There is a difference between playing for food and playing for fun. I mentioned that analogy in an earlier series of blog posts as one of the reasons between the observed disconnect between the IT organization and the business. The idea here is that the business plays for ‘food’ as they are likely to lose their job if they miss their revenue plan or fail to deliver their P&L.
IT on the other hand largely plays for ‘fun’ as its rare that a project team gets fired for a failure to deliver their business case. Now the term ‘fun’ is used to provide contrast to the term ‘food’, not as a judgment on IT’s work or the serious nature of IT solutions.
A latter post discussed what it would take to have IT play for food, to make it run, be compensated like and have the same performance criteria as the revenue based parts of the workforce. There are good reasons why IT does not play for food, per se, from the need of operational stability, the criticality of quality and the basic skills/personality required for IT activities
The Business Needs some Fun
While the business may play for food, it’s also very important that they inject some ‘fun’ into their projects, processes and activities. By ‘fun’ I mean engage in activities that push the envelope and have a greater likelihood of not working, but a big payoff if they do.
Business executives need these types of projects to combat the conservatism that is inherent in playing for food. When the stakes are high, the temptation is to control everything and anything that jeopardizes success. Any extraneous thing, anything that you do not directly control either needs to be moved out of our goals or positioned in such a way that their success or failure does not influence ours.
I believe that constantly playing for ‘food’ is one of the reasons why the business often keeps IT at arms length and fails to really engage in projects, benefits realization, etc. IT is one of those wild cards that business leaders seek to externalize in order to either immunize themselves against risk or to remain focused on delivering the plan. This is a lose-lose proposition.
Business leaders need to incorporate some ‘fun’ or stretch projects into their plans, particularly into plans related to revenue. Such projects push the envelope and can help the organization become more innovative and take a little more risk. Without a ‘fun’ project
The good news is that IT is in a position structurally and systematically to provide some ‘fun’ or stretch projects.
- Most CIOs have already automated core processes and activities, creating a reservoir of information and data that can help the business she more effective.
- CIOs have an array of channels and device technologies that enable the flow of information in new ways that are consistent with the normal flow of business rather than requiring the business to ‘step out of the line’ to use applications.
- CIOs pursing agile and other rapid development approaches can deliver solutions rapidly based on an open-ended set of requirements that are ideal for innovative solutions.
Here is an example I heard one CIO talk about. They have two types of sales forces. One is concentrated on selling and re-selling to existing customers. They are known as ‘farmers’ as they harvest the existing fields. The other concentrates on getting new customers. Known as ‘hunters’ their job is to put forth the effort required to get new customers. That separation is nothing new but both workforces require different solutions. This is where IT came in to create real value.
Hunters have a problem, how do you know who is not your customer? After all they are paid to find and convert prospects into customers, so inadvertently prospecting the existing customer base. When that happens the hunters have to spend time with the customers and the customer is open to confusion.
A person in IT had a great idea. What if they had a mobile application that showed the hunters who the company’s customers were in a particular location? That way the hunter could know which companies to avoid, the ones who were customers. The solution represented a mash-up of GIS information from a ‘maps app’ and the customer database. The result required three weeks of one person’s time to build and deeply the app.
The result was a significant increase in the sales force effectiveness. Hunters loved it and it augmented their capability in a way that directly helped them be more successful.
This example, and others like it are an archetype for the future of IT and business relationships. Rapid, focused, solution development where the cost of implementation and adoption is low – making the cost of failure negligible. In this case, it worked and I know from working with this team that other attempts have not, but the business understood this was a ‘fun’ project, an attempt to do something new and an opportunity to learn.
CIOs and IT professionals need to think about how to position their work in ways that recognize their business peers focus on results and the impact of that focus on their relationship. Rather than building up IT projects to be part of a burning platform that threatens their ‘food’, we need approaches that are ‘fun’ experiments and opportunities to leverage IT resources, data and processes to achieve breakthrough performance.
Sure we all play for ‘food’ in the sense that we need to be successful. But sometimes, and more often than we think, we also need some ‘fun’ projects to keep us out of a rut. Every field needs a rest and every hunter needs to find new hunting grounds.
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