Simultaneously the most powerful aspect of and the biggest problem with IT Systems are that they are flexible by design. They are so flexible that that many of our people want to show how smart they are by being helpful and adding value. Unfortunately, being helpful is one of these things that inevitably leads to unintended consequences. What do I mean? Lets look at a real life example (names omitted to protect the innocent):
I take a call from a customer who is desperate for us to complete a project delivery to enable him to hit a deadline. He tells me everything is just taking too long and the committed delivery date is at risk. Our customer couldn’t understand why my team seem to be struggling. I am really surprised as these guys do this stuff every day, there was nothing obviously special or different about this project or this customer. A couple of calls later and the project is back on track, and we have a happy customer again. However I was intrigued how we got so close to failure on something apparently so easy and decided to investigate.
Despite us delivering hundreds of these items every month, we had not properly turned them into a product. A product with limited and clearly defined options and parameters that we had tested and could support. We had chosen to be helpful and smart and offer our customers too many options to choose from and when they did choose options, we sometimes struggled to integrate them (as a minimum we had a large test suite to run to prove the solution). In this case we were the experts and we let our customers down by being too helpful.
I have said before that IT needs to be one of two things, either kill the competition by using IT as a competitive advantage and drive profits or if we can’t do that then be totally reliable and cheaper than the other guys.
To deliver the cost effective basics we need to work on a couple of simple themes, improved Right First Time (RFT) and reduced Cycle Time (CT) metrics. Ask Toyota about right first time and how costs tumble when you only do things once and remove rework, ask EasyJet and Southwest Airlines about reducing cycle time in turning around flights and how that drives out waste and improves competitiveness. Ask BA and BAA what damage was done by failing to deliver Heathrow Terminal 5 on time and how much unplanned shareholder funds were dissipated in delivering the second time around.
The really amazing thing is that IT as competitive advantage has the same rules, improve RFT and CT in IT delivery and you can get there so far ahead of the competition that you can blow them out of the water.
So how do we make improvements in Cycle Time and Right First Time, we apply the Rule of One. The Rule of One is simple (all good rules are) and states categorically that we choose to do things one way, that we choose to reduce complexity in everything we operate and everything we do. The Rule of One states that if we make things simple and standard we can invest in automation and templates and that simplicity simultaneously drives out mistakes (RFT) and cuts delivery time (CT).
The Rule of One hates helpfulness and loves standardization.