How come New Year’s resolutions always seem to center around dieting and getting in shape? You spend your holiday dinner enjoying all of the spoils of the season and then try to talk yourself into a “lifestyle change” once the ball drops.
It’s a lot like that around the old IT department too. We’re all being asked to do more with less, economize personnel resources, and limit capital expenses. To put it another way, senior management is telling us to lose some weight without investing in an entirely new wardrobe. But how did we get so fat?
Remember that tome to business success called “Good to Great” by Jim Collins? It’s a book that I try and make my bible, though I don’t always live up to it as well as I should (yes, it’s my annual New Year’s resolution!). The book suggests that a central theme of all truly “great” businesses and individuals is the ability to create annual goals and objectives. But in order to do that I think you also have to take a look back at what you might want to change.
When I walk into companies for the first time, usually as part of an IT gap assessment and ask, “when was the last time you looked at the things you should stop doing,” I’m often faced with blank stares and puzzled looks.
Any IT organization that’s been around for a while has accumulated, shall we say, a little tire around the mid-section! The telltale signs are the processes and procedures “we’ve been doing for years,” especially if the IT staff has also been with the company for a while. These processes/procedures were put in place (no one quite remembers when) because someone wanted a new type of report, a filter to keep out that “virus of the day,” or a custom workflow to make it easier to put a new server online. However, once that new process, procedure, or deliverable was in place, most IT departments rarely looked back, moving on to the next task or crisis at hand. The old adage, “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it” became a rule to live by and as the years went by, the old processes/procedures were carried forward. As a result, companies generate the same reports, build servers the same way, approve/disapprove access or technology for the same reasons, even if doing so requires a large amount of work, major upgrades, or more money to support.
No one goes back and examines these things until a high threshold pain point or sentinel event occurs (e.g. the process is no longer supported by a major upgrade of a product, a merger causes reevaluation of a technology, etc.). When this happens, we’re often surprised to find that what we may have been doing for the last few years is either no longer necessary, is very inefficient, or isn’t useful to anyone.
We shouldn’t need a sentinel event to move us to action but since it ‘tis the season, let’s resolve to review old processes/procedures the same way we review (or should review) policies; vowing to do it every year. You probably won’t hit all of them but pick a few every twelve months and examine them. Ask your staff for their opinions. It’s amazing the answers you get when you ask everyone to “tell me the three things in your job you’d stop doing or do differently, if you were able to make the rules.”
Experience suggests that the first few times you undertake this exercise, you’ll actually find things that you and your staff are doing that are of no value at all. Stopping them frees up resources and/or makes forward progress easier (look at Microsoft’s abandonment of Active X in the new Edge browser). But even after you hit the low hanging fruit, continuing to create a “stop doing” list annually will help you look at those new tasks/processes/projects that maybe aren’t as important as others. It will help create a focus on the things you really should be doing and create a literal lifestyle change when it comes to adopting processes in the future. You start thinking about “new things” with a critical eye, asking “should we even begin this?”
So as you begin making your list and checking it twice, consider simply taking stock of what you already have in place. Shedding those extra data storage pounds or slimming down your infrastructure may be as easy as just asking a few questions.
Happy New Year.