Are You in Control?

Are You in Control?

Enterprise change hugging should be done with the same level of care as swimming with sharks or playing with porcupines: It's going to hurt no matter what you do

Innovation demands discipline as much as it requires freedom

"Embrace change" is one of those awful, managerially correct Hallmark aphorisms celebrated in corporate-speak PowerPoint propaganda. The Give Change a Hug crowd swears that successful change management requires welcoming arms and open minds. They're wrong. Scepticism is best practice.

Enterprise change hugging should be done with the same level of care as swimming with sharks or playing with porcupines: It's going to hurt no matter what you do. Change management is pain management (see "The New Science of Change", CIO October). Tiny process nicks and subtle service cuts can lead to organizational inflammation and septic shock. But, hey, no pain, no gain, right?

IT's accelerated innovation rate has spawned an enormous body of change management literature for CIOs. Almost all of it addresses how to turn change management into a reliable, robust and cost-effective process. Change is not an event. Change management - like pain management - is really process management, and change leadership is really process leadership. That's true for people, systems and apps.

So where does successful process leadership come from? An IT Process Institute study provides compelling if counterintuitive insights that ring disturbingly true. Ordinarily, I dismiss self-reported IT shop surveys as self-serving drivel - for example: "Do you have a formal change management process?" "But of course . . . doesn't everyone?" "Are you a good boy?" "Yes, Mummy." There's good reason why so many CIOs view quasi-academic IT research with contempt.

This survey was different. Questions were ruthlessly specific and difficult to cheat on. Inconsistent or contradictory answers would quickly surface. This survey had baked-in, value-added scepticism. Moreover, the researchers had selected key performance metrics that would quickly separate the weasels from the winners. I bit.

The findings quantified distinctions between IT shops that live for the average and the few that take process leadership seriously. Elite IT performers weren't just two or three times better than median performers - they were seven or eight times better. High performers - roughly 13 percent of the 98 sampled - contributed on average eight times more projects, four and a half times more applications and software, four and a half times more IT services, and seven times more business IT changes. They implemented 14 more changes with half the failure rate.

We can quibble over the specifics, but that misses the central point: There were undeniably huge performance differences between the top quartile and the quartiles below. Why? What were the essential ingredients for process leadership?

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