What’s More Important: Strategy, Quality, or Low Costs?

IOs Must Balance People, Strategy, Processes, and Customers
IOs Must Balance People, Strategy, Processes, and Customers

Here’s a challenge for you: you’ve just been put in charge of an IT department / branch / project because the previous person was unable to make any effective changes. What do you focus on first? Strategy sounds very important and the business side of the house seems to spend a lot of time working on it so maybe you should also. Quality is always a crowd pleaser and that Jack Welsh over at GE sure did a lot with it. Finally, lowering costs will always make upper management smile — even if nothing else gets done at least it will be costing the company less. If you had to pick one and only one to focus on, which one would it be?

If you picked any one of these three, then you were wrong. Focusing on strategy is always fun for us IT folks because it makes everything seem like a big board game. The reality of day-to-day business is that it is performed by real people and how they work. Thinking too much about strategy can cause us to forget this and devastate staff morale quicker than a Chinese earthquake. Leave it to IT folks to turn quality into a numbers game — you gotta love that TQM thing. What’s interesting is that you can get the TQM numbers right, maybe even win the Demming Award and still not meet the needs of your internal and external customers. Finally, lowering costs is always fun to do and generally has great short term impacts. However, experience shows that it causes the people who are actually doing the work to no longer be heard. The few IT staffers who are left after a cost lowering exercise are numb and shell shocked. So much for easy answers.

So let’s think about you new challenge once again, but this time from a different vantage point. Ultimately you are not playing some sort of game that you need to win. Instead, you are trying to perform a very careful balancing act that never ends. But what are you trying to balance? You have four different elements that need to be kept in balance: people / strategy and processes / customers. What so many CIOs and IT managers don’t realize is that it’s not enough to balance just one of these — that would be relatively easy. Instead, to be successful you need to balance ALL FOUR AT THE SAME TIME. Now that’s hard!

So now you know what you have to do. The next challenge is to find out how to do it. But that’s for another post…