How to Fix IT

Ok, so you’re a business person who wants to fix the broken IT in your company. This is an admirable goal indeed, and one worth pursuing, however, before you get stuck in, there are a couple of things you need to know:

  1. It’s hard.
  2. It’s really hard.
  3. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

The fact that there are so many broken IT shops around is a testament to just how hard it is to fix this problem. But hey, you’re different, right? You’ll succeed where everyone else has failed, right? Hang on to that positive attitude, because you’re going to need it.

Why Is It So Bad?

IT is a really new thing. Accounting? Thousands of years old. Carpentry? Ditto. Changing ones into zeros, and vice versa, in order to make this box full of electrons do something useful? About 60 years old. All these other jobs have lots and lots of history about how to do things well, and they’re not perfect. Far from it.

Enron and HIH could be called accounting problems, and the accounting standards are constantly evolving to deal with new issues. Sarbanes-Oxley, for example. Speak to someone who’s built a house to learn how carpentry and other building trades are still fraught with issues. And these are areas that have lots and lots of examples of how to do things well, or badly. IT, compared to these disciplines, was invented five seconds ago.

This newness means that people haven’t figured out how to do a lot of things well, so there’s a lot of discovery and testing going on. Lots of mistakes are being made as everyone learns how to do things better by first doing them badly, and hopefully learning from the experience. IT is filled with people learning how to do things for pretty much the first time in history.

The Root Cause

And yet there is something that IT has in common with all of these other pursuits, something that causes all of the problems. It’s people. It was people who made bad decisions about how to run Enron, and HIH. People designed the Tacoma Narrows bridge. And people are inside your IT department making the mistakes that frustrate you so very much.

Information Technology, whatever that actually means, doesn’t actually *do* anything. The people who use it do. And just like every other problem in your company, it’s the people that are the root cause.

Everything is a People Problem

Ok, so now we know what the problem is, the battle’s half over, right? Well, not exactly. While it’s true that a lot of people spend a lot of time and money trying to fix the technology, or the processes, or the Frameworks and Methodologies that are making their companies sick, precious few have figured out that the people problem is the most important one. So, you’re already one step ahead of a lot of the other people out there. Good for you.

The bad news is that you’ve solved about 20% of the problem. The easy 20%. A lot of the people who figure out they have a people problem, immediately give up, because people are *hard*. They don’t follow rules a lot of the time, they’re unpredictable. They do things for reasons you don’t understand. They’re not *organised*. Makes you wonder why it’s called an organisation, doesn’t it?

If you want to fix the organisation, you’ll be spending 80% of your time dealing with people. And they’re a special kind of people, for the most part: they love technology, and largely aren’t that good with people. The stereotype is there for a reason. Most of the people in IT are male, love computers, and have poor people skills.

How Do I Fix It?

Many, many books have been written about this topic. To condense it all into a blog post would be an enormous task, and one that I’m not a good enough writer to attempt. Worse, I’d probably lull you into a false sense of security about the whole thing, and do you a great disservice in the process.

So instead, I’ll give you a series of pointers on the big things to look out for: the big mistakes most people make, and some of the best things you could do to make some quick progress. I’ll put them into my next article, but remember: this is hard. There are no quick fixes. But if you’re up to it, well, you’ll have an incredible edge.

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