IT Organization Should Get Back to Basics

I met a guy who became a good friend two Octobers ago. Our exchanges were funny, fresh, and all about the ideas. Ideas about music, ideas about technology, and ideas about relationships. In addition, we discussed lots of ideas about how to make the IT program we were on better. We acted on some of the ideas, mostly the ones about music.

One of the ideas centered around organizations and the power of organizing. The organization at the time excelled at spending a lot of money building the wrong thing, building it the wrong way, making a lot of noise while building it, issuing regular and spectacular corporate headlines, and the most important ⎯confusing and disenfranchising 80% of the org.  How such an organization survives as long as it has, baffles me.  Recently, there was another major program re-org….yeah, that’s going to do the trick, another case of managed chaos.

I have worked over 25 years in small, medium, and large technology organizations. I can honestly say, I have experienced managed chaos  in every organization. So, why does this managed chaos effect occur so frequently?  Maybe it’s because of me….nah, my friend says that he has experienced managed chaos many times as well, and my friend is one of the mellowest dudes I know.  Most of my peer group will also confirm similar experiences to be the normal state for IT programs….maybe not as severe but certainly consisting of similar characteristics.

IT OrganizationFueled by dramatically different motives, the organization we so thoroughly enjoyed was a pretty diverse group and included cowboys, indians, martians, criminals, addicts and a disproportionate level of skilled politicians.  I left the program in July, so one less indian.  The sentient leaders spoke constantly about “altruistic collaboration” but acted in ways that yielded no productivity multiplier, which I would argue is the principal aim of an organization.  Confusing goals, scheming leaders, a lot of money, arbitrary measures, plans within plans…..I’m telling you man, this was made for TV.

Wikipedia defines organization as a “social entity that has a collective goal and is linked to an external environment.” I define an organization as “a necessary set of rules, which compel a group of individuals towards a common goal.”  The larger the group, the bigger and more complex the org, the more leaders must maintain control and produce results.  I contend that leaders should be measured by the rules and goals they promote, and the quality and consistency of communicating the rules and goals.  Moreover, leaders should be measured by how the rules and goals they set produce desired outcomes.

Great organizations are grown, not assembled. Further, successful organizations rely on great leaders to exemplify their values and intent clearly through goals, rules, and actions, not rhetoric. Great organizations are quiet, productive, and consistently stay within operating margins. Successful organizations have laser sharp focus on their key performance indicators (KPIs), simple and effective work systems, and clear incentives that promote the right behaviors. Equally important, great organizations smartly leverage information and relationships without getting bogged down in process dogma. Ultimately, great organizations are naturally creative and collaborative because team members trust, respect, and enjoy producing excellence with one another.

So, IT leaders, professionals, tool makers, educators, and anyone else interested in advancing the IT work experience can we all get back to basics please!  There are too many cool things that we still need to build.