Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Having Standards and Going Broke

One of my favorite surveys I use when talking to a large audience, is to have the house lights brought up and then ask, “Would everyone here who personally thinks that they are irresponsible and unreasonable, please raise your hand.” It always gets a chuckle as invariably three malcontents self-identify.

Everybody believes their perspective and judgement is both sound and moderate. So when I ask an I.T. person if their technology standards support their business goals, they always answer yes. Oh sure, they'll admit to having room for improvement, but all in all their standards meet their businesses needs.

I've yet to meet a technology manager who says, "I'm clueless. Frankly my business goals for the next three years can't be all that different from the last three. Got to go now, Siri just reminded me of a 3-way video call in ten minutes on my iPhone." /irony

So, you have to drill a little deeper with a different question.

“Do your technology standards meet the needs of 80% of the requests you receive?” But, don’t stop there. Keep going with, “Do you believe your standards will meet 80% of the future requests during the upcoming investment period (typically 3 years)?”

Standards must balance the goals of the support side (minimizing risk, costs, and variance), as well as the business side, (maximizing flexibility, capability, innovation). Focus too much on the former and you get reactive efficiency; too much on the latter and you have unrewarding complexity.

Enterprise Architects must embrace the notion that technology standards are a means to a goal, not the goal itself. Having tight standards that are brutally enforced will likely get you in the Architecture Hall of Fame for driving your company broke at record speed.

If you are looking to establish standards, review the last year, or quarter of requests you filled and see what patterns emerge. See if you can’t draw a line between the majority and the minority of requests. Know your customer (KYC).

This analysis should be the cornerstone of your executive and business communication - you need to establish standards based on the future needs of your business. If you do, you’ll garner support and appreciation, and establish an effective counter-argument against silly exceptions.

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