Managing Wicked IT Problems

by drjim on September 22, 2008

How to manage wicked IT problems

How to manage wicked IT problems

So we’ve chatted about Wicked IT Strategy problems – these are the ones that you really can’t solve. Given that, you’ve got a couple of different things that you can do. The easiest is to throw your arms up in the air, say “this can’t be solved”, and then work very hard at getting promoted so that it becomes someone else’s problem. Good luck with that approach! Let’s take a look at some other solutions for those of us who feel a deep burning need to make the world a better place for all…

Let us acknowledge that wicked IT problems can’t be solved. So your next best alternative is to come up with ways to cope with them. They aren’t going away, so you need to find some common ground that will allow you to live with them. As with all of us in IT, there are countless complicated solutions that you could probably come up with in order to address any problem. However, here are a couple of relatively simple actions that you can take that will yield real results:

Make everyone responsible for finding a way to manage the problem. This means that you need to reach out and drag in employees, customers, management, etc. and you need to make sure that you document everything that is said and establish clear means of communication between all parties. Because a wicked problem is so complex, it will take a wide variety of views and opinions in order to come up with unique ways of managing the problem. However, be careful! Don’t just collect inputs. Instead, make sure that everyone is involved in actually implementing their suggestions. Yes, having more people involved will make things more difficult, but because of the complexity of the problem they are all needed. Documenting all ideas and discussions will become more important when a plan is finally agreed on – the documentation will be needed in order to communicate the plan to the rest of the department.

Define what your department’s identity is. Although many different suggestions will be made as to how best to manage the wicked problem, it will be critical that whatever solutions are finally put in place are true to the IT department’s identity. The department’s identity is the cornerstone of its strategy and provides both direction and focus for the IT leaders. An identity is made up of a department’s values, competencies, and its aspirations. Staying true to these will allow critical decisions to be made quickly and painlessly.

But wait, there’s more that you can do to manage wicked problems. We’ll cover these next time…

Have you been able to assign responsibility for large problems to all of those who need to be involved? How did that work out – did the number of people who were involved make it hard to reach any sort of decision? Do you know what your IT department’s identity is and do you reference it when you are making decisions? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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