Saturday, June 12, 2010

IT Hero Worship is not a Successful Long Term Strategy

Are you an IT hero?  Have you ever worked late at night on an IT project (of any size) because you just did not have enough time during normal work hours to get it done?  Mind you, I am not saying that this type of hero is all good or all bad.  My biggest strength is “learner”; I love the idea of learning, even less than the end result of the knowledge gained.  That desire to learn has fueled many nights of heroism in the face of languishing projects.

The main issue I have with this type of hero is not the heroes themselves but how they are misused, and relied upon in many IT organizations today.  Just as hope is not a strategy, heroism should not be a strategy for making project deadlines.  In my experience most IT project failures are not technical in nature.  I have really never stopped a project because I could not accomplish something through software or hardware technology whose capabilities are fully understood.  However, I have witnessed how knowledge (or the lack thereof) and poor processes (or poor process execution) have stopped projects completely, or until new paths forward were found.

Process is the major culprit.  Under the umbrella of process I include project estimates, development methodologies, project management, and thought processes (for starters).  Of all of these, thought processes are the hardest to correct, and the most insidious.   For, it is here where the false paradigm of hero worship and reliance are engendered.

I submit that heroes are needed when we fail to execute.  I have lived this.  I have been pulled into projects midterm when the paths forward were clouded with process failure disguised as technology shortcomings.  Better processes would have led to better understanding of technology boundaries for a given solution.  This is actually where architecture improves the outcome, but that is a story for another time.

I am not saying that I have not fed off of this from time to time.  In fact it is somewhat addictive.  In the end, however, the repeated need for heroes inevitably leads to burn-out and morale issues.  It is not sustainable.  Examined from a business perspective, it leads to inefficiency and waste.  Perhaps this is what Russell Mullen and Steve Caudill discuss in their book “A Hero Behind Every Tree - The Non-Technical Reasons Your IT Investments Fail.”  I haven’t read it yet, but the title, description, and reviews seem to suggest the ideas that technology is not to blame for IT project issues or investment failures and heroes are not a strategy.  Even if I did not personally know the authors, I would recommend it for that alone.

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