Why CIOs Who Know How To Slow Down Do Better

by drjim on January 12, 2011

Careful! Going too fast can cause an IT department to crash…

Careful! Going too fast can cause an IT department to crash…

As CIO one of your most important jobs is to get as much out of your IT department as is humanly possible. You’d think that that best way to do this would be to always be pushing harder and harder. However, researchers who have been studying this very problem have come up with a different approach that they say can yield better results: go slower…

Why We Feel The Need For Speed

Researchers Jocelyn Davis and Tom Atkinson have been studying what they call the “speed gap” that can exist within companies and IT departments. The speed gap is the difference between how important everyone says that it is for the IT department to move fast and just exactly how fast the IT department is moving.

The reason that the speed gap is such a big deal in IT is because CIOs who become fearful of falling behind spend a lot of timetrying to figure out ways to close the gap.

Why Speed Is Bad

Once again, you’d think that simply by getting everyone to do more in less time would pretty much solve this problem, right? Well, you’d be wrong. What the researchers have found out is that IT departments that focused solely on moving faster actually ended up helping their companies achieve both lower sales and lower profits.

What’s even more interesting is that IT departments that did the opposite, those ones that slowed down did better. They were able to help their companies boost sales by 42% and raise profits by 52% within 3 years.

How Going Slow Can Be Very Good For An IT Department

If going fast isn’t the answer, then is going slow the way to go? It turns out that the answer is yes and for some fairly surprising reasons. When we talk about an IT department “going slow”, we don’t mean that everyone reduces the amount of work that they are doing.

The reason that going fast doesn’t work researchers tell us, is because there are actually two different things going on here. There is what’s called operational speed which has to do with moving quickly and this is what too many IT departments focus on. There is also strategic speed which has to do with finding ways to minimize the amount of time that is required in order to deliver value to your company’s customers.

IT departments that decided to go slower spent their time not trying to get more done in less time, but rather they spent their time aligning what the IT department was doing with the rest of the business. This involved a number of different things such as spending the time to do innovative thinking as well as studying what they were doing and trying to learn from it.

What All Of This Means For You

At the end of the day, CIOs get judged based on the results that they are able to deliver for their company. In order to get the maximum value out of their IT departments they need to decide if they want to focus on operational speed or strategic speed.

Operational speed does not yield the results that CIOs are looking for. Sure more gets done, but it’s generally of a lower quality and doesn’t meet internal and external customer’s needs. Boosting strategic speed can deliver clear results for both the IT department as well as the rest of the company.

CIOs who know when to slow things down in order to make sure that the IT department is on the right track will be more successful. Make sure that you take the time to move slowly when it is required. Remember that it was the turtle that won the race, not the rabbit!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: When in an IT project do you think it makes sense to slow things down and make sure that you are on the right track?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Poof! Now you’re the CIO. How are you going to get anything done? Are you some sort of superhero who can be everywhere at the same time? Do you have the ability to work 27 hours a day, 8 days a week? I’m guessing not, or at least not for very long. It looks like you are going to have to rely on the “M” word – “management”. What this really comes down to is simply that you’re going to have to get the right people in your IT department to step up and do the right things. I wonder who has the power to do those things right now…?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

David Smith January 13, 2011 at 10:52 am

Great article and spot on, Jim. This has been a topic we’ve been pushing with our management for the past year. It is hard to initially get your (and others) head wrapped around the premise that slower is quicker, but it has helped our effort making IT more efficient.

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson January 14, 2011 at 11:15 am

David: keep working at it! You are correct that in the go-go-go environment that we all live and work in, it can be very hard to get people to move slower and more carefully. Don’t give up! Ultimately the results will show that taking more time always produces better results!

Reply

Adam January 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Interesting idea! You mention research that Davis and Atkinson were doing, but don’t provide a link to it. Where can we get more details about their work?

As an aside, for some reason (perhaps that I’m using IE) the end of your post looks cut off… “IT departments that decided to go slower spent their time not trying to get more done in less time, but rather …” I was just really getting into reading your idea when it suddenly stopped. 🙁

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson January 6, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Adam,

Glad you liked the article. Here’s a link to a slide show from the authors with more information on the research that they’ve done:
http://www.slideshare.net/hungpq/slowdowntospeedup

Sorry about the article getting cut off — check it again and see if it is still doing it. If it is then I’ve posted the rest of the article here for you:

… they spent their time aligning what the IT department was doing with the rest of the business. This involved a number of different things such as spending the time to do innovative thinking as well as studying what they were doing and trying to learn from it.

What All Of This Means For You

At the end of the day, CIOs get judged based on the results that they are able to deliver for their company. In order to get the maximum value out of their IT departments they need to decide if they want to focus on operational speed or strategic speed.

Operational speed does not yield the results that CIOs are looking for. Sure more gets done, but it’s generally of a lower quality and doesn’t meet internal and external customer’s needs. Boosting strategic speed can deliver clear results for both the IT department as well as the rest of the company.

CIOs who know when to slow things down in order to make sure that the IT department is on the right track will be more successful. Make sure that you take the time to move slowly when it is required. Remember that it was the turtle that won the race, not the rabbit!

Reply

David from Michigan January 6, 2012 at 11:54 am

Great article! I only wish more CIOs understood this concept better. also, I fear things may get worse before they get better. ie I don’t think the current “Twitch” generation is able to comprehend and appreciate an article and research like this yet. One of the biggest struggles I’m having right now is trying to get new IT recruits to SLOW DOWN and “think before they do”. They’re always in a hurry trying to do things faster and faster with no regard to whether they’re adding value or not…and each year it gets a little worse. ie They all want to be CIOs by the time they reach 30 now 😉

Reply

Dr. Jim Anderson January 6, 2012 at 4:13 pm

David: Good point. What’s that phrase “ready, fire, aim!” I think that you are on the right track — get them to estimate the value of a given decision and then make them come back and determine if they achieved that goal!

Reply

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