Sunday, October 7, 2012

CIOs Counting beans

The CFO has worked very hard to earn the moniker "bean counter." He and his minion make their living counting bodies, dollars, hours, contracts, offices, … Technologists don't think of themselves as bean counters.They write software, gather requirements, fix bugs, support users, manage projects, test systems,… But something strange happens with IT leadership.

When managing portfolios of technology, IT leaders ignore what they manage and become bean counters. Instead of managing value and outcomes, they harangue staff over internal minutia, scare up reams of detail, and bullshit their customers with derived metrics that bear no resemblance to reality. It's as if they are embarrassed by who they really are. As if they believe that to gain credibility they have to placate the CFO. But, this always backfires.

In mimicking the CFO, IT leaders give credibility to the CFOs ridiculous argument that technology management is just counting beans. Is it any wonder that many CIOs and up reporting to CFOs, after loading the gun and handing it over?

In acting like the CFO, IT leaders lose credibility with their staff. Staff know what's required for the job. And they expect their leaders to know, too. They know the work can't be reduced to a couple of simple metrics, e.g., how many tasks have you completed today? How many tasks do you have for tomorrow?

Moreover, bean-counting IT leaders undermine the work itself. In the name of metrics collection, they bake processes around yesterday's work. Inappropriately rigid processes freeze work in time and undermine the continuous improvement of self-directing teams.

Yes IT leaders need to manage budget and time, but the primary driver is value. When managing at the portfolio level, IT leaders need to get their heads out of task tracking, out of detailed resource planning. Instead, they need to focus on the outcomes needed by their customers. Manage to value, not to minutia.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

50 X and Productivity of Technology Workers

... a 50-fold increase in productivity. What CFO, CIO, or CEO would balk at that? Who would hesitate more than a moment to say, "Yes, I'll take it!"

Fifty-fold is the difference between the median programmer and the top 1%, as  measured by a company with the capability to do so. While not 50X but still astounding, 10X difference between the top and the bottom is widely accepted by anyone with professional software development experience. A 10X productivity difference was first noted by Fred P. Brooks in the '60's. A few summaries of the evidence have been documented by StackExchange, C2, and Construx.

One other useful factor to note: the pay-scale difference between the top and the bottom is 3X at best. And due to an inability to see the difference, many organizations pay the worst performers about the same as the best. Clearly, here's a spread here worth exploiting!

Yet, whether in cahoots with or under the thumb of the skills-blind CFO profession, IT shops mistakenly, dogmatically and aggressively seek the cheapest rate not the deepest skill. For example, the rate card submitted this month by a major system integrator to the feds had rates for local programmers competitive with Indian offshore firms. You have to ask, with new grads from the humanities making more money than that, just who is going to fill these positions?

This ass-backwards pattern of optimizing a part that is anti-correlated with the success of the whole is destructive to our credibility. Have we given up hope that it's possible to predictably deliver value? Is it any wonder that in-house IT shops are the laughing stock of the business and the rest of the tech industry?