Form Follows Function on SPaMCast 399

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This week’s episode of Tom Cagley’s Software Process and Measurement (SPaMCast) podcast, number 399, features Tom’s essay “Storytelling: Developing The Big Picture for Agile Efforts”, Kim Pries on deliberate practice, and a Form Follows Function installment on customer-centricity for IT.

Tom and I discuss my post “A Meaningful Manifesto for IT”. It seems obvious that the business of IT is meeting needs, but how many organizations are really happy with what they’re getting? The prevalence of “shadow IT” would seem to indicate that there’s some real discontent.

You can find all my SPaMCast episodes using under the SPAMCast Appearances category on this blog. Enjoy!

A Meaningful Manifesto for IT

“Customer-centricity” is one of the biggest tags in the tag cloud to the right. My first post this year was “Is 2016 the Year for Customer-Focused IT?”. It’s a concept that I find vitally important to IT for the simple reason that to the extent that IT is not fit for purpose, it’s a waste of money. How well (or not) we’re meeting the needs of our clients determines that level of fitness.

Seth Godin’s recent post, “A manifesto for small teams doing important work”, contains a great deal of wisdom for IT, primarily because it starts with a customer-centric approach:

If you make a promise, set a date. No date, no promise.

If you set a date, meet it.

If you can’t make a date, tell us early and often. Plan B well prepared is a better strategy than hope.

Talk to everyone as if they were your boss, your customer, the founder, your employee. It’s all the same.

It works because it’s personal.

Trust is a crucial basis for a relationship, and IT is in the relationship business, or it’s operating at a disadvantage. IT is pricey, so without the value provided by a good relationship, there is a tremendous incentive to shop based on price. If corporations had been better at managing outsourced software development, insourcing might not be the current trend. The current issue of “shadow IT” certainly belies the notion that companies are happy with the service they’re getting.

IT doesn’t exist in a vacuum. IT systems, the social system(s) by which they’re provisioned, and the social systems which make use of them must all work together in reasonable harmony or risk dysfunction. I’m of the opinion that embedded IT (whether literal or figurative) would be useful in bridging the gap. Humility and responsibility would go a long way toward helping. Likewise, tailoring solutions to problems would help better than chasing fads is a good strategy. Meeting needs will get a better reception than attempts to control, particularly when we attempt to control what we don’t own. At the very least, we need to learn to communicate.

Those are principles I can get behind.

If You Had a Choice, Would You Buy Your Brand of IT?

Acme Brand Anvil

People of a certain age might remember the Road Runner cartoons from their childhood. In each episode, Wile E. Coyote suffered numerous accidents attempting to snare the bird using products from Acme, Inc. Aside from the opportunities for a product liability lawsuit, I always wondered why he didn’t just quit buying from them.

Sometimes I wonder the same thing about IT organizations and the business units they serve. How many business units, given a choice, would choose their own in-house IT as their provider?

Recent research by Cisco (as reported on CIO.com) suggests that quite a few would not:

Consulting with CIOs and analyzing network traffic in a set of large enterprises in a variety of industries, Cisco determined that the typical firm has on the order of 15 to 22 times more cloud applications running in the workplace than have been authorized by the IT department.

And by Cisco’s tally, there is quite a bit that CIOs aren’t seeing. On average, CIOs surveyed estimated that there were 51 cloud services running within their organization. According to Cisco’s analysis, the actual number is 730.

And it cuts across sectors. Even in highly regulated industries such as healthcare and financial services, Cisco found between 17 and 20 times more cloud applications running than the IT department estimated.

What’s worse, many recommend heavy-handed tactics on the part of IT to deal with their “unruly” customers:

Now, note the potential benefits, “…can improve productivity and collaboration with little or no financial cost to the company…” versus the potential downside, “…corporate data may be put at risk or even lost if the employee leaves the company”. Given that both are valid, it would certainly make sense to evaluate the risks involved and whether they can be mitigated. Instead, a draconian knee-jerk is recommended.

The advice to tighten controls on users and consider replicating applications in-house where necessary is laughable. IT traditionally has a customer service problem to begin with, getting stricter probably won’t help. You would also think someone would have noticed that offering to replicate products in-house seems like an empty promise when the reason for going outside is that IT isn’t able to provide what’s needed. It seems like piling on to mention that replicating commercially available services probably won’t make a CIO seem very business-savvy.

Building trust in the process and trust in the product would be a good start to making the customer a partner rather than an antagonist. Or you can rely on their being forced to use you. Monopolies can be a sweet deal…while they last.

Would you buy what you’re selling?

#ShadowSocialMedia or Why Won’t People Use the Product the Way They’re Supposed to

Scott Berkun dislikes the way people are using images to bypass Twitter’s 140 character limit:

His point is very valid, but:

Which is the issue. Sometimes there’s a need to go beyond that limit. Sure, you can chunk your thoughts up across multiple tweets, but users find it burdensome to respect Twitter’s constraint on the amount of text per tweet. Constrained customers, assuming they stick with a product, tend to come up with “creative” solutions to that product’s shortcomings that reflect what they value. The customers’ values may well conflict with the developers’. When “conflict” and “customer” are in the same sentence, there’s generally a problem..

Berkun’s response to @honatwork‘s rebuttal nearly captures the issue:

I say “nearly”, because Twitter was built long before 2015. The problem is that it’s 2015 and Twitter has not evolved to meet a need that clearly exists.

In the IT world, it’s common to hear terms like “Shadow IT” or “Rogue IT”. Both refer to users (i.e. customers) going beyond the pale of approved tools and techniques to meet a need. This poses a problem for IT in that the customer’s solution may not incorporate things that IT values and retrofitting those concerns later is far more difficult. Taking a “products, not projects” approach can minimize the need for customer “creativity”, for in-house IT and external providers.

Trying to hold back the tide just won’t work, because the purpose of the system is to meet the customers’ needs, not respect the designers’ intent.

Fixing IT – How to Make a Monster (Customer)

he may be ugly, but he is mine

Software development in general and IT in particular seems to have a love-hate relationship with our customers – as in, we really love to hate on our customers. We have Stupid User Tricks, ID10T issues, PEBCAK, and of course, Clients From Hell. Every once in a while, even Dilbert takes a break from bashing managers to take a swing or two at customers.

There’s even some evidence that the feelings are mutual.

Why?

How is it that we’ve managed to come to the point where distrust, even open hostility, is the norm? How is it that this situation is allowed to continue? What if we don’t change the dynamic?

To get an idea of how we got here, imagine the following scenario:

  • There’s a restaurant where you’re required to eat.
  • You don’t get to decide when you can eat; you have to ask (and ask) and eventually you’re allowed to sit at the table without any idea of when you’ll get another chance.
  • You don’t pay for what you eat, but you will have to justify each menu item you order.
  • The kitchen staff will be required to say how exactly long it will take to prepare the order, even if the item is not on the menu and no one has ever made it before.
  • The waiter, the chef, and the maitre d’ may not understand or be able to prepare your order, so they reserve the right to alter it without any notice – you’ll find out when it arrives.
  • Waiters interacting with diners after the initial order is considered poor practice; kitchen staff doing so is completely out of the question.
  • If the order doesn’t meet your approval, you can send it back to be fixed as much as you like.
    • Under those circumstances, one might expect the restaurant patrons to be a tad distrustful of the staff, who will probably respond in kind. The experienced patrons will have learned to order as much as possible, regardless of need, subject only to the restraint of getting approval. They will have learned to be vague enough to allow them to keep sending dishes back for fixes that are enhancements in disguise. The bolder patrons will either learn to cook for themselves or find another restaurant, perhaps both.

      Is this starting to sound familiar?

      The second question, how is it that this has been allowed to continue, is something of a mystery. While there has been a growing significant incidence of shadow IT, things still haven’t broken out into open rebellion. How much of this is inertia and how much of this is the current economy holding back expenditures? More ominously, how close to the edge are we?

      This brings us to the third question, the answer to which should be obvious. Trying to maintain the status quo will not work. In fact, doing so will be more likely to hasten the demise of IT as it becomes more of a commodity. Without major changes, IT risks becoming irrelevant and marginalized. Rather than worrying about blame (it should be obvious that this is a systemic problem rather than one or two bad actors), both business and IT need to find a way forward that maximizes value and minimizes friction. The risk to those organizations that cannot make this transition increases with each passing day.