How often have you been involved in a set of functionality, sorry, ‘features’, or maybe even an entire project, that has been threatened with abandonment after being underway for some time?  In my case, It doesn’t happen often, thankfully. If anything it’s very rare. But a while back I did get into this situation. I had analysed a solution, got it approved, estimated and funded, and it then got handed on to someone else who questioned the whole thing. And it did look like it might get stopped entirely. 

You might perhaps suggest that the need, desire, requirements and idea didn’t have strong enough business value – hence why it was being questioned.  And there might be something in that. But business value is rarely an empirical, scientific thing.  Often it is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I and the stakeholders were satisfied that it did have business value but that aside, I’d like to dwell on one central point:  What happens if it did get stopped?  

Think about it.

The natural answer is that because IT haven’t built the features, it all just fades away.  IT said ‘no’ and that’s that. 

But the reality is different. The people requesting it will likely just find a different way of doing it.  They might knock something together themselves in Microsoft Access or Excel or whatever else they can lay their hands on. Maybe they can go outside to people that will build it for them, cutting you and your department out of the loop.  Perhaps they will invent some manual system or other means of doing what they want to do.

When IT says ‘no’, it doesn’t mean things don’t happen.  They still go ahead, just in a rubbish way.  

We could just say ‘so what’ and leave it at that. I’ve even encountered people who are fine with this. They view the ‘do nothing’ route with a weird  sense of achievement, as if it is some kind of noble outcome. But this sits uncomfortably with me. If not doing something is a measurement of success,  why not stop using computers and technology entirely while we’re about it?  let’s all go back to filing cabinets, ring binders and rollerdecks shall we?  Maybe that has ‘business value’?   It would certainly save on electricity.  

Of course, we have to be mindful of the fact that in IT we are often spending large quantities of other people’s money. I am not suggesting for one moment that we plough on with things that simply aren’t worth the investment. But equally, my experience is that people don’t generally approach the IT operation unless they have a valid reason.  That reason might be rough round the edges and perhaps badly articulated but there is generally a kernel of something valid behind it. 

IT saying ‘no’ and assuming that’s that seems to me to be a very arrogant and short sighted way to behave. You might of course have explanations backing up your ‘no’ position, but it is important for IT people to face up to the fact that we live in a day and age where people may well just do it anyway.  

* * *

After I wrote this, I came across some articles describing a philosophy which is gaining momentum at the moment around people using their own equipment in the workplace.  In other words, instead of your company issuing you with a 5-year old laptop with a Celeron processor and Windows XP, you could choose to bring in your own machine – of your choice – and use it. There is much to debate here, most of which is off topic, but the similarity is that organisations are fighting a loosing battle trying to prevent it: Saying ‘no’ just means people will invent ever more obscure and shady ways of round the rules and doing it anyway.  

No doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Food for thought certainly.

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