itmWEB Research

An itmWEB Classic Whitepaper
Good Intentions Don't Count - Systems in Production Do

Focus Area: Project Management for Systems Development

Author: Russ Finney

Year: 1996


The system is in the hands of the client and it is processing real business information. Time for a project team celebration! Pats on the back all around for everyone. High minded speeches from team leaders, project sponsors, and various excited client participants. No more late nights, weekends, or early mornings. The effort was long and seemingly endless but it was all worth it. The sense of achievement experienced from the solution of a complex business problem by the installation of a new system is indescribable. A number of years and a large number of people may have been involved. The time has come to celebrate the team's victory!

But is it always this way? Another team is exhausted. The death march is finally over. They will never have to see each other again. Boxes and logon IDs can't be turned in quickly enough. All references to real names are removed from programs. "Don't call me when this thing blows up", is muttered now and then. No team gathering is held, just a slow disbanding as each team member disappears onto other projects or activities. The clients seem disenchanted. An air of uncertainty and impending difficulty surrounds the system and those associated with it...

Or, the worst fate. A surprise meeting! The team has been progressing, but somewhat without direction. The budget is slipping, the client is unsure what is happening, and questions are raised about competence. No one team member can be identified who has a "vision" of the system or the system building process. The inevitable happens, the project is cancelled. The money spent to date was absolutely, totally wasted!

Why do some teams seem to make to the end successfully, other teams just make it to the end, and others never get the chance? Why are some teams on a continual "high" throughout the project while the members of a team right across the hall seem to drag into work every morning? Why is it that some clients describe a team with words like:

  • they understand my business
  • they are right on target
  • we are all a part of the same team
  • we were glad to be a part of this process?

Yet another team may be described with:

  • we not sure what they are doing
  • they don't understand how our business really works
  • we are very worried about how this mess is really going to turn out.

Does some secret formula exist to insure success, or is it just a matter of luck?

Recent observations which have been made by non-technical business people are striking in their implications. One comes from Robert Townsend, the author of Further up the Organization, in which he states that "most of the computer technicians that you're likely to meet or hire are complicators, not simplifiers. They're trying to make it look tough, not easy. They're building a mystic, a priesthood, their own mumbo-jumbo ritual to keep you from knowing what they - and you - are doing". This is disturbing commentary. It gives a clear voice to the concerns that many clients express when the computer professional's back is turned:

  • Will I get the results I need?
  • Will my business problem be comprehended?
  • Will I understand both the solution as well as the process used to arrive at the solution?
  • How will I be included in the process?
  • How much control will I have?
  • Will I really have anything at the end to show for the risk I am taking?

An even more disturbing observation comes from one of the acknowledged "thought leaders" in the systems field - Ed Yourdon. In his book, Managing the Structured Techniques, he writes:

"Something happened to the personality and mentality of the data processing profession as a whole as we moved to the ultra-sophisticated on-line, real-time, fourth-generation and fifth-generation machines of the 1980's and 1990's. The profession began to attract people who, regardless of their race, creed, color, or university degrees, are clerks. They think like clerks, talk like clerks, and they approach computer programming and systems analysis with all the enthusiasm of a sleepy civil service clerk who knows that he's just one year away from retirement.Having met some twenty-five thousand analysts, designers, and programmers throughout the world, I found a surprising number of them have never read any computer articles or even opened a copy of Datamation or Computerworld; have never heard of ACM, DPMA, IEEE, ASM, or any other professional organizations; can't spell Dijkstra's name and probably have never heard of him; aren't aware of the structured techniques and wouldn't be interested if somebody showed them."

What makes this even more distressing, is that fact that business executives are now turning to the IS professionals on an ever increasing rate in order to provide them with systems which give the business a strategic as well as a competitive advantage. The major problem here is that computer programming clerks who are enamored with the technology and who could care less about the business itself, will not make this happen. A new breed of computer professional is required who has a balance of people skills, technical skills, and business skills.

Some Required Thinking Shifts:

  • Stop automating existing ways of doing business without assisting in improving the business processes first.
  • Stop thinking in terms of departmental processing.
  • Start thinking in terms of cross-organizational systems and business clients.
  • Start adjusting to the fact that business processes are changing at an ever increasing rate, and the development team must be prepared to keep up - even as a system is being designed and constructed.
  • Start embracing new forms of technology which show significant cost savings potential.
  • Start recognizing that if the business client's demands can't be met by you, countless other service providers exist who will be willing to meet those needs.

In today's information based society, the system building professional is faced with even greater challenges than ever before. Exploding technological innovation, relentless complexity increases, faster paced business changes, and increasingly sophisticated business clients are placing greater demands on the talents on the business system professional. In addition, a true spirit of trust and teamwork must exist and perpetuate between the business clients and the business systems professionals. This is the first real quest. The next is even more critical. In the end, a business system must be delivered. A system provides no benefit to anyone unless it is in an accepted technical environment and actually being utilized by the business.

That is the creed of this white paper. All of the analysis and design, or the blood, sweat, and tears, won't amount to anything if a working system does not exist in the end as a result of the effort.