Come on, IT -- loosen up already

Too often, IT processes become straitjackets. Knowing how to adapt is the key to moving your organization forward

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Of course, as IT continues to grow, both in size and complexity, everyone would end up hating the favorite-analyst alternative to the rigid help desk even more. They'd describe IT as unreliable, reactive, and out of control. Again, it wouldn't be just the help desk. It would be all of IT because the help desk is the part of the IT iceberg that shows above the water.

It's Hobson's choice all over again. When it comes to choosing between practices and processes, you're dinged if you do and you're dinged if you don't.

Lucky for you, I have the solution.

You are your worst enemy
One of my early clients, a very talented CIO, brought me in to assess his organization's progress a few years after I'd first worked with him to develop a turnaround plan for his department. After interviewing everyone in IT and a sampling of business executives, managers, and staff-level employees, it was time for an uncomfortable conversation.

"For the most part, everyone in IT seems to have adapted to your new incident management process, and they want to make it work," I told him.

"For the most part?" he asked.

"Yes. You do have one person in IT who sometimes sabotages everyone else's efforts to make it work."

"Who is that?" he asked, falling into the trap.

"You."

It turned out that my friend and client saw his role as helping frustrated users -- especially frustrated executives -- bypass the new process when it wasn't convenient for them to follow the guidelines. It took little additional conversation to persuade him that his proper role wasn't to help anyone bypass the new process. It was to help them work the process.

One problem: There was no way to work the process. It was, in fact, rigid -- so was born the "process-bypass process."

A process-bypass process is as the name implies: a defined, allowed way to skip one or more steps in a process, or to invent new ones for one-time use while still operating within the overall process umbrella.

Process-bypass processes aren't just for incident management. The specifics vary with the process and with the details of the process design and supporting software. In healthy corporate cultures, they're also restricted to situations where the process doesn't fit. They aren't used to placate whoever has the loudest voice and worst temper.

More flexibility, greater value
Traditional IT organizations won't institute process-bypass processes. They'll see no need for them. They'll operate according to their formal process designs, while negotiating service-level agreements, aka arm's-length formal contracts with the rest of the business. So long as each process satisfies its SLAs, IT has delivered on its contractually defined responsibilities.

In IT's eyes, everything is copacetic. In everyone else's eyes, IT is a stifling, choking bureaucracy.

Next-generation IT leaders will embrace process-bypass processes, because they understand three fundamentals of organizational dynamics: People are involved, relationships matter, and no process design is optimal for every situation it has to handle.

Next-generation IT is all about business and IT collaborating to create value for real paying customers. Collaboration requires trust and healthy relationships -- something SLAs can't deliver.

This doesn't mean you get to ignore the efficiencies and predictability that come from well-designed processes. It means you think of them as tools, to be used when they're appropriate for the job, not to redefine the job if it doesn't fit the apparatus.

This story, "Come on, IT -- loosen up already," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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