Making Good IT Decisions
November 2004 "He who has imagination without learning has wings but no feet."
Many business decisions begin with a touch of imagination. In most decision making, outcomes should be the measuring sticks by which the process is analyzed. During this review, some decisions seem strokes of genius; others simply broad embarrassments that will hopefully be forgotten. Sometimes we are lucky in choosing among alternatives for ridiculous reasons that happen to turn out right; other times subsequent events help us deflect responsibility for faulty understanding of underlying problems that need solutions. Of course, in our businesses what we really need to have is the wisdom to evaluate the outcomes with a clear sense of purpose; we should want to fine-tune our decision-making process for the next time. We need the learning that French moralist Joseph Joubert refers to in his quote that began this column.
IT decisions and pondering the success of their outcomes is particularly challenging. Measurement is often ill-defined. Often, the clarity of end with IT projects does not exist. In addition, the confusion of whose perspective matters muddles concrete conclusions. This is because the user and the recommender and the implementer are often not the same person, impacting the definition of requirements and expectations in outcome. This the children’s game Telephone, wherein the players garble the message that starts the game as it is transmitted person to person among the players.
So how do we make better IT decisions? For larger companies, best practices terminology like establishing project management offices (PMO) and formalizing IT governance are a start. But even smaller organizations can improve their project results by adopting a number of goals.
Leave the mountain climbing to your recreation. Instead, be cautious about reinventing the wheel when leveraging IT for business challenges. More importantly, learn from others in your industry and in other industries, in your discipline and in others. This is the essence of adopting best practices. Spend an afternoon visiting a reference to learn what procedures solved unexpected implementation problems. Define how expectations could spiral out of control and how others have kept them in line. Incorporate training and implementation assistance in the project plan and in the budget. Involve the users at all stages, including when evaluating the efficacy of the training to simplify integration into their daily processes.
Focus on Total Cost of Ownership. Would we intentionally buy a newly constructed house with shoddy workmanship with an understanding that it will need a lot of work? We may buy a handyman’s special with the same problems. What is the difference? The difference is the element of extrapolated total cost. When considering the new house, we expect that the investment covers the useful life of household appliances, structural integrity, and the like. For a handyman’s special, we factor in many of the things need repair and then make a calculated guess on what the house could be worth when done. We then add these facts together to compute how much the house is worth in its current condition with these assumptions to get a total cost of ownership (TCO).
TCO considerations help us avoid allowing new projects from becoming handyman’s specials through poor planning. Instead of trying to make the project fit the budget and then dealing with the resulting mess because “we are invested,” we should honestly dissect what it will take to reach our initiative’s objectives. Successfully managing IT decisions requires knowing that in the end a project does have a cost and we will end up paying at least the honest cost using the pay me now or pay me later principle that vendors and consultants are too familiar with.
Use Standards. Imagine a world wherein every family member insisted on a different type of dinner table or household temperature. Yes, I know it happens on the temperature, but eventually everyone settles. Aside from the impracticality of meeting everyone’s needs at the same time, the waste and divisiveness would be incredible. This is despite the have it your way world of choice that we live in. When you are accommodating a collaborative coexistence, catering to the minutiae of each person’s demands in a community is anarchy.
This is where organizational IT standards play a role in decision-making. If each of us did our own thing in our spheres of influence in our companies, technological anarchy would reign. Instead, decision-making must factor in a foundation of corporate IT standards that consider at least available technologies, cost, human resources and knowledge, and process. Developing these standards and adjusting them to the needs of the business are the foundation to IT plans.
Most importantly, these standards should not be developed in the vacuum of IT superiority or utopia. They must be practical in the context of where our business is today. For example, blindly insisting on "only open source from now on" for solving challenges when we have no support resources to carry out that ideal is often harmful in the end.
Standards should address many macro and micro elements of your environment including:
Even amidst the frustrations of an IT decision gone awry, we have opportunities to learn how to improve our next decisions. We can enhance the quality of our outcomes by being attuned to the mistakes of the past. By focusing on the things that really matter in our IT decisions, let’s work to turn our imagination into a plan with both wings and feet.2004 SmartPros Ltd. All rights reserved.