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Avoid Chasing Squirrels

Dogchasingsquirrel

Have you ever seen a dog chase a squirrel? Everything but the squirrel and the pursuit disappears. Jason Stanaland calls this “The Hound Dog Effect” and thinks IT professionals can learn a lot from avoiding it.

As humans, we exhibit similar behavioral patterns. We get an idea, we decide it is good and we tear off through the woods – only to find ourselves lost, confused and tired down the road, drowning in the complexity we’ve created for ourselves. Nowhere do we see this more than in the fast-paced field of technology.

Instead of running off full-tilt after a neat idea, IT teams need to take a step back and think about outcomes and impact before pursuing technology. We tend to call technologies “solutions” but not all technologies provide a solution to a real problem or enhance our lives, our work, our businesses or our communities.

Here are five things you can do to avoid chasing technology squirrels:

  1. Give all IT employees “innovation time off” (ITO) When describing how electric and natural gas utility Consumers Energy implements an ITO program, Computerworldquoted: “The developers spent time riding along with field technicians to observe how they did their work,” says [Mamatha] Chamarthi.” There’s nothing better you can do for the business than address a pain point.”
  2. Practice Q-Storming This process, developed by the Inquiry Institute, is a great way to prevent you from chasing squirrels. It’s a simple exercise: Get your team together once a week, pick a topic and for just one hour, do nothing but ask questions. Don’t think about solutions – just ask questions. You’ll be surprised how many new, uncovered paths you will discover.
  3. Compile thorough business cases This one seems obvious, but the Project Management Institute cites a study by the Standish Group that revealed that 21 percent of IT projects failed completely – often due to a failure to align the technology to the supporting business and its needs. Never start a project without at least formally defining the justification, benefits to the business, key stakeholders and alignment with company goals. If you can’t clearly define how the technology will help someone make the world a better place, you are chasing a squirrel.
  4. Conduct value assessments Once an IT project is completed, many IT teams divvy out a round of high fives, wipe their hands clean and move on to the next item on the to-do list. A value assessment should include a thorough review of the original business case upon a project’s completion, interviews with key stakeholders and verification that the technology has delivered the intended value and impact to the supporting business and business users. Assessments should continue iteratively going forward, as part of continual service improvement processes.
  5. Implement ITIL’s Continual Service Improvement process Ask yourself, “Where are we now?” “Where do we want to be?” “How do we get there?” and “How do we know when we get there?” The last step in ITIL’s framework is, “How do we keep momentum?” but I’d add a step before that last one: “Should we keep momentum?”

Jason Stanaland is an IT professional with a decade of experience specializing in systems architecture design, IT service management, and execution of information technology-related projects. Jason currently works at JAMF Software, a leading Apple device management company.

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