This is a guest post by my valued and esteemed colleague, Roy Youngman.  This appeared this morning on his blog, and I loved it, so invited him to re-post it here.  Enjoy!

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Half-Full Stadiums and IT Effectiveness?

I heard something on the radio the other week that I thought was clever and interesting. I was driving around casually listening to a sports talk show host (Colin Cowherd) lament over the dangers of large stadiums that are only half-full.  To make his point, Colin said he always believed in the following equation:

He then proceeded to make his point that people generally equate a good time at a sporting event to a loud, sold-out stadium more than a larger stadium with many empty seats, even if there are more people in attendance.  I do agree with his point, but more importantly, I like the way he made his case.  The use of a simple equation that depicts the relationships between a few major drivers of something we can relate to is really quite appealing and thought-provoking.

As luck would have it, a few days later my colleague, Vaughan Merlyn, and I were discussing the major drivers of IT Performance and how best to depict them.  Not just the performance of any one individual, but the combined performance of everyone involved in realizing the greatest potential from information technology across the entire enterprise.  I think we came up with a pretty good equation.  If you want, jump to the end of this post to see it, but  here is our thought process that leads to it.

Talent as a Driver of IT Performance

The first and most obvious driver of IT Performance is Talent – the total quantity and depth of competency of all your people.  The more people you have with useful skills, the better your IT Performance.  This one is so obvious, it hardly seems worth exploring.  What is not as obvious is that most companies seem to stop here – in other words, they equate Performance to Talent and nothing else.  These are the companies who answer every increase in IT demand with a plea for additional IT resources.  To them, there is no way to increase IT Performance without increasing the numbers of IT resources.

Coordination as a Driver of IT Performance

But there is more to IT Performance than just Talent!  The second driver of IT Performance is Coordination – how well do your people coordinate their activities.  This is a bit more subtle, but obvious with just a little reflection.  In his book Structures in Fives: Designing Effective Organizations, Henry Mintzberg states:

Every organized human activity – from making pots to the placing of a man on the moon – gives rise to two fundamental and opposing requirements: the division of labor into various tasks to be performed, and the coordination of these tasks to accomplish the activity.”

Coordination Costs are almost always understated because they are seen as a failing of management and no manager wants to admit they are part of the problem.  So instead, coordination failures are often conveyed as Talent shortfalls and blame is placed on some poor individual who silently learns how to behave as a victim of poor process.  Experts in process improvement should understand Coordination Costs, because it is a major source of Waste, something every good 6 Sigma Black Belt is trained to reduce.

Okay – so IT Performance is driven by the level of Talent and the Coordination of that Talent, right?  Well, yes, but we can’t stop there. There is another driver, one with incredible positive power, and one that process improvement black belts don’t understand and can’t deal with.  Think about this question: Is it possible for one team of people to substantially outperform another team of people when both teams have the exact same number of people with the exact same skills and the exact same coordinating mechanisms?  I bet you answered, “yes”. But why would you? Logic would suggest that performance should be essentially the same, so what could make a substantial difference?

Synergy as a Driver of IT Performance

The answer to this is a difficult concept, because it delves into human relationships and human motivators.  The best English word for it is probably Synergy, but sometimes even that word seems inadequate.  People who have an effective relationship with one another can anticipate one another’s needs, back each other up, build upon one another’s thoughts and even conceive things neither of them could have ever dreamed up individually.  Equally important, synergistic relationships are pleasurable and rewarding to people.  They are fun to be a part of and usually cultivate rapid growth to each individual involved.  As the network of such relationships expands throughout the team and beyond, the sum total of Performance moves well beyond that of a team with the same skills and same method of coordination.  Synergy, as hard as it is to measure and explain, is a very real positive driver of IT Performance.

Confusion as an Obstacle to IT Performance

Is there a negative driver, something that works to degrade IT Performance?  Unfortunately, yes.  As a consultant, it is something I witness almost daily at almost every client: Confusion – the breakdown in Organizational Clarity.  Patrick Lencioni describes the second discipline in The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive as “Create Organizational Clarity”:

An organization that has achieved clarity has a sense of unity around everything it does.”

I’ve seen it – skilled people who coordinate their activity and have great relationships with one another, and yet they struggle.  They struggle because they aren’t sure of their purpose.  What little direction they get seems almost intentionally ambiguous.  They feel un-empowered to make decisions because the values and principles needed to guide those decisions are non-existent or equally ambiguous.  They are confused but don’t want to admit it because being confused is viewed as a weakness by management instead of a weakness of management.

So there you have it, our IT Performance Equation:

Want to increase your IT Performance? Find ways to increase your Talent (the total quantity and strength of useful competencies), improve the Coordination of your Talent, increase the overall Synergy through better collaborative networks of effective human relationships, and decrease Confusion across the enterprise.

Which of these will you work on next year?

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