I remember getting a paper back in the 10th grade: “You have a firm grasp of the obvious.” I was smart enough then not to feel complimented. (This is perhaps too harsh for these authors; they are raising a very important issue that has not been addressed well enough yet.)
In 1970 Dr. Winston Royce wrote a now-famous article entitled: “Managing the Development of Large Software Systems”. Because of this article he is considered the father of “waterfall”. One of the top five problems he identified he called (in a positive way): “Involve the Customer”. Same basic idea; this was a known problem before 1970. And there have been many surveys of successful projects over the years. One of the top reasons for success always is that the business/customer was more heavily involved.
This gap between IT and the business side is a serious problem, and it is shameful that we (the business community) have not addressed it with much greater success. In my opinion, this is the key reason that we are getting generally a lousy return on our investment in IT. Certainly compared to what we could get. So much so, that management is often so desparate that they use this kind of logic: “Well, it’s probably going to fail for $50 million here in the US. Let’s ship it to India, where it will fail for $25 million.” The logic might be slightly better than that, but not much.
Back now to the WSJ article written by Amit Basu and Chip Jarnagin. So what do they recommend?
- Begin with IT literacy – and commitment – at the top.
- Hire an IT leader who sees the big picture.
- Create demand for IT solutions.
- Make sure nothing gets lost in translation.
- Rationalize IT spending.
- Create an IT portfolio by evaluating risks and returns.
I like some of these ideas. I would put greater emphasis than they did on making these solutions adaptive to change and to learning (they do hint at this). You should read the article. (You may need to join the WSJ online. Or see the comment (below) where the article is available for free.)
But what’s missing with these ideas? Well, in general, they are too high-level. What is needed is a way to get business and IT people collaborating in a specific small team that will accomplish a specific mission. Where the rubber meets the road. To me, this is where Scrum helps to solve this problem.