IT leaders are well aware that systems can take too long to develop and frequently are not perceived to have delivered the intended benefits. But why is this? After studying 12 UK organisations and their IT departments in various sectors of the economy, I found seven problems common to all IT departments.
Competence of senior staff
In rapidly changing firms it is common to find an employee in a senior position which they might not be technically qualified for.
This does not have to be a problem if the employee is willing to take advice from those that are qualified and is willing to admit their mistakes.
Inability to seek advice
When staff are promoted to a position where their level of expertise is limited, there is sometimes a feeling that they must earn the position and make it their own. In attempting to do this, it might make them reluctant to admit their inexperience and seek advice.
Taking on new concepts
Senior staff, when attempting to make a decision on a subject they are not prepared for, can often be reluctant to listen to their subordinates. Senior staff will inevitably feel vulnerable in this situation but taking on new ideas and ways of working will help improve the staff relationship.
This is probably one of the hardest recommendations. Managers do not want to lose face by admitting they are wrong, but not many people in the business' organisational culture will admit to having made a mistake with a multimillion-pound IT development. The culture of the organisation will have to change.
Vulnerability felt by senior management can lead to particular problems for employees.
An example of this in my research was a company that commissioned a project to examine its IT costs. There was a notable change in attitude of the IT director when information was being sought in more sensitive areas. Information on projects where some of the more questionable decisions had been made in the past was not made available.
When a long-standing employee is promoted, there is a danger that their judgement may no longer be scrutinised within the company. Other employees may feel that the only reason for this is simply because of long service, rather than because of better judgement. This can lead to a false sense of security for other senior staff and can be very damaging for other employees.
The rapid promotion of certain staff to senior positions within an organisation can also lead to difficult internal politics. Staff will be particularly jealous of their managers if they feel their own abilities exceed those of their superior.
What can your organisation do to overcome these problems? There are no real quick-fix solutions, but working in management teams can help. Making a decision in teams can provide a more reasoned and balanced outcome.
Thomas Jackson is a lecturer in computer sciences at Loughborough University