Posts Tagged IT Habits of Excellence

IT Organization Success

Keys to IT Success



 Keys to IT Organization Success

No secret, for decades many IT organizations have struggled to be successful – probably more so than any other.  When is the last time you saw a dozen articles on the struggling accounting, marketing or human resources organizations?

Martha Heller in a 2010 CIO Magazine article discusses IT struggles and suggests a few ‘paradoxes’ in IT organizations that may be barriers to a successful IT organization.

  • The Business wants IT to be strategic, but force them to spend most of their time on operational issues.
  • IT needs to be stewards of risk mitigation and cost containment, yet expected to innovate.
  • IT is seen as that of an enabler, yet is also expected to be a business driver.
  • IT can make or break a company, but its leaders are infrequently members of C-level executive groups.
  • IT is one of the most pervasive, critical functions, yet must prove its value constantly.
  • Many IT successes are invisible, yet its few mistakes are highly visible.
  • IT project teams are accountable for project success, even if the Business has ownership.
  • IT staff loves new technology, but must embrace/understand the Business to be successful.
  • Many IT teams/people are uncomfortable dealing with people, but to succeed must build relationships, influence others, and resolve conflicts.
  • IT infrastructure is a consistent, long-term investment, but the Business thinks in quarters.

And here are a few more paradoxes I have experienced:

  • The Business wholly adopted  ‘BPI’, but IT has poor processes and rarely has budget for improvement.
  • C-level executives believe IT costs too much and fails to provide comparable value, but have limited knowledge of IT project or operational successes.
  • C-level executives expect IT to deliver new, strategic capabilities to their Business unit, yet most of the project identification, priorities and governance is driven by Business users and managers.
  • IT needs/must align its goals/objectives to the Business, yet the Business units goals/objectives are not always aligned with each other.

Any of these barriers hinder IT leaders and organizations from being valued and successful.  They can be mitigated and/or knocked down, but requires a relevant, achievable Strategy, competent People, and consistent, repeatable Processes.  In addition it also takes the IT leaders and staff to embrace/develop these 7 Habits of Excellence.

  • Build  Trust and Credibility
  • Develop  a Proactive Culture
  • Understand  the Company, Business Model, and Industry
  • Align  with Company’s Goals and Objectives
  • Lead  People  -  Manage Things
  • Adapt  to Change
  • Embrace  a Passion for Learning and Improvement


Developing these 7 Habits of Excellence will mitigate or eliminate barriers and result in these IT organization benefits:

  • Faster Throughput (projects and processes)
  • Less Costly (unit costs)
  • Better  Quality (products, software, systems and processes)
  • More Agility  (change)
  • More Capacity  (w/o more resources)
  • Better Risk Management
  • Better Place to Work

What IT paradoxes is your group facing??

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“An ounce of prevention . . . “

Pound of Cure-Firefighting

Pound of Cure-Firefighting

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We all have heard this old saying – about being proactive versus reactive in life, at home or work. We need both concepts. When a crisis happens, we need the BEST people to react to the crisis, like firefighters, doctors, policemen, etc. They are invaluable in a crisis. But after the crisis, they all would tell you that preventing the crisis in the first place is more valuable and less costly than ‘firefighting’.

Yet many businesses and IT organizations ignore the benefits of being proactive, reverting to reactive processes and behaviors usually for the sake of ‘speed’. How many times has an IT team become totally reactive in implementing a project and then ‘fixing’ it after the fact. Yet they hope that being great firefighters will ‘reduce’ the impact on the business and its suppliers and customers. Some people even thrive on being a firefighter. They love the adrenalin rush and immediate satisfaction of ‘fixing’ a problem. Love them because they are needed in IT. But they are needed as a secondary process and behavior.

Being proactive means anticipating, acting and preventing a problem or crisis, or after the firefighting, taking the time to solve the ‘root cause’ of the problem or crisis so it never happens again. It may seem at the time that it is slowing a project, process or service, but if you look at the overall timeline it usually does not take longer. The benefits are reduced costs, improved quality and less negative impacts on employees, suppliers and customers. All are much more valuable than the best ‘firefighters’ in the world.

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Danger – Thin Ice



The high ‘failure’ rates of IT projects have been documented for over four decades by numerous studies and publications.  The Standish Group International reported in 2001 that around 23% of projects are failures, and 49% are ‘challenged’.  Doing the math indicates that only around 28% of IT projects meet their expectations.  My experience suggests one of the primary reasons for these continued poor results is the lack of formal, aggressive IT project complexity and risk assessment and management – a responsibility of the IT project sponsor and project manager.

Software development is a process – a process with varying degrees of complexity.  A process’s complexity, therefore, defines, qualitatively and quantitatively, the relative difficulty, time consumption, resource requirements and skill requirements necessary to successfully complete.  The more complex the process – the more difficult, time consuming, resources intensive and more experienced skills are required.  Many project managers use complexity and risk synonymously – but they are not.  Project risks are qualitative and quantitative issues or events which could lead to negative consequences.  Risks can be prevented, repaired if they become an issue or mitigated.  Complexity is not an event and is harder or impossible to prevent, repair or mitigate once the IT project begins.

So why do most IT sponsors and project managers do a lousy job of complexity and risk assessment and management?  A few reasons are:

  1. Lack of skills – training and/or experience
  2. Internal politics
  3. Lack of formal assessment and management process that is consistent and repeatable
  4. Lack of assessment, management and reporting tools
  5. Lack of emphasis in CMM, ITIL and other methodologies


What is the complexity of your current project?  What are the five major risk areas?

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The Weakest Link

Weak Link

Weak Link

       The Weakest Link

Is your organization struggling and/or under-achieving?  You LEAD people  -  manage things.  Don’t buy in?  Ever tried to manage your spouse  -  or your children??  Me too!  Yet for many the two concepts are the same.  Don’t get me wrong – leaders have to to both, but leading and managing are different.

That leads me to the weakest link in most organizations  – leadership.  Organizations and  many professions have not done enough to develop leadership skills and leaders.  They mostly focus on developing people to manage things – projects, systems, budgets, finance, etc.  Therefore, most leaders are much better at managing things than leading people.  In my career in IT, most IT organizations do not have formal leadership training or mentoring.  Instead they promote good technical people and people that are good at managing things into leadership roles.  Then they see them struggle in their new roles.  A few colleagues in other parts of the business do a much better job of developing leadership skills and leaders, and have formal training and mentoring.

Check out my Web Site’s Favorites page for other’s input on leaders and leadership at:

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Drivers and Barriers in Establishing Business Alignment?
















Organizational Alignment 101

Before getting started with “how to” establish business alignment (BA), the champion of the effort needs to understand certain conditions exist inside organizations that are drivers or barriers for BA.  Think of drivers as conditions that make it easier, but not impossible if absent, for BA.  Barriers are conditions that may prevent BA or make it more difficult.  These evaluations will be helpful in determining a strategy for success. The most important are:


  1. Business executives and leaders understand and support BA
  2. Executives and leaders understand all parts of the business – strategy/model, processes, etc.
  3. BA a priority for business executives and organizations not in alignment
  4. All executives participate in developing business strategy, model, goals, etc
  5. Individual business MBO incentives support BA
  6. Demonstrated leadership depth and breadth
  7. Executives have track record of delivering on commitments
  8. Active process to measure BA


  1. Business units and departments are not well aligned
  2. Executives and leaders do not trust each other
  3. Business and/or  culture and decision making highly political
  4. Misaligned organization relegated to a ‘vendor’ instead of a business partner
  5. Lack of consistent and repeatable project portfolio management process
  6. Lack of consistent and repeatable project governance process
  7. Lack of consistent and repeatable service level agreement process
  8. Poor or no definition of IBA

It is imperative for executives and leaders to understand which drivers and barriers exist.  Periodically, they need to honestly evaluate drivers and barriers for each business unit, department, etc. that needs a high degree of BA.  They must take actions to create and continuously improve drivers.  For barriers, take actions to eliminate or continuously mitigate.

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Building Trust in IT



 “I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him”.  Everyone has heard/said that phrase.  So how important is TRUST for IT professionals and organizations.  Consider this. “With high trust, success comes faster, better and at a lower cost” says David Neeleman, CEO of JetBlue.  What IT organization does not want to be successful – faster, better, and cheaper – and I would say much less stressful?

I have worked in all environments – low, moderate and high trust.  So when I became a CIO I knew an important Habit of Excellence I need to build and cultivate was trust within IT, and between IT and other business leaders and organizations.  But how does one go about building trust and establishing it as a Habit? In the 90’s and was introduced to the writings and teachings of Stephen R. Covey and his son Stephen R.M. Covey.  Both have written, taught and consulted on the topic of trust.  And I have used their concepts and adapted them to my personal and work lives with much success.  Many of my thoughts below are elaborations and adaptations of their writings.

Trust is not just a touchy, feely concept.  Consider this definition of trust from the Covey’s:

TRUST = One’s Character + Ones’ Competency

Trust between people is a combination of a person’s:

  •        Character – What you say/do, How you say/do, and  Why you say/do
  •        Competency -  What you can do, What you do and What results you get

So why is competency required to build trust?  I thought you just needed to be a ‘good person’ – high character.  Let’s look at a doctor/patient relationship.  As a patient needing open heart surgery, would you trust a doctor that had good bed side manners and high personal integrity, but was in their first year as a cardiologist, and had never performed open heart surgery?  Partially, but I was the patient, I want someone more accomplished to do the surgery.

 People build trust by building ‘wealth’ in what the Covey’s call an ‘Emotional Bank Account’.  As with any bank account one can add to the account with deposits and reduce the account with withdrawals.  Here are just a few examples of deposits and withdrawals with IT professionals and organizations.


  •        Deposits – Think Straight, Talk Straight; Listens to Understand; Manages Expectations; Works to Right Wrongs; Puts Employees First, Then Customers, Then Stockholders; Promotes Win/Win Decisions
  •        Withdrawals -  Shows Disrespect; Listens to Respond; Not Trusting; Talks Behind People’s Backs; Avoids Conflict; Talks the Talk, Does Not Walk the Walk; Being Intolerant/Inflexible


  •        Deposits – Keep Commitments and Delivers Results; Manages Risks; Solves Root Cause of  Problems; Promotes Continuous Improvements; Admit When Wrong or Do Not Know; Demonstrates Leadership
  •        Withdrawals -  Does Not Hold People Accountable; Makes Excuses-Blaming Others; Does Not Take Responsibility; Sells Poor Ideas; Does Not Understand the Business; Does Not Measure Success; Is Reactive versus Proactive; Does Not Align with Business

So how can you objectively measure your EBA with colleagues? I use the Trust Quotient:

TQ = EBA Deposits / (EBA Withdrawals * 2.75)

That’s right – withdrawals are more expensive than a single deposit.  So you need 3 deposits to make up for a single withdrawal.

So what are your experiences in building Trust???

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IT Business Alignment – “Search for the Holy Grail”



Much has been written, but much less resolved, about this perennial top five IT issue reported by Gartner, Meta, Forrester, CSC, CIO Magazine, academia and others.  By the way, IT business alignment (ITBA) is not just an IT issue, it is a business issue.  Alignment is needed across all organizations in a business.  Every business wants to be successful as defined internally, and by its competitors, the market, its owners and its customers.  Highly successful companies can trace their success to being -  first, very effective, and  second, adequately efficient  -  “doing the right things – right”.  The better the alignment between organizations, the more effective  their execution, and successful their results.  While most agree the importance of alignment is undeniable, adequate attainment has been elusive.

 So why hasn’t this issue been resolved or relegated below the top twenty CIO issues?  Four reasons:

  1. ITBA has not been well defined in many organizations, therefore, expectations are not set correctly and results are difficult to measure. 
  2. ITBA is a dynamic, people  process that must resolve conflicts and adapt to priority changes.  Often the processes have not been developed to resolve these issues in a consistent and repeatable manner.
  3. Many times the company’s business units and departments are not well aligned, so ITBA is difficult or impossible.  Rather ITBA relies on the “squeaky wheel concept’ and/or politics.
  4. While ITBA is a perennial top five CIO issue, according to a 2006 Accenture survey of CEO’s, ITBA was not a top ten issue for CEOs.  So is IT’s effort in this area the real issue?

So let’s look at the first issue – the definition of ITBA.  A good definition needs:

  1. to be specific, measurable, achievable, and realistic
  2. to answer “what” components are aligned
  3. to answer “who” must reach and own an alignment
  4. to recognize the agreement is based on current priorities, strategy, tactics and plans that can change
  5. to recognize limitations in resources
  6. not to include IT execution criteria

With these in mind, the definition could be:

 IT business alignment (ī t  -  biznəs  -  ə līnment)


  1. the cooperation and coordination between executives/leaders in business units, departments, etc, and executives/leaders in IT Solutions Development organizations to periodically determine/resolve business priorities and reach agreements as to which mix of projects to undertake that best supports business strategies/model, tactics and annual plans/objectives for a defined IT budget and resource level.
  2. the cooperation and coordination between executives/leaders in business units, departments, etc, and executives/leaders in IT Services Delivery organizations to periodically determine/resolve business priorities and reach agreements as to the appropriate service levels to provide that best supports business strategies/model, tactics and annual plans/objectives for a defined IT budget and resource level.

How does these definitions compare to our criteria for a good definition?

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