SNw 012 Engineer against Failure Created by James on 6/13/2013 1:51:07 PM
Many I.T. project fail to meet business expectations and many strategic planning sessions fail to produce lasting improvement in organizations -- how do you achieve success?
Eighteen years ago I set out to bring the disciplines of engineering to I.T. projects. After ten years I realized that Engineers do NOT design bridges to stand up ...
This article explains the key lessons that I have learned which can be summarized by the statement:
To succeed, engineer against failure
Failure of I.T. projects and strategic plans to deliver on original expectations is common place and many executives are frustrated and do not know what to do -- why does this happen and how does one achieve successful outcomes?
Eighteen years ago I left my job in a Consulting Engineering firm and started out on my own with the objective of bringing the disciplines of engineering to the I.T. industry.
Little did I know then what a challenge this would be!
Over the years I have progressively developed my understanding of what is required to bring the discipline of engineering to information technology projects and, in the process, I have discovered that the same approach is required to achieve successful strategic change -- in fact I discovered that the failure of information technology projects is generally a failure of overall strategic change capability within organizations.
About ten years into this journey I realized that engineers do NOT design bridges to stand up and, in unpacking this understanding I came to develop the structure that is set out in the sections that follow.
I hope that you will find this information useful.
2. The physical world reality -- most things work
In considering the issues of sub-optimal performance and failure referred to above, it is useful to contrast this experience with the physical world -- as a general rule buildings stand up, aircraft fly, cars work, houses keep out the rain and they do so consistently and reliably.
Engineers know how to design structures, factories, devices, etc that succeed.
In fact, in most areas of life we take success as a given and immediately return any item that fails.
In fact, our expectation of success is so great that people resort to litigation if a product fails and the vendor or developer fails to make good or refund our money.
Legislation enforces statutory requirements for success on the engineering profession and criminal charges can be brought against an engineer who is negligent to the point of causing loss of life.
How does one achieve the same high expectation of success in the fields of information technology and strategy?
3. Engineers do NOT design bridges to stand up ...
Some years ago, as I continued to encounter failure and sought to provide services geared to preventing failure and ensuring success it suddenly dawned on me:
Engineers do NOT design bridges to stand up!
Engineers design bridges NOT TO FALL DOWN!
There is a fundamental difference of approach and attitude between designing a bridge to stand up and designing a bridge not to fall down.
In order to design a bridge not to fall down one must understand all the factors that can give rise to failure and then analyse those factors to gain understanding of exactly how failure of the bridge may occur.
Once one understands how the bridge can fail one can then design the bridge in such a way that failure does not occur.
In fact, a large part of formal engineering training at University involves understanding how things fail and how to prevent failure.
A large proportion of the time that engineers spend designing buildings, factories and other created human works is spent considering factors of safety against failure and probability of failure -- in order to prevent failure.
In doing this there is a constant trade-off between cost and safety with clearly defined parameters in different industries as to what constitutes acceptable probability of failure or factor of safety.
How does one get to this same level of certainty in I.T. and strategy projects?
4. What causes I.T. failure?
In order to answer this question it is necessary to understand what causes I.T. and strategy failure.
After speaking and consulting for years about the factors causing failure and the requirements for success I undertook a critical issues analysis of the factors causing failure and came up with the following critical contributors to I.T. failure -- percentages indicate the relative contribution to failure of these factors in my experience:
1. Information technology mythology (30%)
2. Lack of executive custody and inappropriate policies (20%)
3. Lack of strategic alignment (15%)
4. Lack of an engineering approach (12%)
5. Poor data engineering / information management (10%)
6. People / soft issues (8%)
7. Technology issues (5%)
Mythology is the use of words that attribute human or super human properties to computer based systems and the tendency to think that we can do anything we think without negative consequences in the field of both strategy and I.T.
These topics are discussed in detail in my book "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" and on my courses -- see below for details of the Critical Factors course in August.
5. The requirements for success
In countering the factors causing failure in order to achieve success the following factors need to be managed:
1. Executive Custody and Policy (25%)
2. Strategic Architecture (18%)
3. Strategic Alignment (16%)
4. Business Integration and Optimization (14%)
5. Project Schedule, Budget and Resource Management (12%)
6. Data Engineering and Information Management (10%)
7. Technology Components (5%)
Executive custody is a proprietary sense of ownership by business executives -- this is MY system.
Professor Mervyn King (formerly Justice King) defines governance as care.
Executive custody is care for the business and the information systems that serve it.
This necessitates that business executives take an active and informed view of I.T. -- this does not require a lot of time, it requires an attitude, a state of mind.
6. Other aspects requiring management
There are diverse other aspects that require management including a series of essential executive questions that start with whether there is a clear definition of the business value that will be delivered by any investment through to whether the mechanics are in place to be able to hold service providers and vendors legally accountable for damage done to the business by a project failure.
Other aspects include critical stages of projects, some critical principles and the critical human foundation which includes business knowledge and experience, technology knowledge and experience, psychometrics, solution knowledge and solution experience.
It is vital to recognize that once a solution has been designed and built all one has is solution knowledge.
Solution experience is either gained by conducting a live experiment on the business or else by setting up a laboratory environment where the solution can be comprehensively tested with a view to breaking it until it can no longer be broken and the organization has substantial solution experience.
Then one can safely run live with controlled risk of damage to the business and a high probability of a successful outcome.
7. I.T. is about people
Examination of the above will reveal that I.T. failure and success are about people.
People conceptualize the project and run the project.
People capture the inputs to the system and people interpret and sometimes act on the outputs of the system.
Until one recognizes that the essence of value creation is based on what people do or do not do one cannot deliver value with I.T.
Only 5% of what causes failure relates to technology and only 5% of what is required for success relates to technology -- the rest is dependent on things that people do and, since the technology itself is a manifestation of the actions of people, even the 5% is a function of what people do or do not do.
An understanding of human psychology and strategy is essential to achieving successful I.T. (and strategy) outcomes.
Strategy is the essence of why an organization exists and how it thrives and this is an intuitive cognitive response of the leaders and people of the organization to the needs of its customers.
Conclusion -- In order to succeed engineer against failure
Engineering is the practical application of established principles to achieve commercially viable and safe results.
Engineering implies a systematic, methodical, orderly, disciplined approach to understanding the problem and designing and implementing the solution.
Fifty years ago when the first computers came into existence the commercial application of computers in business as we know it today was not even conceptually envisaged.
Today we have computers that are massively powerful in terms of their ability to process transactions and execute complex computations but human knowledge and experience -- wisdom if you like -- in preventing failure and achieving success has lagged behind.
The factors set out above provide the essence of an engineering approach to designing I.T. projects not to fail
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