Linear Thinking and the CIO

linear thinkingI’ve been sitting at my computer staring at the screen for a few minutes trying to come up with a topic for my weekly “New CIO” article.   While waiting for inspiration to strike (i.e., surfing the web) I took a look at my Google Analytics account and noticed that the most visited article on my blog “The Problem(s) with Linear Thinking“.

Now…this is an article I wrote in January 2007…way back when I was a novice blogger. I still like it and still think that linear thinking is a huge trap of organizations to fall into.  It’s also a huge trap for CIO’s to fall into.

So…I ran a quick search for “Linear Thinking” and  “Linear Thinking CIO” and what did I find?  Me. 🙂  The couple of posts I’ve done on the topic are at the top of the list.  When I did the Search for “Linear Thinking CIO” my “Beware the Linear Thinking Trap” post is ranked #1.

Now…while I’m excited to be ranked #1 on Google for something, the question has to be asked – how many people are searching for those terms?  Not many based on the traffic I get from them…but enough to make a difference.

So..why another post on Linear Thinking?

Because I still see the topic as one that’s causing  a lot of problems withing organizations. I also see a lot of CIO’s and IT groups stuck in the linear thinking trap and unaware of their predicament.

Quick example:

The CIO commissions the IT group to create and implement a governance model & document to manage all IT projects.   This governance document is developed as a closed system with little input from the rest of the organization.  The model is put into practice and is now ‘law’ within the organization.

Based on the governance model, all new projects over $25,000 must go through the governance process.   Why $25K?   Very few projects can be completed for less than that…and those that fall under $25K aren’t really that important right?

So…the HR team is ready to implement a new system.  They come to IT and ask for some assistance and are told that the project will undoubtedly be over $25K and must go into the governance process and be subject to ‘proper’ project and portfolio management practices.

The HR team are good corporate citizens and begin the governance process.  They fill out the paperwork.  Determine an estimated cost for the project (and it is over $25K) and wait for the governance process to kick in.  And they wait.

A month after submitting the paperwork, a meeting is held to prioritize the projects within the organization. The HR team doesn’t get to attend this meeting…they have to rely on the IT team and submitted paperwork to make their case.

The project is deemed a lower priority than others and not authorized.  The HR team is furious.  The implementation of this system is a part of all of their performance goals for the year and it has to get done.

So….what happens?

You know what happens! The HR Team moves forward anyway.  They reach out to vendors and solicit bids for a ‘phased approach’ to the project. Perhaps they look for a SaaS model for the system to save implementation and initial upfront investment.

Jump forward six months.

The HR Team has fully implement a SaaS platform to do what they need to do.  The system does not integrate with any other platform within the organization (perhaps it can, it just hasn’t been integrated).  The HR Team is happy as they’ve met the need of their team and reached their goals.

The IT team is not happy.  They’ve now got another system in the mix and have to decide whether they support it or not.  The CIO isn’t happy because the governance model has proven ineffective.  The CIO takes the issue to the CEO and is told to support the platform…the HR team is ‘getting things done’ and the IT team better get on the ball or ‘heads will roll’.

More than a governance issue

There are a ton of problems with the above scenario.  There are governance issues, portfolio management issues, client management issues and potential security and IT integration issues.

But…they all stem from the fact that the governance model implemented within the example organization has been built with with ‘old’ thinking.  IT projects  no longer have to be expensive projects.  Organizations can go the SaaS route to get any number of platforms implemented much cheaper than in the past.  Sure, there are still the ‘big’ projects, but not every IT platform is a ‘big’ project these days.

Organizations can no longer work with an inflexible governance model that provides no relief for those projects that aren’t considered a ‘priority’.  Governance and portfolio management must be performed but we’ve got to find ways to be agile at the same time.

There’s a ton of work for CIO’s to do to create more flexible governance models, better project and portfolio management processes and generally provide better service to the organization.  But in order to create these new models, CIO’s and IT groups need to move out of the lienar thinking rut that we’ve been operating in for so long.  We’ve got to find ways to be more agile and responsive to the organization.

The ability to be agile and think differently is key to the success (and survival?) of the CIO and IT group in the future.

Linear Thinking and the CIO

In my “Beware the Linear Thinking Trap” post, I ask:

Are you doing the same thing the same way you were last year?

Many organizations still answer ‘yes’ because that’s all they can do. That’s all they know how to do.  They’ve fallen into the linear thinking trap and don’t realize it.

The New CIO must find a way to stay out of the trap that linear thinking can create.  In the example above the CIO used a governance model to manage the project portfolio.  This, in itself, isn’t a bad thing.  Governance is needed.  Portfolios are needed.

What’s bad about this situation is that the approach to governance must change in the Enterprise 2.0 world.  No longer can you control all applications within the organization. Shadow IT is rampant.   Rather than fight Shadow IT, use it to your advantage.  Work with those departments that have created their own shadow infrastructure to ensure they are governed and managed correctly.

Linear thinking is taking many CIO’s and IT organizations further and further into irrelevancy.  It’s no longer enough to use the same governance models you used five years ago or even last year.  The New CIO has to step in with innovative approaches to IT governance and project/portfolio management (and in all other aspects of IT) to provide the organization with the best opportunity to be successful.

Stop doing what you did last year. Stop doing what you did yesterday.  It won’t work tomorrow…heck…it didn’t work yesterday.

Climb out of that depression caused by the linear thinking trap and do something better.   Thinking creatively. If you want to be the CIO, you’ve got to think differently.

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