Hunch On IT

The Hard Part of IT is the Organization

Posted in Behavior, Change, Information Technology, IT, OCM, Organization by carlkessler on November 22, 2009

The toughest thing about being effective in IT is the organization.  The technology, quite honestly, is the easy part.  We can bend those machines to our wills (plural intentional).  I’ve not come a cross a technical problem that couldn’t be solved.  Focusing all the humans involved on a common goal and ensuring all their actions actually move us toward that goal is the vocation of this blog.

I’ve “grown up” in IT in a large corporation and had, honestly, the pleasure of leading large scale changes across the entire organization.  My favorite metaphor is that it’s like shoveling water uphill.  The root cause of this is that many factors affect how the organization behaves:

  • we can only do what we know
  • we know less than we think we do
  • we do what we’re paid to (which may not move us toward a strategic goal)
  • we fear complexity
  • we don’t take enough time to measure
  • we misuse the measurements we have
  • we like to be comfortable
  • we like immediate gratification
  • we each have an opinion

I’m actually a people person.  I like the people I work with and find staff development to be the most rewarding aspect of my job.  Maybe its because I really care that people understand our strategy and have really engaged folks to get their buy-in that I feel this so keenly.

For you experts out there, yes, the solution to this is Organizational Change Management (OCM).  But like most managers in IT, I have to bumble through this as my background is technical, not managerial.

Going forward, I’ll work through real-world scenarios.  I’ll cover what we hoped to achieve and the behaviors we encountered.  In doing so, my hope is that you gain some insights into what you might be up against, where you may be ahead of the game, how you might overcome the challenges and how to press your advantages.

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5 Responses

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  1. Ken said, on December 14, 2009 at 4:47 am

    In my experience, people only fear complexity when it’s somebody else’s complexity. Too often, people actually use complexity to hide their own inadequacies. In these cases, they fear simplicity, because then their own faults will be exposed for everyone to see.

    Instinctively, perhaps, we know this (even if we can’t articulate it) which leads us to be suspicious of complexity when somebody else is proposing it.

    I completely agree, though, that people are always the hardest part of any problem to solve, especially in an enterprise environment. Human nature tends to desire solutions that are most comfortable for individuals, but enterprises are comprised of many diverse individuals.

  2. carlkessler said, on December 14, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    A very packed set of statements, lots to discuss. I will focus on “to be suspicious of complexity when somebody else is proposing it”.

    People are “comfortable” with what they know. Their experience gives them a solution and they know the effort they went to earn this experience. They are very confident in their known solutions.

    When you present new complexities to them, what is their willingness to accept the following:
    * This is a new scenario and they must put in the effort to develop new solutions.
    * This is the same scenario they faced in the past, but you’ve uncovered that their prior solution did not take into account all factors and therefore might have been wrong.

    Going with the plan that worked in the past is the fastest route for them to success as long as it “happens” to be the right solution.

    An exception to this is pattern-based thinkers, because they do not actually pre-suppose a solution, but instead look for patterns which infer a solution. This type of thinking tends to be more open to complexity as they can rationalize it to a *set* of well-defined solutions which have historically been successful.

    I think my next post helps to explain the behavior you have identified. Essentially they don’t like it when you “rock their world”.

    Another way to look at the worst case scenario here is to check out our friends at Despair.com and their take on “Consistency”: http://tinyurl.com/yoeukf A fixed aiming solution will hit the target every time, unless of course you move the target. How willing are folks to having someone tell them the target moved?

  3. Ken said, on December 14, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    You are right on the mark, here.

    A pattern-based thinker, as you nicely described it, not only must understand how to find patterns, but also must have a courageous personality to face their natural fear of somebody else’s complexity.

    I guess my original point, though, was that the “fear of complexity” you mentioned, isn’t really a fear of ALL complexity… because most programmers I’ve worked with, over the years, have absolutely no fear of INTRODUCING complexity. They only fear the complexity that already exists in a system or problem they’ve been given.

    I think that is what you’re thinking, when you say they don’t like it when you “rock their world.” Any complexity they are introducing, doesn’t really “rock their world,” because it’s not really so complex in their own mind!

    On another note, I think you’re raising some valuable perspectives on this blog, that aren’t covered by most IT publications! You should consider putting some of this into a book!

  4. carlkessler said, on December 15, 2009 at 3:43 am

    I agree. I’m not sure that considering this just from the programmer perspective provides a complete picture though.

    (Those unfamiliar with DISK may wish to detour quickly to read about what it is: http://tinyurl.com/yda4jv4)

    Programmers will tend to be High Cs. Folks that are very “logical”, like a High C, does not tend to communicate well with other High Cs. The reason is that they’re each married to their own models for dealing with the complexity. This could be part of the behavior you are observing.

    If you broaden out your perspective horizontally to include testers, business analysts, project leads, etc. and vertically up the management chain, do see other patterns in how they deal with complexity?

    Certain personality types in DISC have less capability to resolve complexity and those types tend to gravitate toward certain roles for which they are well suited. I am being purposefully vague here as I want to see where you take this. Also, this feels like a good blog entry! (Or maybe a book chapter)

  5. Ken said, on December 15, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    You’re absolutely right that different personality types (essentially different ways of thinking) will approach complexity differently. Of course, they deal with different kinds of complexity, too; so my comments, based on my experience with programmers, is focused on the complexity found within the software solutions being designed and constructed.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have enough intimate experience with the other roles to really have any broad understanding of the patterns they may develop to deal with complexity. I can only extrapolate how software developers tend to fear and embrace complexity, to the other types of people. 🙂


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