Debunking Conventional Lessons Learned

One of the mantras you keep hearing at this conference is how managing technology isn't really about about good technology, it's about good management. Or, as our publisher Peter Harkness likes to say, when it comes to IT, the focus used to be mostly on the "T." Now it's mostly on the "I."
by | May 29, 2008

From Governing's Managing Technology Conference in Seattle:

One of the mantras you keep hearing at this conference is how managing technology isn't really about good technology, it's about good management. Or, as our publisher Peter Harkness likes to say, when it comes to IT, the focus used to be mostly on the "T." Now it's mostly on the "I."

That concept was alive and well in a session I attended this morning on managing major change -- how to steer your government through large-scale IT changes and evolutions. The three panelists, Bill Bott of Missouri, Ron Huston of Colorado and Jerry Simonoff of Virginia -- have each recently helmed a major reorganization of their states' IT systems.

As Jerry Simonoff said, upgrading the actual technology was the easy part. "Technology is a very small part of the change. It's an important part, and it has to be done right. But the truth is, we know how to do that. The cultural change is what you're really doing here."

Simonoff, Huston and Bott each talked about the lessons they've learned from doing a massive IT reorganization. Many of the lessons they talked about -- while good and worthwhile and interesting -- weren't exactly that surprising. You know, you need executive buy-in from the top.  You need legislative support to get adequate funding. You need to do your homework and talk to other states that have done this before.

More interesting to me was the unexpected lessons they learned -- the ones that really challenge some conventional notions about management.

For example, Bill Bott, who has overseen a sweeping consolidation of 1,200 IT employees and $250 million in Missouri, debunked the idea that you've got to cultivate relationships in order to manage change effectively -- the notion that building interpersonal relationships is essential to good management.

"You hear all this talk about how relationships are foundational to management," Bott said. "But the first time something goes wrong [related to your IT project], that relationship means nothing. It means people know which phone number to call faster. But that's about it.

"That relationship is good, but it's got to be secondary. Relationships are important, but not foundational."

Interesting.

Jerry Simonoff, who has managed Virginia's IT infrastructure partnership with Northrop Grumman, the largest public-private partnership in the nation, took on another piece of conventional wisdom -- the idea that you need to get everyone on board with change.

"Perhaps at first we spent too much time trying to make everyone happy," Simonoff said. "You're going to have 95 percent of your people who are with you, but you'll have 5 percent who just never will be. Don't cater to that 5 percent who will never be on board. You've got to recognize from the beginning that there's a certain point where it's not going to make a difference."

Zach Patton  |  Executive Editor
zpatton@governing.com  | 

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