I was in a heated ‘discussion’ with a client recently.  We had completed an IT strategy refresh and one of the outstanding items was to review their IT Principles.  The IT leadership team had come up with some candidate new Principles, and I was being asked if I thought they were appropriate.

“What Will You Do With The IT Principles?”

I asked, “What will you do with these IT Principles?”  The silence I was met with was palpable.  My client was too polite to say it, but I knew that in the silence he was thinking,  “Vaughan – you complete idiot!  A Principle is a Principle!  Having a Principle is the whole kahuna!  It has nothing to do with ‘what you do with them!”

The Pleasant Reassurance of New Words

This weekend, I saw a post by Seth Godin with the title above.  I knew I was going to like it – I like all Seth’s posts, and I LOVED this title!  This is what I found:

It’s a lot easier for an organization to adopt new words than it is to actually change anything.  Real change is uncomfortable. If it’s not feeling that way, you’ve probably just adopted new words.”

Short, and very sweet!

Giving IT Principles “Teeth”

I’ve posted before on the power of Principles, and in particular on Principles as a Problem Solving Tool.   To recap, there are three keys to making IT Principles valuable:

  1. Pick a few (say between 3 and 9) ‘points of pain’ that you want to try to address.  By ‘points of pain’ I mean something that is a significant performance inhibitor – often, this will mean it keeps surfacing as a root cause of some important dysfunctionality.
  2. Come up with a simple, direct and unambiguous statement that FORCES A CHOICE that would resolve the pain point.
  3. (And this is THE MOST IMPORTANT KEY!) Identify what will have to change in order that behaviors will change to come into line with the Principle.

Let me provide an example.  You have constant tension and debate around how much of the IT budget gets sucked into maintenance.  You’ve had good success getting prioritization of major new initiatives based on business value, but it is ongoing maintenance of existing solutions that is nickel and diming you to death!  You drill into root causes, ask a lot of “why’s” and come up with the recognition that the planning for new initiatives never takes the full life cycle costs into account.

This meets key #1 above – it’s a real point of pain!  You come up with a new IT Principle as follows:

We manage all business solutions and technology investments based upon total value of ownership – including total life cycle costs.”

This meets key #2 above.  But this is where I feared that my client was going to stop.  And this is where Seth’s words of wisdom about words were so salient.  It was going to feel good to the client’s IT leadership team to draft the words in the Principles – to debate over the language.  I imagine that once they’d been agreed upon, they’d be printed on posters or perhaps handy wallet inserts.  And that somehow these words would change things.  They won’t.  We need to address key #3 – what will have to change for us to act in accordance with this principle?

What Has to Change?

As an example:

  • The total cost of ownership of an IT asset and its value-contribution must be periodically calculated and tracked over time.
  • Requires closer alignment between program planning, project estimating,  budgeting and benefits tracking processes.
  • The cost of a new system should include the cost to retire the system it replaces.
  • Application retirement must be an active process.
  • The total cost of ownership must include both the business and technology costs of developing, deploying, and operating business solutions.
  • Costs such as hardware, software, maintenance, security, monitoring, training and on-going support must be included in the total cost of ownership.

These changes will have implications for business-IT governance processes, structures and reporting.  There may need to be new Policies.  There may need to be changes to rewards and recognition.  There may need to be changes to IT audit procedures.  And so on.

Remember, as powerful as words can be, they usually need the strength of structural, process, governance, rewards and recognition change to bring them to reality.  What say you about this?

 

Image courtesy of Drop Ship Access

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