In IT we often get accused of willy-nilly making up new acronyms on the fly. In all honesty, yes we do do this sometimes. However, there is a more subtle word problem that has been creeping around the edges of IT for a long time that nobody’s been brave enough to bring up: we have no idea what we are saying.
Ranjay Gulati, James Oldroyd, and Phanish Puranam are three researchers who have been studying this problem and they’ve made some interesting discoveries. Specifically, they’ve discovered that we all seem to THINK that we are talking about the same thing when in many cases we really aren’t.
In most companies the IT department serves multiple business units or departments. In order to meet the needs of those internal customers, the IT department is always creating new and different ways to present the information that has been collected. However, since nobody talks to anyone else in the company, we’ve been creating a million different ways to present (and talk about) the same data.
What’s been missing from IT’s output is some sort of dictionary. We need to standardize how we talk about the company’s data and how we describe the results of the processing that we do on that data.
Over at Best Buy, Robert Willett who is their CIO said that when he first showed up they 400 to 500 different ways to measure things. What this meant is that measurements done for one customer could not be interpreted by another customer so they had to do the processing all over again.
Robert spent over 10 months and drove to a point where they had single definitions for everything. It was only after this type of IT dictionary had been created that Best Buy started to get some value for all of its efforts.
Does your IT shop have a single set of definitions for the information that you collect and the results that you produce? Have you ever had a situation where two individuals or departments were trying to compare two things but couldn’t because they didn’t use the same words? How have you tried to solve this problem? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.