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Creating value based on hearsay – the criminal processes inherent in IT

by Mark P. McDonald  |  October 13, 2009  |  Comments Off on Creating value based on hearsay – the criminal processes inherent in IT

Watch a courtroom drama on TV or in the movies and you will learn that hearsay evidence is not admissible in court.  Hearsay occurs when someone says they heard someone else talk about an event, action etc.  They cannot be witness to the person actions; they just heard them speak about it.

If hearsay is inadmissible in court, then why is it admissible in IT?

IT requirements definition approaches, tools and techniques are based on the hearsay.  We ask representatives of the business to tell us what they did, when they did it, who else did what – where were you on the night of the 23rd?  You get the picture.

These processes often work just like a criminal investigation, particularly the part where law enforcement interrogates suspects and then engages in plea-bargaining.  Think of it, we take the business out of its element and put them in a conference room, ask them all sorts of questions about their work, their peers etc.  We even invented ‘agile’ development methods that form a never ending cycle of interrogation.

After the interrogation comes the plea-bargaining – oh sorry I meant scope definition – where IT negotiates with the business to find an acceptable scope of work.  The deal is struck the processes can move forward with each party getting something, although not quite everything they wanted.

Eliminate hearsay the same way they do on T.V. – pound the pavement, talk to witnesses, be where the action is.

Eliminating hearsay evidence in IT is fairly straightforward – get out of the conference room and into the street.  This is called going to the “Gemba” or marketplace where the action is.  For IT this means getting out of the office to observe what is going on, the tools people are using, the environment they work in.

Observation is critical to getting behind the spoken requirement and uncovers business needs that will better address the issue and delight users and customers alike.  When you are in the field make sure that you are answering the following questions:

  • What are people doing in their job?
  • Where are they doing their job?
  • When are these tasks required to be performed?
    Who is performing the tasks, who triggers the tasks, who receives the result?
  • Why are they doing their job in that way?  Why is this the best way to achieve the company’s operational, business or strategic objectives?
  • How are they doing their work, the tools, information, techniques, interfaces, support materials and environment
  • How well are they required to do their work, the quality and performance metrics they need to meet, other performance requirements?

Consider the importance of observing the business to answer these questions by considering the closing process that happens every night in a bar or restaurant.

If you have ever worked in a bar at closing time you know that you not only have to close down the bar, but often balance the cash register and receipts.

This is a financial process, designed by financial people geared at controlling the company’s cash and business receipts.  There is nothing wrong with that, but it should be no surprise that this process is defined in a conference room during normal business hours.  The result is a set of tools, approaches and techniques that make sense to finance people, but often result in errors, omissions and defects in the field.

Why?  Well because the finance professionals designed a process for them, not the real users in their real environment.  Do you think they would build a different process if they had to design it at 4 o’clock in the morning, when its dark, your tired, its dirty (sorry I worked in some dodgy places) and the last thing you are ready for is the exacting financial work required to reconcile receipts.

I think so and the effectiveness of that solution attests to the need to replace hearsay with observation and engaging what really goes on in the Gemba.  So get out your coats, were hitting the streets to find out what really goes on.

Queue the dramatic music.

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Category: cio  leadership  strategy  tools  

Tags: it-leadership  tools  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

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