Friday, December 09, 2005

Top Tips for IT Deployments

I recently asked colleagues around the world for top tips for major IT technology deployments. Asking them to share with me lessons they have learned from the field on what goes well and what does not. This was partly as a follow up to my article on RFI's on CMS Watch, which garnered a lot of comments and even another piece in the press. What was clear from their responses to my request was that people are looking for clear actionable advice on how to do IT better.

The responses I got back from the field quite frankly left me a little puzzled at times. Though there was a lot of tips that that I expected they would give me, there were some real left field observations that I really want to share more widely. So I will (hopefully) in the next couple of weeks write up a more substantial article for one of the publications I sometimes write for.

What I can't yet decide is whether this should be a single article or whether to explore some of these observations individually. For example:-

Simple workflows are less time consuming and better in performance. Balance between workflow and business process simplification is a key factor from the usability prospective.

On the one hand it could be argued that this is simply common sense, but as I like to say (and others are less keen on hearing) is that common sense isn't all that common. On the other hand I think this observation also points to the disconnect between the user (a human being), the organization (an imagined construct - designed to deliver a product or service), and layers of technology that ultimately only understand 0's & 1's.

At the end of the day a computer simply wants to know whether it is a yes or no, a stop or go. The organization on the other hand wants to achieve its stated goals, but recognizes that there may be exceptions that will been to be resolved (yes/no, not sure, resolve, yes/no) and on the third hand or foot a human being who understands that few things in life are simply yes or no - that the real world is not black and white, but a series of shades of grey.

Years ago when I worked in London (Slough the location of 'The Office' actually - horrid place) I studied business processes and created highly complex flow charts using the Aris modelling tool. This was then and remains ( I believe) the most powerful business process modelling tool available. I created huge volumes of paper charts, documenting in minute detail business activities like 'ordering a new part' or 'updating the parts list in a progress procurement system' (exciting stuff!). What I learned there and have never forgotten, is what a freaking waste of time most of that work was. I say most because some of it did have value, and the projects I was fortunate enough to contribute to eventually saved this firm millions. But the job of capturing an apparantly simple process proved near impossible. Designing better workflows from these 'as is' depictions was hard, but not impossible - the key to success was to recognize when to walk away. There were times when it was clear that somebody who appeared to do little in an organization, on closer examination actually held a lot of things together. They often didn't realize this themselves, and we didn't tell them, we just left them alone.

The reason these people were so important is that they had been with the firm a long time, and knew stuff. Stuff that others didn't, stuff they didn't even know they knew. Stuff that was essential to the smooth running of the organization. The way to find out what stuff this person knows, and what value they bring to the table is to lay them off and automate the process. Then you find out. Its a painful way to learn, but remains a very common way.

Keeping workflows simple is certainly one imporant lesson anyone should embrace, but any workflow only works if we fully acknowledge the importance of complex human beings; those who see the world in shades of grey, and do not function at a primative level of 1's and 0's, stop's and go's.

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