The Why of IT
A while ago I read through Simon Sinek's book "Start with Why". To be fair I don't know if the book's content was as informative as the title. Recently I have been introduced to Toyota's "5 Whys Technique" and several other strategies for finding the root of what we mean.
Throughout my career in enterprise IT I have managed many types of resources. These resources exist because at some point they were identified as a solution. As a good leader I was in charge of keeping a set of resources running. This involved ensuring updates were applied, or that upgrades were budgeted at regular intervals. We upgrade the email server because it is scheduled to be done every 5 years. We upgrade the SAN because we need more storage space.
However, as I have matured in my career I have started asking the question: "Why am I doing this?". Often the answer is: "Because it is best practice." Another way of putting this is:
We do it because that is what we always have done.
Here is a good exercise for business mangers:
Find your favorite tech support manager or administrator. Ask them what the most important device they manage is. If they are a network admin they will point to a core switch, if they are a server admin they will point to a device such as the email server or the SAN. Why are they important though? What business processes do they align with? How do they help move your product?
In technology we forget to ask why we have a solution in the first place. What if we asked if there is a better way.
The better way is looking at business process rather than technical solution.
For example "Why does Sally need a desktop?" If I ask Sally if she needs a new desktop she will almost always say that she does. But the better question is "Why" and then stop and listen. The first answer will probably be that the machine is slow or needs to be rebooted a lot or that the screen is too small. If I continue to talk to Sally I might find that her real frustrations are that she cannot consistently access the accounting software that she maintains for the department. This changes the question from "Does Sally need a desktop?" to:
How can we help Sally reliably fulfill her priority tasks?
This is much more interesting to the business manager. Maybe there is a better way for Sally to get access and store financials. Maybe we need to research the reliability of the current solution.
'Why' is such an important tool and I cannot stress businesses enough to encourage this behavior. It gets managers away from thinking about technology and focusing on business. If I ask the manager the first question I will get an exasperated sigh. But if I ask them the second question I will always see the manager engaged in a good solution.
Keep asking why, stop thinking about the IT commodity and start thinking about how the process can be improved. Then you can find technology to match the solution. Finally, don't forget to recycle this train of thought in the future.