KJR Manifesto – Core Principles

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We organized the KJR Conference on the theory that Keep the Joint Running is as much a community as it is a weekly column. The theory proved out: At our reception the first evening it was clear we didn’t have attendees. We had a bunch of old friends who were meeting for the first time.

Our most adventurous effort was to start work on the KJR Manifesto. Among the challenges: Nobody at the conference, including me, was sure exactly what the KJR Manifesto would turn out to be. We still aren’t certain, but we made a start.

The concept is simple: Provide an alternative to what’s usually bandied about as “best practice,” in a form that’s immediately useful to working IT managers, because much of what the industry calls “best practices” are nothing of the sort.

Many are descriptions of what one or two large corporations do and like, applied as prescriptions for every company regardless of whether they fit the circumstances or not. They’re one-size-fits-nobody recommendations. Other best practices aren’t practices at all. ITIL, for example, is more of a classification scheme, describing what rather than how. Then there’s a point that emerged from our Sarbanes-Oxley discussions: In many cases, “best practice” really means “basic professionalism.”

Lest any reader be uncertain: Keep the Joint Running is in favor of basic professionalism.

We started creating the KJR Manifesto with a set of core principles for IT, ending up with a Codd and Date dozen (although like the Pirates Code in Pirates of the Caribbean, they’re really more guidelines than principles). They are:

0. There is no best practice. There are practices that fit best. Different situations call for different solutions — form follows function.

1. To optimize the whole you must sub-optimize the parts. Being clear about where your company wants to optimize is critical to organizational design. Doing so doesn’t absolve managers from their responsibility to make their organizations as effective as possible. It redefines “effective” to prevent organizational silos from competing with each other instead of the company’s competitors.

2. Big solutions that work great generally start as small solutions that work acceptably. In general, putting something into place and iterating is a more certain route to success than trying to “get it right the first time.”

3. Relationships Precede Process. Process is often important. But it doesn’t come first, since no process can succeed until its participants trust each other.

4. Relationships Outlive Transactions. Conflict is natural. Conflict is good — it means employees actively and openly explore new and different ideas, consciously deciding among them. It’s when conflicting parties view each other as enemies instead of opponents that the organization becomes dysfunctional. You might win today; you might lose tomorrow … but when you lose your ability to work together, everyone loses.

5. There are no IT projects. Projects are about changing and improving the business or what’s the point?

6. Measure carefully, because bad metrics are worse than no metrics. You get what you measure. If you measure the wrong thing, or measure the right thing wrong, you’ll get wrong results.

7. Incomplete metrics create organizational dysfunction. If four factors combine to drive success, and you only measure two of them, employees will ignore the other two. Your metrics will have prevented success.

8. Governance must be value-based, not cost-based. Value is the difference between (or ratio of) benefit and cost — cost by itself is an incomplete metric. If you can’t connect cost and benefit, or only measure cost, you’ll reduce the value you deliver, while creating organizational dysfunction.

9. Benefit has three core components: revenue enhancement, cost reduction, and risk mitigation. Everything else fits into one of those three categories.

10. Benefit belongs to the business. When IT focuses on reducing its own costs or headaches, it stops enabling solutions, becoming a barrier instead.

11. IT is an integral part of the business. Run IT in a businesslike way, not as a separate business. Running IT as a separate business violates Guideline #1.

12. Every part of the company, including IT, has the same customers. These are the people who make buying decisions about the company’s products and services. When IT (or anyone else) has internal customers, very few employees have a stake in making sure the people who decide to buy from the company have any reason to do so.

These principles (okay, guidelines) are, like the rest of the manifesto, a work in progress. I welcome your comments, and will use them to refine things.

I have to. Otherwise I’d be violating Guideline #2.

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