derek-j-1241400I spoke last week at the Auro Bank IT conference here in Toronto on the topic of IT Transformation in an increasing 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 transformation work, and how to start small and expand, how to approach the complex environment without being overwhelmed (and perhaps they did take some of that away), 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.

I am rarely accused of holding back my opinions and apparently that came through in my presentation as strongly (or perhaps more strongly) than my underlying message, but after reflecting on the consistency of the feedback I am beginning to think that perhaps the feedback is more of 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 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 by actually helping them 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 we are being asked for without pushing back with as much pressure as we are receiving which results in diminished trust, increased escalations, and lower throughput.

Our business partners are (generally) very open to hearing that they need to make trade offs, that there are choices to be made, and that they need to hone their ideas to ensure that the things that are really important get done as quickly as possible (and those things that are really “nice to have” don’t get in the way of that), but they need us to stand up for ourselves and let them know what those choices are.

Many of us are seeing our business environment shift and change quickly and as IT organizations we need to support that change and evolve how we deal with 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.

As an IT organization we need to play a significant role in delivering what really creates value in our businesses whether that be 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, so as IT professionals we need to understand that 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 or 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… 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.

About 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.

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