This is the first in a series of posts on the subject of IT Organizational Clarity.  The general concept of  Organizational Clarity is clearly laid out in Patrick Lencioni‘s wonderful leadership fable, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.

I believe that Organizational Clarity is particularly important for IT leaders today as IT management and operational roles are increasingly dispersing throughout the business rather than being performed within a homogeneous IT organization.

There are a zillion analogies for illuminating what is meant by, and the importance of Organizational Clarity.  One that resonates for me is rowing boat racing. I attribute that to growing up in the UK and getting excited about the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race (I lived on Oxford Gardens in London, so it was always clear which team I was supporting!)  The sight of a rowing boat, with 8 rowers and a coxswain sitting at the rear, steering and uttering commands to help the crew keep the cadence and stroke rating, is a compelling image.  When all the rowers are in perfect harmony and staying on course, there is enormous power in the boat.  If the coxswain screws up, or any of the rowers don’t follow the instructions, havoc reins and the boat slows way down or goes way off course.  I think of IT organizations that lack organizational clarity as the slow boat, or even worse, the fast boat heading in the wrong direction!

Common Symptoms Reveal Lack of Organizational Clarity

From my consulting and research work, I will assert that the symptoms of the lack of Organizational Clarity are common and prevalent.  How often do you or your colleagues say or hear:

We Don’t Communicate Well!”

Not only has virtually every client I’ve worked with raised this complaint, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen an IT organization that claims, “We communicate really well!”

This is a non-trivial symptom.  It leads to redundant work, leakage of business value (i.e., value that should have been captured, could have been captured, but is not captured) and a general sense of confusion and disorientation.  For the beneficiaries of IT work, it contributes to a poor customer experience – “The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing!”

We don’t have clear accountability!”

This is another common symptom – failure to be clear on who is accountable for what, and, more to the point, what happens when something goes wrong.  This is often (and unfortunately) referred to as, “Not knowing who’s throat to choke!” but is probably more constructively thought of as, “Not knowing what actions to take to ensure that this error is never repeated!”

This symptom also means that managers and individual performers often do not understand how their work contributes to the overall mission and vision for the IT organization, and, more importantly, how it contributes to the success of their internal and external customers.

We exist to support the business!”

This common misunderstanding leads to the ‘order taker’ mentality, and an IT organization that is always extremely busy (to the point of rampant overwork!) and yet is seen by the business as adding little to no value.

Don’t Attempt to Address the Symptoms Directly!

It is essential to recognize that these are symptoms and not root causes in of themselves.  You cannot solve the communications issue by mandating or even organizing for better communications.  I’ve lost count of the number of IT leadership teams I’ve worked with who talk about putting a marketing/communications specialist on their staff “to address the communications problems.”  I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad idea – I’ve posted before about the importance of bringing marketing skills and disciplines to IT management.  But adding such a role with the purpose of ‘fixing communications’ rarely, if ever, works.  Communications problems are symptomatic of a lack of Organizational Clarity – not just for the IT organization as a whole, but for its ‘moving parts’ such as IT Infrastructure, Enterprise Architecture, Solutions Delivery, and so on.

Similarly, you cannot address the accountability issue by simply trying to mandate accountability.  Unless a given IT Capability has clear goals, service definition and guiding principles, and the appropriate processes, roles, competencies, tools and technologies are in place, it’s little use trying to tie accountability to anything!

Two Dimensions of Organizational Clarity

Improving organizational clarity – and in turn increasing focus and effectiveness – must be tackled along two dimensions:

  1. Bounding scope appropriately, or defining the ‘unit of analysis.’  An appropriate unit of analysis is commonly referred to as “an IT Capability.”  Typical IT organizations can be described through 7-9 Capabilities, such as IT Infrastructure, Enterprise Architecture, Opportunity Discovery, Solution Delivery, Portfolio Management and so on.
  2. Defining Capability Characteristics, including Purpose, Commitment, Ability and Accountability.

In the next couple of posts, I will drill into these two dimensions as a means of describing IT Organizational Clarity and how to measure and achieve it.

Image courtesy of What’s Running You

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