Two Stars – A laudable goal, but its execution sends the wrong message to business professionals
It is hard to criticize a book dedicated to looking at the challenges facing IT leaders on a personal and professional level. The goal of Adventures of an IT Leader are admirable, present IT in a human light using a combination of techniques from Goldratt’s business novel classic “The Goal” to the case studies that are featured monthly in the Harvard Business Review.
The authors clearly know their stuff. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the authors have not been able to translate that knowledge into an effective business/IT book. While this book is interesting, well written and flows pretty good it does not provide the busienss person — particularly one with a jaundiced view if IT, or the IT professional with the insights needed to change their circumstances.
The book seems to be written for the business person to help them understand IT. The protagonist Jim Barton is a business leader asked to assume the role of CIO without any technical experience. This again is a great goal, however there are some significant issues in the book.
I do not recommend this book be given by an IT professional to a business executive. Particularly if you want to show a business person what life in IT is all about.
Furthermore I would not recommend a business person read this book in an attempt to learn what IT is all about.
While these recommendations are harsh here are my reasons:
1. A business reader can easily interpret the book as making IT look incompetent, from managers who do not understand what their staff do (Chapter 3) to their inability to control major projects (Chapter 7), to their in ability to protect the company (Chapter 11).
2. From a business perspective, the book resolves every IT issue with spending more money. Sure the leader shuts down a project, only to pay $3 million and get nothing, then have to start the project up all over again for more money. The solution pattern offered in the book could easily support business suspicions that IT is about spending money than creating value.
3. IT people may play well with each other but play poorly with the business. The major project (Chapter 7) that was led by the business is cancelled and pulled back up under IT. The new CIO takes over responsibility for the IT budget across the enterprise – because they cannot get infrastructure projects funded. The business and IT cannot agree on the status of projects, turning a meeting into a finger pointing session led by the IT person (Chapter 6)
4. The book brushes past major concepts and challenges in IT with short and passing explanations. Terms like shared service, web 2.0, and infrastructure are discussed in passing which undercuts their importance to the business and the future of IT.
5. That you only have to be a CIO for a year, one in which you handle a crisis but do not seem to deliver any major value, and that you will get your dream job and move up to COO at a bigger company. I know the authors had to end the book, but ending on such a triumphal note when the performance during the year was mediocre at best sends the wrong message to the business reader.
CIOs in real life who work hard, face real challenges, and make real progress. The book does not show much of this. They also have the job an average of 4 years not 365 day wonders. Its true that this is a business fable, but if you are trying to educate people even fables have significant grains of truth to them.
There are other books that describe IT better ranging from “IT Savvy” (Weill and Ross), “The New CIO Leader” (Broadbent and Kitzis), “Straight to the Top” (Smith) among others.
The authors do a good job of sequencing a set of events that IT leaders will recognize: runaway projects, de-motivated staff, security issues, etc. While this book is ok for IT people to read, it does not put these challenges in a particularly interesting light or an environment where new concepts and approaches can be illustrated.
IT professionals will recognize this environment and say that is accurate. That is a good thing. However, the book is not the story of an IT turnaround – rather it is a descriptive story based on the new CIO lurching between IT topic areas (Cost/Value, Project Management, Runaway Projects, IT Priorities/governance, IT and the board) rather than discussing the combination of things that raise IT performance. The authors have drained the story of suspense, decisions, actions and results that are essential in using the business novel format.
IVK – the fictional loan/mortgage originating financial services company has all the characteristics of a poorly run IT shop: lack of standards, a hero culture focused around the CISO, good people in management roles who seemed outgunned. While Barton, the new CIO builds up a white board with key ideas; these ideas are more accumulated than implemented. The result is an IT shop that is more transformed by events than by management and leadership.
The book uses these circumstances to introduce and review concepts that were developed several years ago such as Death march projects, power maps, IT portfolios, etc. Many of these tools are self referential as coming from the Cutter Consortium – the home of one of the three authors. IT professionals will recognize these techniques as they are well established. They will learn little from them as they are not exercised in the text – merely catalogued and described with partial samples attached at the end of some chapters.
I kept reading this book, hoping that it would get better as I agree with the premise and the need to build bridges across IT and the rest of the enterprise. Unfortunately in my experience and from reading this book – I can see where it can do more harm than good — particularly as a tool to help business people understand IT.
Sorry for such a critical review. I am not trying to bash the book, but when I look at it from a business perspective I see it doing more harm than help. I hope that I have explained the reasons behind my rating in this review.
Review also posted to Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/nub7bg