Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Daß Narrenschyff ad Narragoniam

Liz Hartnett, in her blog on the BBC's open2.net site, reports on a recent edition of The Bottom Line devoted to aspiration, optimism and enthusiasm:
... that the IT customer needs to know what they want - and that their wants are, in many cases, “woolly and aspirational”.

Woolly and aspirational wants lead to over-ambitious and poorly defined systems that take longer to design and implement, and they go over budget.

But it’s not just the customer who’s aspirational. In one public sector IT project, optimistic and enthusiastic IT staff thought, “Yes, an online payment - that’s what they really need, surely.”

But when they engaged in discussion, they discovered that the client was less enthusiastic about the IT department’s suggestion, and didn’t expect much take up or benefit. But what the client thought would really be of benefit was a telephone payment service.

The system, consequentially implemented, brought in a significantly larger sum of money to the public organisation.
One of my recent IT projects overran its budget after only four months. Not only were the specifications overambitious, but there was also an assumption that the programming work did not need to be organized, nor the programmers to be directed. In theory all processes were documented and in line with company standards, and hardly any work got done.

There are at least three topics linked together here: capitalism, competition and waste. I don't see how effective competition is possible without a free-market base. But competition can be considered to be inherently wasteful, since it would be more effective to join forces.

These notions are so jumbled together in texts on political economy I have read, that I have concluded they are all useless. I suspect that wastefulness may not only be Not A Bad Thing, but also an essential ingredient in change, along with stabs at efficiency. Attempts to obtain complete control over a process are doomed to failure, just as are attempts to do without any kind of control or planning.

These are mushy conclusions to arrive at, but they seem to apply to the IT projects I have worked in. And yet I firmly believe the best way to measure progress is to measure it often, and shift elsewhere those who don't measure up. Theory cannot replace practice, especially not in a competitive and wasteful economy.

People are essential, but they must be directed. Heads must occasionally be shifted or chopped, especially those of management. At the company whose IT project I mentioned above, everyone had some kind of job title like "responsible for ...", but no brief to actually do anything they would have to answer for. I suspect this was a marine safety measure to prevent rocking the boat, so that no one could fall overboard.

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