Solutions in Search of a Problem

By Jeffrey Morgan

The Problem

Here is a scenario I frequently encounter in organizations. An executive identifies a problem which he or she believes to be an Information Technology problem and delegates the problem to the IT Director to solve. For instance, one real world example I have seen many times is where an executive tells the IT Director, We have a communication problem. We need better communications. How can you fix it? A slightly different manifestation is where the IT Director approaches the executive management, unsolicited, and proposes a solution that will improve organizational communications. For the sake of argument, let’s forget about how this is begging the question.

The Wrong Approach

The IT Director proposes that the organization implement NoPoint to improve communications. Maybe the IT Director digs up some vendor-written white paper that shows amazing ROI and low TCO. The executive signs off on the project and the organization begins a 5 or 6 figure project to Implement NoPoint. Never mind that the users didn’t ask for it; the new system will solve all communication problems. Never mind that no measurable, demonstrable goals and objectives have been established. Plus, all civilized, up-to-date organizations use NoPoint. The IT Manager will force yet another piece of software with a dubious record for solving business problems on the staff.

Some IT Directors are excellent at solving business problems. Unfortunately, many other IT Directors aren’t equipped to identify root causes and propose appropriate solutions. If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If you came up through the ranks in IT, every problem looks like a tech problem that requires software to solve.

Sadly, this scenario is played out every day in the public and private sector. Massive amounts of money are spent implementing systems without any return on investment or demonstrable results.

A Better Way

The strong IT Director will use a different approach. One approach he or she might take would be to meet with other end users and managers in the organization in order to determine the root cause of the communication problem. Rather than assuming that software will solve the problem, he or she will solicit solutions from the end users and organizational management. In my experience using this approach, it is unlikely that the end users will recommend that NoPoint or any other software system be implemented as the primary solution. However, they might suggest it as a tool after the more pressing issues have been addressed. Rather, they are likely to identify organizational bottlenecks, perverse incentives, and other obstacles to quality communications. This process is also likely to identify specific individuals with poor communication skills. In this case, the strong IT Director will create a plan that includes leadership, training and end user buy-in, in addition to  processes, policies and procedures that improve organizational communications.

An alternate scenario I have encountered is where an IT Director is under pressure to do something. The IT Department is delivering poor customer service and end users are ready to revolt. Rather than addressing the customer service problem, the IT Director, manager, or supervisor suggests a new (and expensive) project that will make the users happy.They think this approach will hide the poor customer service while the new system is under implementation.

How would your IT Director or manager approach these problems?

The unpleasant truth here is that no software will inherently solve business problems. Solving business problems requires leadership, training, policy, process and procedure.

If you have a communication problem you would like to discuss, or any other type of Business Process or Information Technology problem, send me an e-mail at jmorgan@e-volvellc.com.

Copyright © Jeffrey Morgan 2015

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