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Thursday, September 27, 2007 by admin
I’ve read a number of articles and thought pieces recently that explore the problems with approaches to IT delivery that focus too much on projects as the organising concept – particularly when it comes to SOA adoption. The shortcomings of an overly project-focused approach are something I can agree with wholeheartedly. The research we conducted for The Technology Garden (Wiley, 2007) convinced me that driving IT delivery using a project-focused organising principle is one of the worst things you can do if you want to try and increase the business value delivered from IT investments.
But if projects are passé, what should they be replaced with? Most of the commentary I’ve seen suggests that a better approach is to think as if you’re developing commercial software products. The excellent Todd Biske has one such piece here.
You have to be think carefully before diving deeply into a product management mentality, though. The trouble is that taking too literal a view of IT delivery through the lens of product management can prevent you from reflecting reality the way that “customers” (regular business people in your organisation, and quite possibly those external customers that ultimately pay all the salaries) see it.
Why? Because software products have no business value, no matter how well-managed the processes to create them were. Business value only comes when you implement a software product and get business results. A shrink-wrapped DVD by itself doesn’t get you any results, only a coaster for your coffee cup. Electronic software delivery doesn’t even get you a coaster – it just fills up your hard disks with useless ones and zeroes.
You have to wrap all kinds of IT services – install and config, integration, customisation, training, administration, user support and so on – to turn a product into something that delivers real business value to real business people. The interface that regular business people have with IT isn’t with products, it’s with IT services. Even Microsoft, the ultimate software shrink-wrapper, has realised that enterprise customers don’t buy products, they buy outcomes (see this old post for info).
That’s why the only way to deliver sustainable improvements in business value delivery is recognising that for the customers of IT organisations, “service is king”, and starting to organise IT delivery around that. The first obstacle to overcome is to find ways of bridging the incredibly harmful divide that so often separates software development teams from IT operations teams.
If you take too much of a product management centric view, the danger is that you focus all your energy creating the right kind of development and deployment capabilities, without thinking of the broader service experience that customers need and expect over the lifecycle of a long-term commitment. IT operations is where the rubber meets the road, and where customer expectations are met or dashed. Too simplistic a focus on product-style management for IT delivery perpetuates the development-operations divide and squanders a great opportunity.