I hate clichés. As a 7 year old I already remember hating the saying “Be everyone’s friend”. Not because the dilemma behind the phrase wouldn’t have a point, but just because the clicheness of the expression so evidently stank even to my tiny nose. I guess I had an intuition that the cliché-repeating was a hoax. It offered the teachers means to avoid the unhygienic task of actually meddling in the kids’ ecosystem.
Growing up, the force of clichés grows and the web of the common truths spreads as a multi-layered barely, barely visible blanket over every situation and encounter. Well – some call it culture. Then again, in the world of IT, the common understanding has yet its own code.
We say operative systems make your operations more efficient. We say you need to standardize your processes before you implement. We say a thorough requirements engineering ensures your benefits. We say data is a strategic asset that you need to gather and analyze. At worst, we simply nod around single words like ‘digitalization’, ‘cloud’ or ‘big data’ pretending that the words justify themselves or that the customers are like google – optimizing their behavior according to the keyword frequency.
We don’t mean harm of course. It’s just… we don’t construct buildings, we don’t even make furniture – systems, processes and data is all we have to be proud about! And sure it’s cool that not everyone understands what we do. Last summer on a holiday flight I followed a mom explaining to her kid how by pressing the cloud icon, he would find more holiday pics on the iPhone. And I smugly thought “Fool, you can’t use a cloud solution on the plane!”.
So, Dear Customer, if in the past, I have treated you like the 90’s teacher, hiding behind my commonly justifiable IT methods, not facing you in the reality of your ecosystem – its unique mess and its purpose, I apologize. I didn’t know better. I was only repeating the IT culture imprinted on me. But the methods and the best practices, I’ve realized, really are just know-how – the knowing of HOW. ‘How’ meaning: a question of implementation. These things don’t improve your efficiency, nor do they secure any benefits, not until you have the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ in place.
Now it’s tempting to punch one “Win a battle, lose a war, eh?” – we know it’s not a perfect world and us consultants, don’t we sort of need to live of trends? But I refuse, it won’t do. Not even the leopard and its spots. Instead I’ll say: When you dive into an IT project, make sure you really know what the awaited business benefits are, where they’re expected to come from and how after all the pain, you will prove that they actually are there.
And don’t be fooled to think the questions won’t come. It may take a while and the questions may take different forms, but they will reach you. And sure it’s not fair, if the business owners created reality-defying visions and e-mail-vomited those to your project, but if you’re accountable for the project, you are. So you lead it like an army, like the Nights Watch in Game of Thrones, defend it from what lies beyond the Seven Kingdoms’ Wall. Keep your rangers alert fighting for business benefits and garding them from wildlings’ attacks.
If then, honorable Lord Commander, after you’ve lined up your men and are ready to lead them to their mission, you see it worthy for structure and order to standardize your processes, gather requirements or build a data warehouse, it’s okay. You’ve seen your goal, you’ll get there.
All’s fair in love and project.