IT Doublespeak for the Unintiated: Complete v. Done

We’ve been working on our Enrollment Management (EM) processes here at Armstrong, and I’m delighted to say that while we are not done, we are in a much better place than a year ago. Many of the issues we faced were around processes that hadn’t been updated or questioned since they were put in place about 15 years ago. Correlated was the lack of continuing education for staff to keep abreast of current practices in EM and the technology advances.

The highs and lows of this undertaking are for another posting, but in the midst of this we’ve had some interesting conversations among president’s cabinet members. The conversations have been around when something is “done.”

Consider this conversation a process of IT and institutional maturation as we learn to be a planned and proactive institution. Also, this has been a process of learning how to engage and do things as partners rather than the unsuccessful approach of IT as short order cooks. This leads to much better satisfaction and outcomes for everyone.

In a nutshell

The crux of the discussion was that IT was calling a project complete when the functional outcome wasn’t achieved. Both are correct, and that isn’t very satsifying. To be successful, the business units and the IT units need to manage engagement and expectation.

You: Aaarg! You IT rabble are playing doublespeak again. (sigh). 

Me: At least there were no acronyms. That means we are getting better, right?

You:¬† (Hey! I can’t print that…this is a family oriented blog)

Over-simplified version

Complete=the technical deliverables have been met, and IT thinks that it is ready for testing by the client.

Done=the clients have tested and affirmed that the solution meets the desired outcome/specification.

Many times there is an iterative cycle before reaching “done.”

Here is a picture.

Slide1But wait, there is an analogy too.

You have taken some pants to a tailor to be hemmed. The tailor measures, and you leave with an idea of when the pants will be ready and the cost. The tailor does his thing and hems the pants. (complete)

You still need to come back and try on the pants to make sure that the work is done to your specification/satisfaction. If you never pick up the pants, the tailor has still completed the work. If you pick up the pants but never wear them, then the tailor has still completed the work.

If the new hem is too short/long, then the tailor will have to make adjustments. (Too many of these iterations and you will know you’ve got a bad tailor and won’t trust him with your pants anymore!)

If you decide you want a cuff, then that is new work and the tailor must do more work. (Too many of these new requests on the same dime, and your tailor will realize he’s got a bad client!)

Once the tailor has finished and you are satisfied with the pants, then you are both done for this engagement. (done) Enjoy your pants.

Caution: pitfalls all along the way.
1) Bad specifications=bad output.
2) Shoddy IT work=burdensome testing cycle for clients and delays in achieving outcome.
3) No client testing=outcomes not achieved and IT in a hostage situation not able to cross project off list.
4) Feature creep/nibbling for extras= this can add delays to getting to other work. It happens but should be managed through good original specifications and joint prioritization of overall portfolio of requests.
5) Finished product that works, but no one uses in favor of the old way=waste and unachieved outcomes
While 1-4 are quite common, #5 scares me most of all, which is why outside of the technical components of an implementation, the training and organizational change components must be accounted for (think Lewin: unfreeze, change, freeze).
The worst situation is to have spent resources developing something miraculous that will help out students and also the staff delivering a service only to have it not be used because you spent resources developing the technology and not the people side. Again, a topic for another post.

The Takeaway

Clearly communication plays a vital role in reducing the risk for the pitfalls mentioned, and these outcomes require joint participation throughout. Please make sure to manage engagement and expectations to get better, more satisfying, outcomes!

Congratulations! You are now initiated.



Innovation as a function of Trust


Miami University

Next semester I am teaching a brand new class on “Innovation and Disruptive Thinking” for Miami University, and I’ve been doing a bit of research on the topic to make sure that I hit the learning outcomes with which I think students who take the class should walk away. And, I’ve been fortunate enough to be interviewing for a few CIO positions at universities around the country where this topic inevitably comes up. If it doesn’t, then it’s a bit of a warning sign. The gist of this is that between research and personal reflection, much of my thought cycles over the past year or so have been revolving around IT, innovation, and change.

We’ve been somewhat spoiled to Silicon Valley’s “next big thing” version of innovation with the big reveal, an IPO, and venture capitalists, and certainly that is a gigantic part of what innovation means, but it’s not the sole definition. My world has some of the big new things, but it’s the daily small innovations that are more powerful and frequent. It’s the piece of duct tape you use to wrap around a rake handle so you won’t get a blister (adaptation); or it’s using a muffin pan upside down to make cookie cups (new use) ( It’s when you get frustrated with a daily annoyance and either actually take care of it or think about ways you would take care of it if you could.

This sort of innovation usually occurs near to where the problem or frustration lives by the person being frustrated or by someone observing continual frustration with “fresh eyes.” If you’re going about your work and have some web based program (eg, a finance program) that takes you four steps to accomplish a task and you could envision how it could be done in two, this is innovation. If you’re at home, go ahead and put the duct tape on the rake. You probably don’t need me for that, but if you’re at work and have an idea that requires or could use some help from IT, what do you do? (My first advice is to write that idea down–moments of brilliance are fleeting!)

I think a lot of what you do depends on our relationship. “Our relationship” meaning the culture I’ve instilled within my organization from top to bottom. Are my basic services stable? When they aren’t, am I transparent on the cause, the mitigation, and the steps to prevent it from happening again? Do I involve people in guiding how resources are used? Do I find ways to frustrate you with bureaucracy? Am I better at saying “no” than trying to help you accomplish your goal? Do I confuse strategy with process? (a topic of a future blog post, I promise!) Am I open to feedback and do I take take criticism¬† non-defensively? (By the way, that’s criticism not flogging–there is a difference) In general, do my actions match the words I’m saying? We all know the grand words written on the wall that describes the vision and values, but do we all live it?

(An aside: If you’re a leader within your organization, can you answer the vision/values/mission question succinctly? Can your direct reports? If the answer is not yes–with allowance for some drift–then you have some work to do on your vision/values. Clarity of purpose is critical to being successful.)

Of course, we live in a world of limited resources and there are regulatory requirements that prevent some good ideas from happening, but for the overwhelming majority of the time, I think we in IT should be helping advance the cause of our clients. To do this we need to develop a trust relationship with people. IT can be a strategic enabler, but you’re not going to want to dream with me if you don’t trust me or question my competency on basic matters. And, by me, again I mean top to bottom of the organization. The lowest common denominator will define the trust in most cases. And, I would say the converse is true as well. I need to be able to trust you too!

As I understand your goals, there are those moments where “the next big thing” could be appropriate. Part of my job is to stay up to date and have the IT organization stay up to date, with industry trends, peer directions. If you marry this understanding of trends with the relationship and understanding we’ve developed over time, then you have a powerful reaction that can occur. Client need can be met with an technical possibilities. Steve Jobs said something to the effect that sometimes people don’t know what they want until they see it. For me, this is all about knowing and understanding your audience and constituency.

Where the big central group may not be able to move as quickly, can we facilitate and encourage innovating and trying new things with local IT staff? Once we reach a point where it is appropriate to deploy an innovation–the new big thing or a process change–across the university, can we work together to minimize impact? It’s about being able to cede areas of control to my constituency and manage through consensus and influence. Trust and communication are the two main vehicles that will make this possible.

To do justice to the discussion, I really need to talk about how mining conflict is critical to successful implementation of an innovation is; the role of failure as a component of success; and the general process of organizational change. But, those are other topics for other days.

My perspective is based on the belief that my role as a leader is to help foster an environment where innovation can occur, implement it where possible, and most importantly help people through the change process as their lives are disrupted. So much of my job now deals with broad organizational changes that becoming a competent change leader is critical to any chance of success. In many cases, we don’t fear the end state, we fear the transition. One of the thing that has been helpful to me is to be able to see the big picture and then help others see it, feel it, and taste the vision of what the future could be like. The beginning, middle, and end of this journey from innovation to implementation is all based on the trust relationship. It’s my job to set the culture where this flourishes, and making sure my actions and words are in alignment.

Just in case you’re wondering, here is my personal mission. Ask me about it any time.

creating a healthy environment where others can reach their full potential to excel at life and contribute positively to humanity.

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