Don’t ride dead horses.

My post “Dismount!” last Friday (goodness it’s already almost a week ago!) left an open question about how you may have found yourself riding a dead horse (in the figurative sense).

Now in the context of this blog and on the topic of IT, a dead horse would most likely refer to a system that is either not being used, or is being used but is extremely unpopular within the organisation.

Very often these systems are not necessarily bad systems, but rather something has occurred that has effectively “killed” that system within a particular organisation.
So it may have died because:

  • It is a bad system that has no business case and is not fit for purpose – (very unlikely)
  • There is no buy-in from the users when the purchase decision is made – (fairly likely)
  • There is no buy-in from the technical team who are required to support it – (extremely likely)
  • It is too complicated and the users don’t understand it – (unlikely)
  • It has not been properly implemented and is barely usable – (very likely)
  • Key Stakeholders of this system change roles, and it is unpopular with, or unfamiliar to their successors – (quite likely)

These likelihoods are not based on any research, but are simply my personal opinions based on my experiences within a number of organisations.
Let’s unpack these and see how easily they can happen. If any of the following list of things occurs during a product evaluation or solution design process then we may end up with one of the situations above:

    • A Vendor approaches senior managers directly and convinces them that the organisation needs this product, which then leads to …
    • A manager bypasses the governance process to implement a particular product
    • The Business Analysis is poor
    • The Technical team implement the newest pet-technology, ignoring the business requirements
    • The governance process for making purchase decisions is not aligned to business objectives or is in some other way broken
    • When a key support person or Business Champion changes role and the succession plan does not exist or is poorly executed

Do any of these sound familiar? It is almost guaranteed that at some point, one or more of these will occur within any organisation, and this list is by no means complete.

The inconvenient truth is that it is seldom the product that is at fault. There are usually two basic processes that have failed in these situations:

  • The IT Governance process around product decisions
  • Succession planning

A sound IT Governance process will ensure that business requirements are met and that solutions align with business objectives and desired behaviours.
Good Succession planning will ensure that the healthy parts of the status-quo are not compromised during a change of “rider”

The bad news is that “when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is [still] to dismount”

The good news is that if you are careful about these two processes (IT Governance and Succession Planning) it is possible to keep a healthy stable of IT solutions.

The basic message is:

Don’t let healthy horses die
– Do pay attention to Succession Planning, and
Don’t buy dead horses
– Make sure Governance Mechanisms align with business needs and IT circumstances and then don’t bypass them

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