Skeletons in the IT Closet

Skeletons in the IT Closet

“The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again. But he won’t sit upon a cold stove lid, either.”     -Mark Twain

Collective memory is a funny thing.  It is an invisible yet powerful force, an aggregate of individual memories and memories of memories. The chain of dependencies can be as long and unexpected as the one between the horse’s rear end and the space shuttle’s booster rockets, or between the volcanic eruption of Tambora and the bicycle.

Information technologies are pervasive and they permeate the enterprise. IT related institutional memories are also ubiquitous.

Such loaded terms as “big bang” “industry best practice” “design review” ” governance board” and “stakeholder engagement” are the remains of lost battles and failed IT projects of the past.

What is the best way of dealing with the collective memory and loaded terms?  First, find and create a mental catalog of them and think of good alternatives. For example  “big bang approach” can be replaced with “integrated strategy”. Then, go ahead and understand those lost battles which deposited the loaded terms on your shores.

If you are new to your company and your goal is organizational transformation, the following steps make sense:

  1. Understand your own habits
  2. Understand the institutional habits
  3. Change your own habits to the extent necessary to:
  4. Gradually transform the institutional habits

Organizational transformation is hard. You cant do it alone and cant do it without compromises.  For example moving your IT organization from a client-server relationship to a partner-partner relationship with your business stakeholders is difficult.

Sometimes you can come up with smart tricks to drive the change. Alcoa’s Paul O’Neill used worker safety to build open communication channels and ultimately increase revenue 15 fold.

When you go to the office on Monday, start identifying the skeletons in the IT closets. Then address them one by one by replacing the mental algorithm in the minds between the cue and the reward of the institutional habits.

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