One of the biggest challenges in business today is turning visions, strategies and ideas into a tangible reality that produces actual results. Many times people cannot effectively bridge the gap between what they desire and what is possible because those people perceive the gap to be too large. Oftentimes this statement is heard as people discuss moving into the future: “Theory is fine for tomorrow, but what about today or right now?!” This statement presents itself quite often during the implementation of the Service Management disciplines within an IT department. Service Management best practices have been captured in a framework and a library of books (the Information Technology Infrastructure Library-ITIL). On the surface, the framework and library provide the guidance needed to effectively, efficiently and economically manage an IT department. However, a deeper look reveals that the framework and library provide more than guidance, but the actual steps needed to bridge the gap between “theory” and “reality”.
“If we don’t change the direction we’re going, we’re going to end up where we’re headed.” –Chinese Proverb
“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” –Michelangelo
These quotes, although written hundreds or thousands of years ago reflect a problem that continues to plague the modern world and the IT industry in particular.
- How does IT turn theory and vision into reality?
- How does IT provide better quality, higher levels of service and become a profit center instead of a cost center?
- How does IT set about achieving the “higher mark” referred to by Michelangelo?
IT professionals look at these questions and declare there is no answer. Critics of theory say it is too “pie in the sky” and that IT must concentrate on “the real world” and “tangible results.” Unfortunately this view has become a crutch and a mantra when the real answer to those questions becomes too expensive, time-consuming or painful.
History has shown that what is needed to turn theory into reality is “action”. Shortly after World War II, W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran and a number of other proponents of quality systems traveled to Japan as part of the rebuilding effort. Their theories and ideas had met indifference and even outright resistance in the United States. The Japanese, however, embraced their ideas. The business leaders became “students”, attending lectures, seminars and learning the theories proposed by Deming and Juran. Within four years, without any hard proof that the theories actually worked, those same “students” implemented the ideas of Total Quality Management. The Japanese were able to do this because they took action on the theories. They viewed Deming’s theories as the basis for moving their economy forward. The Japanese realized it would not be perfect and would require adjustment. But the key was that they did not wait until quality came to them, they took the first step and went about obtaining what it would take to implement quality.
The key barrier to IT turning theory into reality is a willingness to do whatever it takes (no matter how complex, painful, expensive, time consuming or different) to make the theory real. Albert Einstein once said: “If the facts do not fit the theory, change the facts”. The Japanese demonstrated this by embracing Total Quality Management theory and adjusting their economy to the theory. If IT departments truly desire to achieve a higher standard, they must be willing to “change the facts” to move towards more effective, efficient and economical management of people, processes, and technology. Changing the facts will require doing things differently, applying resources more in some areas and less in others, and moving away from the status quo and standard operating procedures of the last thirty years.
…and the journey continues