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The seven deadly sins of IS

The seven deadly sins of IS

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, why do we need so many deadly sins? After all, you can fail in the tough job of managing information systems even with the best of motives.

Luckily, you'll have company. With the real deadly sins, you're generally off the hook if someone else blows it. With the Information Systems Deadly Sins, if any member of your organisation commits them, you're guilty. But that's what leadership is all about, isn't it?

Here are seven surefire suggestions for sending you and the rest of your organisation straight to perdition.

Sin #1 Arrogance. Arrogance taints your judgment by blinding you to your own limitations.

Systems arrogance takes many forms, so look for the symptoms. Do you hear help-desk analysts swapping dumb user stories or using the popular acronym RTFM (Read The F . . . Manual)? Then you can bet your bottle of Pepto Bismol that end users gripe about the "helpless desk" while they long for the days when they bought their own PCs in defiance of IS.

Arrogance is a veneer -- a thin covering of excuses hiding deep performance deficiencies. As penance, develop a cultural exchange program with key department heads, and have the offending analysts work at end-user jobs for a few months. Even if they don't come back humbled, they'll understand a bit more about the business.

Sin #2 Grandiosity. Systems professionals engage in systems thinking. Be thankful for it. Part of systems thinking is extending ideas to their natural boundaries.

Unfortunately, there's a sort of one-upmanship that goes along with this, so if one analyst generalises the need for a purchasing system into something that covers the whole raw materials life cycle, the next one will extend it further to computer-integrated manufacturing. The thing everyone agrees on is that the person who requested the system is too narrowly focused, and failing to design for the bigger picture will result in colossal expenses a few years from now.

End users call this "designing the universe". It makes them nervous because they thought of the project in the first place, and now some arrogant systems know-it-all (see Sin #1) is expanding it into a monstrosity that can't be built.

As penance, assign the offending analyst to work with marketing to implement changes to your Web site. Because marketing asked for the changes last week and wants them in a month, that should break the grandiosity habit.

Sin #3 Projectitis. Projectitis refers to a systems manager's desire to sponsor a big project.

Projectitis comes from a desire for self-improvement -- in the career sense, that is. The sponsor of a big project is looking for a promotion: probably to CIO -- most likely in a different company, and almost certainly halfway through the project.

Big projects are a sin because anything longer than nine months is forever and will never happen. Projects only succeed when there's a sense of urgency, so your project planners should break every big project into manageable chunks that stand on their own.

In the meantime, you have to establish a penance for managers exhibiting projectitis. Make them manage the help desk for a while.

Sin #4 Jargon. This is the sin of analysts who need to demonstrate they know something that end users don't. Why use a perfectly good old word when a new one sounds better?

So when end users finally buy into structured analysis it's important to introduce JAD and RAD so you can patronisingly explain that they stand for joint application development and rapid application development, respectively.

Jargon has to evolve because the old words end up attached to discredited ideas. There was Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE), for example, which was just perfect for huge projects that never saw the light of day. So when CASE went out and objects came in, it was perfectly natural to introduce "use-case analysis".

If you hear your fully buzzword-compliant analysts spouting off to a group of end users, the penance is clear: assign them the task of creating a systems glossary.

Sin #5 Methodologism. No, not Methodism. We're not talking about religion. We're talking about the important matter of adhering to the methodology.

Because nothing gums up a perfectly good methodology like project deadlines and an emphasis on actual business results, methodologists are quick to emphasise that in the long run the methodology will pay off -- usually in reduced maintenance costs. Methodologists often commit the sin of projectitis, too (see Sin #3), because they stem from the same cause -- a desire to build an impressive resume to make departure to the next company easier and more lucrative.

Penance? Buy into the methodology . . . but cut the preferred tools out of the budget because "we had to choose between buying the tool for you and your two team members or hiring a dozen programmers".

Sin #6 Control. "We can't let the end users do X. If we did, Y might happen!"

The sin of control is expressed through a variety of unappetising behaviours.

A favourite is the creation of unnecessary standards and an emphasis on enforcement rather than end-user benefit. The creation of standards is not, of course, a sin. The relationship between standards and control is the same as the one between eating and gluttony. One is necessary, the other excessive.

The key to control is prevention. If you hear conversations about how to best prevent end users from loading their own software, building their own applications, or invoking their spell-checker without first obtaining permission, you've got it bad. A sure sign: lots of discussion about headaches, none about business benefits.

As penance, make a speech at your next staff meeting emphasising the importance of IS setting the example. Anyone within IS who violates standards and policies will be subject to immediate termination. After all, like Caesar's wife, everyone in IS must be above reproach.

Sin #7 Supplier mentality. The supplier mentality is expressed through unwholesome behaviours and attitudes. Do you view other parts of the company as your "customers"? Do you ask your customers to sign formal contracts? Do you negotiate system features with them as part of the process?

If so, you're a supplier, not a partner. And as a supplier you don't need to worry about doing penance. You need to worry about being replaced by a better supplier.

OK, so these "sins" have been overstated. Every one can sabotage your relationship with the rest of the company, so they're worth the exaggerated emphasis. It's your relationships that represent the foundation on which you build your success. Your behaviour and that of everyone in your organisation can either reinforce that foundation or tear it down.

There's only one way to choose the right path: don't sin.


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