July 20, 2024

Justice for Gemmel

Stellar business, nonpareil

Culture Eats Technology For Breakfast – Innovation Evangelism

A quick Friday reminder that we have to focus on what’s important, despite all the daily complexities and challenges of technology!…

All too often I see projects failing not because the technologies aren’t working, but because not enough attention has been paid to the people being displaced.

For example, several years ago an executive dashboard project was very nearly derailed by one of the executive assistants. The dashboard was designed to replace and automate many hours of manual work that the assistant had been carrying out for years.

The IT team naively ignored the implications for the assistant herself. She wasn’t thanked for all the hard work that she had been doing, that was essential for the running of the company. Despite her deep expertise in what data was required, what problems there were with the data sources, etc., she wasn’t included in the project. Nobody made any plans for how she could use her expertise elsewhere to help the company.

Faced with what amounted to a big demotion, she resisted the project. Given her expertise, she was able to point out the ways that the project would provide less valuable information than her highly-customized manual process, and had the support of the executives who already had what they wanted.

Eventually somebody came to their senses, helped her transition to a role more adapted to her data skills, and made sure that the IT team worked closely with her to deliver an even better result for the executives.

Such “culture blindness” is often at the heart of failed technology projects. To slightly misquote Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get somebody to understand something, when their salary depends on them not understanding it.” In this case, it applies to the assistant, but also to the IT staff that, perhaps unconsciously, underinvested in all that “human stuff” — such as reaching out to the people doing it today — because it would “get in the way” of delivering the project…