Archive for July, 2012

An initiative has started at work aimed at making the organisation “simpler”. One is invited to submit ideas as to how, and I suppose it is an initiative to be encouraged.

Having said that, I’ve come across these sorts of initiatives before and they always make me smile somewhat. The implication tends to be that what we have “now” (assumed to be the nightmarish non-simple “complex” organisation) somehow came about on its own. It just “grew” like weeds and brambles taking over your otherwise perfect and well designed garden. No-one was responsible for the complexity building up. It just happened somehow, by itself, right?

This is nonsense of the highest order. Complex organisations don’t just happen: they are designed that way. We made them. So it’s a bit rich that we now complain about what we’ve done and want to undo it, but without acknowledging how we got into the complexity in the first place. It wasn’t some random serendipitous event that brought it about.

I recently saw a television interview where a politician was complaining that police officers do too much desk-based office work and they need to reduce it.

I don’t think it occurred to him that the desk-based office work was there because politicians like him had told the police to do it. People don’t create administration and beaurocracy themselves. It has to be as a response to some stimulus or instruction. You might also want to ask him why the admin tasks were brought in at all if lots of time and effort will be spent removing it all again later…

Then there was the UK government department that for years was called the Department of Trade and Industry. Then for a while it was bizzarly renamed Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The ‘Regulatory Reform’ bit seemingly also coming from the ‘simplicity’ agenda. Again, it seemed to have escaped politicians notice that the very ‘regulations’ in need of ‘reform’ (i.e. were supposedly ‘bad’) were the very ones created and passed by the politicians. Yet they were again behaving as if it was a case of taking a flame thrower to the stinging nettles.

Life is not a series of chance events: It is the product of decisions that people
consciously make. These decisions might not always be good ones, but they nonetheless exist. We can’t deny them and pretend everything around us is random. It is important to learn WHY our environment is the way it is and what led us there. Only then can we make meaningful decisions about change – simplicity or no simplicity.

A few years ago part of my organisation conducted a big (and no doubt very expensive) survey. From what I can recall, it was aimed at gaining Insight into the UK population’s use of technology and the media and what sorts of individuals and households they were.

The results were published in a blaze of publicity and I have to say it was all very interesting. But some of the findings were surprising (to me at any rate). It seemed to be portraying an incredibly positive and techno-savvy view of society that didn’t quite tally with my experiences: most people were using the Internet for everything, and those that weren’t soon would be. Furthermore most people had the latest gadgets, and those that didn’t indicated they soon would have, and people were drifting away from ‘traditional’ technologies and ‘traditional’ media and moving on to new alternatives – inevitably on demand and internet based. And you guessed it: those that weren’t, indicated they soon would be.

Here are a few more findings:

  • 97% Are concerned about the impact their purchasing decisions have on the rest of the world
  • 84% Are willing to volunteer their time to good causes
  • 78% Are optimisitic for the future
  • 77% Like to get involved in helping out the local community
  • 60% Have shopped online in the last 12 months

Whilst this is encouraging, it all seems a bit too utopian to me. Too perfect. Almost contrived, somehow.

I am not for one moment disputing the accuracy or presentation of the data collected. I have no doubt this reflected what people genuinely said. Also, I think surveys can be useful.

But surveys have a simple and quite glaring deficiency that seems to get overlooked. That is that you can’t force people to participate in them. If I go out on the street and ask people to complete my survey about how much they like the Harry Potter books, I will quite likely return with a very high “yes I like them” result. But this is because the people that don’t like Harry Potter are unlikely to participate in my survey. I will likely only get the ‘like them’ population participating. Furthermore you have to have a certain mindset to participate in surveys at all- many people avoid them at all costs or out of principle. Regardless of the subject matter. And why not? That’s their right.

But it means the results are skewed right from the start.

Participating in a survey and saying ‘no’ isn’t the same as not participating at all. Further, the people that don’t participate probably have something interesting and enlightening to say, if only we can get them to tell us. But how? To go back to our Harry Potter example, it would be all to easy to extrapolate my results to mean “most people like Harry Potter”. Well, how do we know? We don’t.

So I have nothing against surveys. The problem I have is that people all too often try to use them to make ‘fact’ and empiracle ‘truth’ where there is none. Surveys are just a tool in their delusion. The world is still a complicated place, and it is what people don’t say that is often the most interesting.

I find it quite ironic that we are continually told how we live in a world of constant and unpredictable change, and yet IT people often seem to get agitated by requirements changing. Or even by anything unexpected or out of the blue happening.

This agitation seems be increasing. Why?

I could say that what I’ve just said may well come back to haunt me. Yet I first wrote about it 12 or more years ago and I’ve certainly worked on projects that have fallen victim to requirements changing, sometimes in the most dramatic way. So you could say it already has. I’ve also lived through occasions where there weren’t even any proper ‘requirements’ at all. Just a vague set of statements from senior levels about what broadly (sometimes VERY broadly indeed) needed to happen. It was for IT to work out what they need to do.

So sod it. Let’s reiterate it again.

In my view, there is often not enough change. The problem doesn’t lie with ‘change’ in itself. It lies with the fact that people are often uneasy or nervous instigating initiatives because they don’t understand the consequences of the change. They don’t know where it will end up. It could actually be fairly straightforward – but we don’t know. This can lead to a quest for the ‘safe’ route or perhaps abandoning initiatives entirely. It can also lead to people not being open and honest with their intentions for fear of opening a ‘can of worms’. Yet ‘cans of worms’ (or sacks of snakes sometimes) is what IT is all about, surely?

What concerns me is the mindset that seems to regard the unexpected or unforeseen as some sort of failure. It is increasingly seen as a ‘target’ or ‘commitment’ that hasn’t been met. It is indicative of personal deficiency.

This is all folly: It implies that change is ‘good’ on the one hand yet is a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’ on the other when it, err, changes. We seem to be moving into into an era where people are terrified of the unexpected or of anything that can’t be completely planned for up front. The myth is perpetuated that the unexpected, unpredictable and unplanned can in some way be designed out. That if only we do things “right” or learn some secret rules or knowledge we will end up with perfection.

This is also folly: To me, IT isn’t about trying to prevent, control or design out the unexpected, but to do what we can to prepare ourselves for the inevitability of things not going according to plan.