Checklists useless deep in trenches

IT managers can be forgiven for shuffling the endless stream of ‘how-to' guides on implementing successful IT projects to the nearest bin. Their worth is easily lost in the daily grind of simply being ‘on the job'. As Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Andrew McAfee says "universal checklists" often have all the value of a bumper sticker. These step-by-step guidelines churned out by research firms are not exactly useless, but they can be of little consequence to those deep in the trenches. Let's try to match the typical day of an IT manager at a large company with some of these insightful reports. We shall call our IT manager Bruce.

Now Bruce usually starts his day at 8am and arrives to find that two remote locations are down due to a power outage that occurred overnight. He begins troubleshooting the problem, but the boss calls him into the office to discuss a new project; let's say it's a new purchasing application to track orders. The boss advises Bruce to organise a meeting with the purchasing manager ASAP. Oh yeah, the boss adds, the purchasing manager has already signed the contract with the vendor so timeframes are already in place for implementation and staff training. Although Bruce is a bit peeved about having no technical input into the application selection he is more concerned about the three other projects he is juggling, all of which have strict budgets and timeframes. But back to putting out more immediate fires. Time for a quick sandwich but Bruce is interrupted by a call from the payroll department. They have just copied a large file from the mainframe to their server and are getting "out of disk space" messages on their desktops. They can't delete the file because there is an urgent need to process it today or people won't get paid on time. Bruce returns to firefighting mode even though he planned to begin testing the new virus protection package in the lab (something he was supposed to do two weeks ago but didn't get a chance). Finally the opportunity arrives and Bruce starts to install the package but the server locks up. After an hour of trying just about everything Bruce calls technical support only to find there is an undocumented patch that may solve the problem. It's now 7pm and Bruce has made no headway on his projects, only managing to acquire a new project that has a set deadline over which he has no control. There is always tomorrow and just maybe Bruce may find tine for those how-to guides for project success.

With Yana Lemann.

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