keep their jobs and end up with generous defined-benefit retirements.
Twenty years ago, one tech industry crisis was the “Paper MCSE” — someone with a Microsoft certification who had never touched a server. Project management seems to be in a similar crisis now. It seems that everyone is a PMP. One government project I have been following has received a few hundred million dollars in federal grant money, and they have been hiring lots of PMPs. All of them appear to be 12 or 13 years old, so I’m not clear on how they met the experience requirements for the certification.
Failure and the truth about management
One essential management skill not taught as part of the PMP or any other certification is recognizing and managing failure. The ability to identify failure, call it and transition to the success track is rare. In order to do that, one has to be able to say:
“I was wrong!
I managed that poorly!
I see where I went wrong and I will do it better next time.”
This almost never happens, especially in the public sector. Give it try. Practice saying it if it doesn’t come naturally. Familiarity with failure is a big part of success.
Unfortunately, ensuring the success of complex projects requires more than the creation of cool-looking documentation and checking off boxes as recommended in a handbook. Management of a complex project and a horde of stakeholders and vendors isn’t something you learn in a 35-hour class, and passing a multiple-choice test proves nothing about your ability to do it. If you have no idea what you’re doing, and no idea what you are trying to achieve, no methodology or framework will save you. One can’t just stick pins in a doll and expect something magical to happen.
This article was first published on cio.com at http://www.cio.com/article/3159118/project-management/voodoo-project-management.html
© Copyright Jeffrey Morgan, 2017by
My English Shepherd, Birdie is the ultimate manager. Now that lawn and garden season has finally arrived, he is always barking at the crack of dawn. “Up and Adam! Time to get working in the garden. Hop to it!” As soon as we are hard at work, Birdie digs a hole so he can snooze in the shade while we work up a sweat. That could be you! Birdie knows that each season brings different projects on which we have to focus. Our activities change quarterly and our short-term goals and objectives must change with them.
Are your employees and managers coming to work every day with a fire in their belly to produce results? Do they have a daily action plan to propel them to achieve ambitious goals by the end of the quarter?
If Birdie was a manager in your organization, he would insist that you abolish your ineffective Annual Performance Reviews and switch to Quarterly Goals and Objectives, also known as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). I worked for a Fortune 500 company while I was in graduate school and the company was using them to drive productivity and achieve results as part of their Total Quality Management (TQM) program. They are an incredibly effective management tool!
“Jeffrey,” you say, “Hold the phone! That’s crazy talk! I don’t have time to meet quarterly with all my managers to establish goals and objectives.” Frankly, you don’t have time not to. Consider it a small investment of time that will reap huge rewards for your county or municipal organization.
Annual Performance Reviews in Many Government Organizations
Maybe your organization is different, but from what I have seen during 23 years in state and local government consulting, annual performance reviews are treated as a nuisance that everyone tolerates. No one has any idea what their goals were from their last performance review. In some organizations, almost everyone gets a gold star every year. Even the poorest performers get stellar reviews and you have no case at all if their employment eventually needs to be terminated. After the review, the document is buried in a folder and remains there until next year.
In 1982, W.E. Deming called for the eradication of the Annual Performance Review in his book, Out of the Crisis. In his words, “the annual performance review sneaked in and became popular because it does not require anyone to face the problems of people.” He goes on to say, “A leader, instead of being a judge, will be a colleague, counseling and leading his people on a day-to-day basis, learning from them and with them.” Here we are, 34 years later and many government organizations are still using ineffective 1950’s management practices.
If you want to drive performance, you should have three sets of Goals and Objectives:
- Organizational Goals and Objectives
- Department Goals and Objectives
- Individual Goals and Objectives
There are numerous Internet resources and tools available for assistance with developing OKR’s. According to Emily Bonnie from Wrike (@Emily_TeamWrike), OKR’s must be “Ambitious, Measurable, Public, Graded, and at least sixty percent of goals should be “bottom up.”” I have previously written about the need for bottom-up and inside-out management of software projects here.
Follow Birdie’s advice: Fire your Annual Performance Review and adopt a more effective management tool that will drive your team to productivity.
If you would like to discuss performance in your organization, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s talk!
This article first appeared on Careers in Government at https://www.careersingovernment.com/tools/gov-talk/career-advice/on-the-job/fire-annual-performance-review/
I have a love/hate relationship with cost-cutting managers. I love it when public sector managers are trying to cut costs but I dislike how all too many managers go about the process. Rather than reducing expenses by improving quality, customer service and productivity, many managers attempt to achieve their goal through parsimonious penny pinching.
MBA in Toilet Paper
I vividly recall one manager with whom I worked in a public sector organization during the late 1990’s. When he was hired, he immediately demonstrated his business acumen by cutting the cost of toilet paper, paper towels, soap and copy paper. The copy paper was so cheap and flimsy that it constantly jammed and broke the copiers. Employees in his office brought in their own bathroom supplies rather than using the stinky soap and sandpaper he was able to save money on.
While Inspector Clouseau was investigating the best deals on toilet paper, there were dozens of malingering FTE’s twiddling their thumbs and failing to make any sort of significant contribution to the organization’s mission and bottom line. Many of those worthless FTE’s worked under his supervision. While he was carefully counting pennies, thousand-dollar bills were flying out the window and floating away like autumn leaves. He made no attempts during his tenure to improve productivity through automation and good management.
Abysmal Personnel Management
The facilities department under Inspector Clouseau’s control was a textbook example of abysmal management. The maintenance staff ostensibly worked from 7:00 to 3:30 with a 30 minute lunch break. They would show up at their shop at 7:00, clock in, drink coffee, stand around and gab for 30 minutes and then head to their work site for the day, generally getting started at or after 8:00. The first break came at around 9:00. There was a high probability they wouldn’t have the required tools or parts, so they would have to run back to the shop or the hardware store to pick something up. At 10:30, they would break to go back to the shop so they could “wash up” and punch out for lunch at 11:00. At 11:30 they would return the shop and gab for a while longer, then arrive back at the day’s worksite by around 12:30. A 30 minute lunch break routinely consumed 2 hours. On a good day, the staff would get in 2 hours work in the afternoon before heading back to the shop for 30 minutes of gab time until they punched out at 3:30. They were all paid for 8 hours but likely only produced 3.5 hours of solid work at best. Even the simplest jobs required at least 2 employees.Cheap toilet paper was more important than productivity.
Deferring Maintenance and Automation
Another public sector manager with whom I worked a few years later was a much more competent personnel and project manager, but he also had a tendency to squeeze a nickel until the bull pooped. He and I had a lot in common: we were both army veterans and we got along well. When he came on board, he cut back on the process automation work I was doing and also deferred a great deal of public works maintenance. He looked like a hero for the first couple of years and then moved on. Pure cost cutters never last long – all the deferred maintenance catches up to them. That contract turned into an amazing bonus for me after he left. Three years of Information Technology and business process work that should have been performed routinely had to be caught up under the new manager. That poor sap ended up looking like a spendthrift.
1950’s Management Theory
My father was a cost cutting manager, which is what he was taught in Business School in the 1950’s. He is 86 now and we still engage in spirited arguments (fights) about the value vs. cost equation. From the 50’s until the 1980’s, American managers were focused primarily on controlling costs while Japanese manufacturers were slowly building a production juggernaut based on quality. They kicked the crap out of us in quality and productivity. W.E. Deming published Out of the Crisis in 1982 and described a new vision for American Management. In the preface, he summed up the situation pretty well:
The basic cause of sickness in American industry and resulting unemployment is failure of top management to manage. He that sells not can buy not. The causes usually cited for failure of a company are costs of start-up, overruns on costs, depreciation of excess inventory, competition—anything but the actual cause, pure and simple bad management.
Quality Comes First
Many manufacturers have adopted Deming’s approach to the improvement of quality in production and services, but few public sector organizations have taken the plunge. I have worked for over 200 organizations during the last 25 years and many are still in the 1950’s when it comes to business processes and customer service. While the rest of the business world has reengineered service delivery models, many government organizations seem to be focused on the convenience of their employees rather than the needs of their customer base. One still has to take time off of work to do business with a government agency since most of these agencies are open only from 8-4 or 9-5 on weekdays. Even the medical profession, a recalcitrant industry if there ever was one, has adopted new business models such as 7X24 walk in clinics.
Total Quality Management (TQM)
In 1992, a few years after getting out of the army, I was in graduate school at the University of Texas and working for a Fortune 500 company. It was there that I was able to see how Deming’s concepts were implemented in the real world. The company was revamping all their processes and retraining staff in order to improve quality and productivity. The results were impressive and the project had the complete support of executive, senior and middle management. It worked.
Cutting Expenses by 35% through Quality Management Alone
A few years ago, I worked with an amazing executive who undertook a project to improve business processes in her public sector organization. She was a committed manager who worked closely with her staff to examine every aspect of the operation in order to identify workflow problems. Rather than setting arbitrary targets for FTE reduction and concerning herself with irrelevant costs, she focused solely on process and quality improvement. By the end of the project, she had reduced staff by 35% (almost entirely through attrition) while improving productivity significantly. That’s what good management looks like.
Is your organization performing at its best? Please e-mail me at email@example.com if you would like to discuss modernizing your business processes, or if you just want to talk about anything else.
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Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016
When I was starting to get larger consulting projects in the mid 1990’s, I got burned, big time by my failure to understand sleazy players and hidden agendas in bureaucratic organizations. The lessons were painful. Twenty years later, I still get a little pissed off about my utter stupidity and clueless blundering back then. I thought I was a smart man-of-the-world, but I was really just a Pollyanna when it came to dealing with the smarmy, self-serving individuals one routinely encounters in large organizations. Back then, I believed that everyone’s mission was to work in the best interest of the organization. I have been sorely disabused of that notion ever since.
Behavior Empowered by Weak Management
You know who I am talking about: the pathological liars, credit takers, sycophants, narcissists, sociopaths, passive aggressives, and borderline personalities that can make your job extremely difficult. Every large organization has a whole posse of these people. If you allow it, they will make your life a living hell. Antisocials are all too often enabled and empowered by weak managers and executives.
Antisocial Behavior in Various Organizations
In small businesses, antisocial behavior tends to be exposed and eliminated quickly. In larger organizations though, antisocial personalities often grow and flourish like noxious, alien superweeds. They can topple organizations, destroy workplace morale, and chase away your best and brightest staff members. They can even end your career. You can’t spray them with Roundup, but excellent leadership can alleviate or eliminate the problem. Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of strong leaders who are skilled at managing these dysfunctional personalities in the workplace.
The Learning Curve
It took me about ten years to learn to identify and handle the full spectrum of personality disorders that one encounters in the business world. Maybe I am a slow learner. I rarely get completely blindsided anymore, but I am definitely still learning. Let’s take a look at some of the dysfunctional personalities and behaviors one encounters in bureaucratic organizations and then discuss a few solutions.
Every large organization has at least one of these people. In a meeting, he or she will remain silent or tacitly agree with the direction of an open discussion with colleagues, executives and stakeholders. As soon as the meeting is over, Grima makes a beeline to the executives and board members and begins whispering in their ears. Open discussions and symmetrical information are anathema to Grima because he has no ideas or solutions. His only approach to maintaining power or status is the personal and professional destruction of the people he perceives to be a threat. Maddening and disgusting! Strong executives shut these people down immediately by demanding that they voice their concerns in the appropriate public forum. Weak leaders allow these people to grow like a malignant cancer and spread through the organization. If you aren’t shutting this type of behavior down, Grima will eventually bring you down. Look at what happened to King Theoden!
Effective Leadership Vs. The Weapons of Cowards
Gossip and innuendo are the weapons of cowards but they can be incredibly effective. Strong leaders are never swayed by malicious insinuations and baseless accusations. Effective leaders investigate if necessary, take appropriate action and then shut the gossip down. I prefer the approach the Volturi took to false accusers in the Twilight Saga, but such tactics are generally frowned upon in the business world. In the hands of a weak leader, groundless gossip ruins careers and reputations. Don’t be a weak leader.
One excellent executive leader with whom I worked always addressed accusations and innuendo by investigating immediately. He began by pulling out his pen and notebook and getting the facts from all parties involved, remaining neutral the entire time. He never made assumptions and therefore never ended up looking the fool. When he completed his investigation, the only person whose credibility was damaged was the malicious accuser.
Hidden Agendas & Effective Leadership
One thing I have learned from 23 years of consulting work in political organizations is that everyone has a hidden agenda. I try to flush these out to the best of my ability during consulting engagements, but they are sometimes difficult to identify completely. Hidden agendas can present overwhelming obstacles to projects that involve significant process improvement and change. Too many people are heavily invested in old, inefficient methods and they hold power as a result of the dysfunction. Effective leaders expose hidden agendas and identify the real issues at hand.
Refusal to put it in writing or e-mail
Beware of those who drop by your office “for a discussion” or those who only want to discuss critical issues over the phone rather than by e-mail. Yes, many issues are better handled in a personal meeting rather than by e-mail, but it is essential to establish a paper trail for these discussions. Don’t let someone with ulterior motives hijack or misrepresent your hard work and message. If you are dealing with someone who wants to make sure there is no trail, document the discussion and e-mail back a summary of the meeting copying appropriate personnel. Stop this behavior immediately.
Consultants are always one step away from being fired so I have learned to put everything in writing. I cc at least 2 people in an organization on every communication and I state this practice in my contracts. I learned this lesson the hard way, though. At one point, I was reporting to a specific person on a Board. At the time, I didn’t understand that he had a hidden agenda and my failure to communicate to multiple board members allowed him to hijack the message and bury some really egregious practices that should have been exposed to fresh air and sun. “We don’t air our dirty laundry in public” he told me. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to get your dirty laundry clean.
A friend of mine was recently dismissed from an executive position because of her failure to document sufficiently and go over people’s heads to resolve problems. She should have known better but her failure to document put her in the crosshairs. Aggressively exposing and documenting the problems would have protected her but she trusted the wrong people. If you are working for an organization whose management rewards or buries incompetence, corruption and malfeasance, you should either be looking for another job or preparing for combat. If you choose the second option, you might win or you might lose. The worse that can happen is that you’ll get fired, but at least your integrity will be intact.
Long ago, I made the mistake of assuming that everyone laid their cards on the table. That’s the way I was raised. In the public sector, all the agendas are supposed to be public anyway. Government works better in the open but too many of the players favor back room deals that never address the root cause of problems.
Secrets and Conspiracies
Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Never get involved in workplace conspiracies. People who conspire against others in your organization will do the same to you if the opportunity presents itself and it will damage your credibility and integrity. Credibility and Integrity are all you have.
Examine Every Statement and Supposed Fact
I once took a course from GAP, International, Breakthrough Thinking Intensive. The gist of the training was to learn to examine every statement and assumption and ask if it was really true. It was a great course, but really ended up being a business version of skills I had learned from my best professors in graduate school. Every statement and assumption must be proven before you accept it as fact. I wish all the executives and managers I have encountered in roughly 200 organizations had this skill. All too often, we believe things that have no basis in fact.
In 1982, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall postulated that Helicobacter pylori, rather than stress, was the primary cause of gastric and duodenal ulcers. They were ridiculed and nearly run out of the profession for that suggestion, but their theory has proven to be true and they were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work in 2005. Sometimes the truth takes a while to get out.
Just Tell the Truth
My approach to business problems and antisocial people is to simply tell the truth in plain language and remain steadfast. Deal with facts and never let personal considerations enter into the fray. Truth is the best defense against the antisocial personalities you will encounter in the workplace. They hate it. It’s like throwing water on the Wicked Witch, or dragging a vampire out into the sun. Antisocial scoundrels melt or burst into flames when exposed to truth. Put everything out there in the open where everyone can see it.
My father was a small business owner – bars, restaurants, and real estate. In his businesses there were never hidden agendas and everything was always out in the open. I thought the whole world worked that way and had a rude awakening as an adult. My parents raised my sisters and I to always tell the truth. There was only one exception to that which he chastised me about. When he found out that I disclosed some personal information to a military recruiter, he yelled “$%^( &$@#! When I taught you to tell the truth, I didn’t mean for you to tell it to anyone from the federal government!” I guess I had missed that lesson.
In spite of his teaching, I found that the truth worked for me, even in the Army. I did two things in the army that one is never supposed to do. I volunteered, and I fessed up immediately if I made some sort of huge mistake. These worked to my advantage and I believe they will work to yours as well.
If you want to talk about business practices or technology in your organization, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s talk!
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016by
One of the most common mistakes I encounter in software procurement projects is a misunderstanding by County and Municipal executive management of the role of Information Technology in the procurement process.
Are you treating your project as a Business Project? Or do you think it is an Information Technology project because it involves software and hardware? If you are looking at the project as an IT project, you are making a common but significant mistake that may produce disastrous results. There is no such thing as an IT Project; there are only business projects! Because this is a business project, the appropriate business stakeholders need to be an integral part of the procurement process.
One of the least pleasant aspects of the consulting business is doing postmortem work on failed projects and it is usually easy to see where the project went off track. I have seen a number of projects fail because the procurement of business software was entrusted to IT Personnel on the mistaken belief that business software is something that Information Technology staff would naturally understand. Software = IT in some people’s thinking.
Software is generally a digital metaphor for classic, paper-based business processes that allow you to perform operations digitally that you can’t easily do with paper. Drop down boxes, autofill, mandatory fields, and automated reports can end-user proof the data entry and reporting processes, but you still need to collect the same data you did in your paper-based system and it can’t all be automated, yet. The same rules, processes and procedures that are part of any normal business process still apply. If you don’t understand the original, underlying business process you won’t get the metaphor either.
The inability to understand IT as a business function is a problem within executive and management ranks in many organizations. Remember the Dot Com Bubble from 1997 – 2000? The pundits and “experts” were advising stock buyers that the new Tech Companies no longer needed to follow the old business rules like making a profit and having solid financial and legal management. It wasn’t true. Tech companies had to follow all the business rules and so does your Information Technology Department.
There are some IT managers who are naturals at understanding business processes, but they are fairly rare. Many IT professionals fail to understand the core business functions of a product or process because they are overly concerned with the technical aspects. They make tech decisions instead of business decisions. IT professionals who are trained in business processes and workflows of specialized line of business operations are exceedingly rare. I have often heard IT people talk about “cool technology” in business meetings, which should be a dead giveaway about how things are going to end up if you take their advice. Your goal is not to acquire cool, cutting edge technology; you are trying to solve serious business problems.
In the olden days of MIS (Management Information Systems), many MIS people understood business systems, especially finance and accounting systems and knew how to build them from the ground up. There wasn’t a great deal of commercially available software and even when there was, it ran on a mainframe or mid-range system like a System 36, AS400, MicroVax or UNIX system. Building business systems was part of MIS training and knowledge. This is no longer true. Younger generations of IT people (MIS is nearly gone) are trained to build and support modular infrastructure systems, but not to build business systems like financial accounting software from scratch. Extensive training in business processes is no longer part of the education of the average IT employee.
I have seen outstanding, knowledgeable professionals with advanced degrees and professional licenses such as PE, PhD, MPH, and LSCW relegated to the back seat in procurement of software and services for their own department in preference to someone who was only qualified to operate a file server. This approach only makes sense once you realize that the executives who made these poor decisions were unable to understand the distinction between business and technological issues and processes. If a piece of software is a great fit for your organization and line of business processes, the underlying technology probably shouldn’t matter to you (but you should give it some consideration). It is difficult for me to understand why anyone would rely on the opinion of IT staff on an enormous business process decision requiring a firm understanding of a complex line of business. Basing critical business decisions on the opinions of technical staff almost always turns out to be a mistake. The denigration and humiliation of professional staff who were forced to the back seat in favor less qualified IT staff is something they will remember and senior management will eventually pay the price for this decision.
I believe the root cause of the misunderstanding about the appropriate role of IT in organizations emanates from insecurity among some managers over their lack of understanding of Information Technology. Because they don’t understand IT, they view it as a form of magic and can’t see how standard business and management rules apply. Let’s take a look at a couple of applicable metaphors.
I have been driving a car for decades, but I know very little about how an engine functions. I don’t need to know because I have a great mechanic. I can operate it and go wherever I need to go. I can put in gas, windshield wiper fluid, and occasionally oil. My mechanic does everything else. I buy used cars and I do sometimes consult with my mechanic about what car to buy, but I don’t consult with him about what routes to take, how I should drive it or how I should use my car to conduct business. I don’t consult him about my insurance coverage or what music I should play on the radio while I am driving. My car is a utility and I only need the mechanic to keep it running; how I use it and what I use it for are not his concern.
Another appropriate way to look at your Information Technology department might be to view it the same way you look at your Public Works or Highway department. Your highway staff builds, maintains, and supports your physical infrastructure like roads and bridges. If there are potholes, they fix them. If a streetlight is broken, they fix it. Your road crew doesn’t get to decide who will drive on a road, where drivers go or what kind of vehicle they should drive on the road. They don’t enforce the rules of the road and they don’t teach people how to drive on it. In fact, your highway staff may not even design and build your roads – you may outsource that task and leave only the maintenance to your staff.
It is not unreasonable to treat Information Technology as a similar utility or line of business that primarily provides infrastructure maintenance services as a baseline. You don’t have to understand the granular details of how computers, networks or databases function to understand the role they play in your information infrastructure. It is job of your IT staff to provide a reliable infrastructure so your departments can run their business. It is not IT’s job to engineer your organizational business processes. Most of the time, they simply aren’t qualified.
If your IT staff is doing their job well, you shouldn’t even know they exist. Everything should simply work. Data should flow over the network and there shouldn’t be potholes or broken traffic signals that cause traffic problems. The staff should be providing reliable traffic flow over the network and reliable, stable servers to house your applications.
It is a natural inclination of IT Departments that are failing at managing their infrastructure to blame those failures on just about everything and everyone except themselves. Nothing to see here folks, look over there.
Your business requirements should be driving your Information Technology program, but too many organizations get this wrong and allow Information Technology to drive business functions they don’t understand.
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016
By Jeffrey Morgan
About twenty percent of people are really good or pretty good at what they do. The other eighty percent are mediocre to poor. This rule unfortunately works across all professions – doctors, attorneys, bartenders, auto mechanics, IT people, grocery store clerks, etc. When I need a professional, especially a doctor or lawyer, I try to choose from those in the twenty percent. I really learned this lesson the hard way during my divorce. I only got the right attorney on the fifth try.
If you are a manager or supervisor, you are stuck with this reality.
What puts people in the top 20% or the bottom 80%? Talent, intelligence and aptitude are all part of the equation but these factors only partially account for great work output. Work ethic and attitude are the factors that really matter.
My parents and many teachers tried to teach me about work ethic in my youth but I didn’t really learn the lesson until I was in the army. Almost thirty years later I still remember my moment of work ethic epiphany. My platoon members and I were all in our Quonset hut at Camp Red Cloud in the Republic of Korea cleaning weapons and I clearly remember Sergeant C talking about work ethic. Always do the best job you can do regardless of whether it is cleaning weapons, cleaning the latrines or performing your mission in the field.
This was only a few days after he went on an epic rampage. He had been away for a few days and when he came back and took a look around, there were a few problems. Someone had left a broom out in the motor pool and someone from another platoon had borrowed a tire from one of our Hummers. There were a couple of other minor infractions. This triggered a screaming virtuoso performance in denigration and excoriation in the most impressively profanity filled reaming I have ever received. We all walked away from the 30 minute (seemed like hours) reaming thoroughly demoralized and totally ashamed. But it made us all better people. It was a lesson that has shaped my life ever since.
Sergeant C was trying to drag us all into the 20% and wouldn’t tolerate anyone in his platoon being part of the 80%. In the current climate of PC and positive reinforcement, Sergeant C’s management style probably wouldn’t be tolerated but it was certainly effective. Giving out gold stars for shoddy performance does no one any good.
If you are a manager, you are stuck with your own staff of 20% vs. 80%, but you can certainly influence those in the 80% to perform better. If Sergeant C could do it, so can you. Have a comment? Need help in improving the quality of output in your organization? Send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2016by
Reduce the Cost of your operations by improving Quality: William Edwards Deming and Quality Management in a Public Sector Organization
If you improve the quality of your product or service, productivity is automatically increased and costs go down.
I first learned about W.E. Deming while I was in graduate school and also working in the Product Engineering department of a Fortune 500 company. At the time, the company was implementing Total Quality Management (TQM) and I was really impressed by the scope of changes the company was employing in order to improve its product quality.
Deming’s approach to quality and productivity is widely used in manufacturing, but not so well recognized in the Public Sector where I do a lot of my work. However, applying Deming’s concepts and methods to Public Sector organizations can create a profound improvement in the quality of that service while automatically improving productivity and lowering costs.
Combine with a Business Process Assessment
Any time you are working on a business project such as procurement of a new software product, a perfect opportunity to review and streamline all your business processes presents itself. In fact, this may be the only opportunity you have to make improvements in the delivery and efficiency of services for the next decade or two if your organization functions like many in the Public Sector do. There is no software product that will magically improve your business processes – you must analyze the business processes and build your new, improved processes into your new system.
A business process assessment in advance of your upcoming software acquisition can identify the bottlenecks in your business processes that create inefficiencies in your operations. I can provide a few of the many examples that I have encountered with my clients. In one organization, I found a 10-step process for recording of revenue that resulted in a 3 month delay in that revenue being booked. This process should have consisted of a single step with instant booking of the revenue. While doing a business process review in another organization, my client identified a 17-step process that resulted in a lengthy delay in booking revenue and sometimes in the total loss of that revenue. Again, that process should have consisted of a single step.
Is your organization plagued with bureaucratic processes like those mentioned above? No one knows why the process is that way and no one can remember when it started, but “We’ve just always done it that way.” This is the reason why I do a bottom-up business process assessment. There is no way to capture these processes unless you interview and observe the people who actually do the work. The gulf between Minion and Management is vast and Management often has no idea of what the exact processes are in various departments and functions of a large organization.
Once you identify all of these process bottlenecks, you will want to make sure you build the new, more logical and efficient process into your new software system. Unfortunately, many organizations do what a colleague of mine describes as “recreating all the dysfunctional processes in the new system.” If you are going to take that approach, why bother with a new system?
If you want to read more about improving quality and productivity while lowering costs, try Out of the Crisis by William Edwards Deming (1982, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Educational Services, Cambridge, Massachusetts). If you want to discuss methods for increasing the quality of your services, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2015by