Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cranfield study Supporting the alignment trap

I’ve blogged before about “The Alignment Trap” (Originally in December 2007 and after my piece in The Agile Journal in February 2009). This is the counter-intuitive evidence that sometimes doing things right is more beneficial than doing the right think. I often discuss this in my presentations and there are two standard reactions: for some this research rings true while others question it.

Those who question it often ask: is there any other evidence?

Well, there just might be.

Delivering Value from Information Systems and Technology Investments: Learning from success is a survey report from Cranfield School of Management in the UK. I only heard about this report a few months ago and its is now four years old but I see little reason to suspect things have changed since 2006.

The researchers define four levels of maturity in organisations developing systems. The first level is project delivery with the focus on the supply side. In order to reach the higher levels organisations must first be able to successfully deliver the IT projects they undertake.

In other words: doing things right is a prerequisite to success.

(I should point out that this report has nothing to do with Agile, Waterfall or any other method. Its about the ability to realise benefits from IS/IT projects whatever the approach.)

The second level of maturity concerns realising the expected benefits from projects. Here attention expands from the supply side to look more at the demand side and whether the business cases proposed are realistic. It is here that “doing the right thing” starts to be the issue.

Levels 3 and 4 concern realising benefits consistently across the whole portfolio.

The report contains some other nuggets of information which are with reporting:
  • 73% of survey respondents said significant improvements were needed to get satisfactory value from IS/IT. (This 73% is curiously close to the 71% of companies in the “Maintenance zone” in the Alignment trap report.)
  • 38% of businesses openly admit benefits are overstates in business cases in order to obtain project funding
  • 80% report that review of work against the original objectives is inadequate
Finally, the other statement is worth analysing from this report is:

“The data also indicates that organisations have undue faith in business cases and that the deployment of formal methodologies gives managers a false sense of security, perhaps an excuse for not becoming sufficiently involved.”

If we take that statement apart it supports the Agile approach:

  • “Undue faith in business cases”: Implies more tools are needed to tackle value. Agile would suggest a try, experiment, fail-fast, fail-cheap approach

  • “Formal methodologies ... false sense of security”: That could be PRINCE2, Scrum or something else. The methodology doesn’t have the answers. You need to be pro-active and think for yourself.

  • “Not becoming sufficiently involved”: Yet again we hear that lack of customer/user/manager involvement is a cause for failure. We have a few tools for working around these problems but nothing beats having actual involvement.

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