I spoke last week at the Auro Bank IT conference here in Toronto on the topic of IT Transformation in an increasingly complex and fast-moving world, and the feedback I got from my talk from the participants was not exactly what I was expecting. I hoped that people would be enlightened by my ideas for how to prioritize transformative work and start small and expand. I tried to show how to approach the complex environment without being overwhelmed. Perhaps some of them took away my core message, but what I heard consistently was how refreshing it was to have someone articulate the problems we face in IT with a dose of reality. It was clear that my talk was a reminder to reality check your IT.
Say It Like You Mean IT
I am rarely accused of holding back my opinions. Apparently, that came through in my presentation as strongly (or perhaps more strongly) than my underlying message. After reflecting on the feedback, it’s a sign of what is wrong with our approach to IT within a business. We aren’t realistic enough.
We all face the challenge of aggressive timelines, increasing scope, ambiguous needs, and demanding business partners. But that’s all part of the reality of the business environment today. Our business partners aren’t challenging us to move faster and harder because they enjoy seeing us squirm. They are challenging us because their business environment demands it.
But at the same time as they are challenging us to work differently and deliver faster, we aren’t standing up and helping with the “reality” conversation. It is our job to help the business understand what’s possible, what needs trade-offs, and how we can all be successful in executing differently. We continue to be order takers and accept what is asked without pushing back. Our lack of reality up front diminishes trust, increases escalations, and lowers throughput.
Partner With and Know the Business
Our business partners are (generally) open to hearing that they need to make trade-offs. They are aware that there are choices to be made. They understand that they need to hone their ideas to ensure that the things that are really important get done as quickly as possible. The business is trusting us to stand up for ourselves and let them know what those choices are.
Most business environments are shifting quickly, and as IT organizations we need to support that change. IT needs to evolve how we deal with starting new initiatives as well. Not everything is a “must have” requirement and we need to be willing to stand up and push back. Not everything needs to have perfect polish to be usable by our business teams, and we need to be willing to deliver “good enough”. Not every project needs a technology solution, so we need to push back to understand the problems we are trying to solve before we go off and design an elegant solution.
Reality Check Your IT
As an IT organization, we need to play a significant role in delivering what really creates value for our businesses. It doesn’t matter whether that is a product, a service, or a financial instrument. We don’t make money from our IT; we leverage our IT to make money from something else. As IT professionals we need to understand our ecosystem and help our partners to make good investment choices.
We need more people to speak up and help with the “reality check” of our IT projects. Without reality up front, we risk simply delivering technology rather than delivering value. Not speaking up and helping build out the “reality” view of our collective projects is the equivalent of watching someone run off the edge of a cliff. We could have stopped them, but that might have required a difficult conversation and a basic fact base. (There is a cliff over there, and you’re running full speed at it. We can change course and avoid it).
It may not be convenient or popular to force “reality checks” into the way we work. But at the end of the day, a spoonful of reality might just be what makes your next project a raving success.
Reality Check Your IT
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.