(last updated on April 29, 2014)
The experiment in trans-blog inquiry continues! To recap, Michael and I were chatting about an IT-specific version of the Concrete Goals Tracker. He followed up with his thoughts on this in his August 7 post by answering the three questions I had posed earlier:
- What is the Goal of Information Technology?
- To Whom is the Goal of IT Important, Not Counting IT Professionals?
- What are the tangible signs that tell us that IT is actually fulfilling its goals?
Read Michael’s response first, then continue on with this post.
The Dilemma of Support Services
Michael’s responses are good descriptions of what IT professionals tend to value in a well-run department. I would factor out the following general principle: A good IT department smooths out business processes. Smooth, I think, implies a lack of drama from malfunctions caused either by equipment or user inexperience.
One of his commenters, however, made the following note:
Many, many businesses are so dependent on IT that I think we belive that IT IS the business– but it is simply a tool for productivity, and hopefully, finding a way to enhance customer experiences as they interact with the company.
I think that’s a critical insight.
I would further go on to say that the role of the support functions in a business tends to be defensive rather than proactive, because these functions are defined in context of “taking care of things so the revenue-generating activities of the business can remain focused on revenue generation”. This leads to the following types of directives from management:
- IT — “Fix my computers so they don’t cause any trouble”
- Accounting — “Make sure that the payroll goes out on time, and that we’re not spending more than we’re taking in”
- Office Administration — “Make sure we have the good coffee every week, and that we don’t run out of supplies”
One thing I have noticed is that these departments are sometimes treated as second-class employees within the organization, because they’re not directly tied into the revenue-generating part of the business. They are judged on their ability to not cause trouble for the rest of the business and to keep things running smoothly. That’s not really an empowering position to take, and I would much rather see people motivated to create than just to serve out their function.
So I would rephrase the goal of a department like Information Technology in a different way: Proactively Contribute to the Company’s Success, and derive the working metrics from that perspective. The whole idea behind the Concrete Goals Tracker is, after all, to measure and motivate positive progress to a goal; it’s not enough to just check off responsibilities that you’re required to do…that would just be a checklist. The CGT, however, works best when you are able to find tangible, asset-building achievement to use as your metrics. For example:
- Make 1000 dollars is a good revenue target for a checklist-type system.
Create an asset that generates 1000 dollars is a CGT-style goal.
p>The difference is maybe a little subtle, since people tend to equate results directly with achievement. The shift from “results” to “results-generating assets”, however, puts more of the focus on process, and on creating assets that generate recurring revenue. That is, I think, one of the paths to compound productivity. So I think one trick to adapting the CGT toward IT is to identify assets that generate recurring user benefit.
Customer-Facing Internal Support
A second factor in IT is the lack of tangible feedback from other people in the organization. Let’s face it: most people hate their computers when they’re broken, and that’s when they think of IT. They don’t really notice when they working. And when something is working, most people would rather think about what they need to get done, not about nebulous threats that seem out of their control. This creates an environment that tends toward negative energy, and IT catches the brunt of it.
So the question is this: How can IT create positive energy within the organization? How does IT shake the image of taciturn administrators with their countless confusing rules, restrictive machine security policies, incomprehensible tech jargon, and bizarre server procedures? All these things just seem to get in the way of getting things done. Is it possible to reframe the following rules in terms of positive benefit for individuals, instead of general principles?
Reframing the IT Department
Here’s Michael’s original Goals of IT list:
- to provide a stable and secure infrastructure to maximize productivity
- to keep hardware and software current with needs of the users
- to support all users of infrastructure to achieve basic literacy and competence with basic IT tools
- to maintain a security program that protects the investments put into it
- to provide cost-effective results to achieve results and improve effiency
- to provide communication about plans and projects that are IT-related that affect the whole organization
As I have commented, these all seem like defensive directives, the kind of rules that suck the energy out of people who really just want to get their work done. How do you make them into (1) Benefit-generating Assets and (2) Obviously Beneficial?
I might rephrase them like this:
- maximize productivity with an easy-to-navigate, easy to understand technology infrastructure
- maintain the latest and greatest tools for all users
- provide classes and information to show users great time-saving tricks
- provide safety and security for important company and personal data so it is never lost or compromised
- demonstrate to the organization how IT is making the company more productive, more profitable, and how individual users are benefiting from all the improvements that are going on.
In other words: Show, don’t tell. Demonstrate, don’t describe. Measure what you have, not what you have not. Invest in teaching people how to empower themselves, and follow-up by providing the tools that make empowerment possible. That’s the general idea here.
So that’s my take on it so far; the next step would be to develop ways of measuring tangible achievement with respect to the restated goals. From there, the construction of a CGT-style weighted list becomes possible.