Albert Einstein once said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe!”
Now maybe Albert was being a bit harsh but when you’ve been involved with as many projects as I have, especially IT ones, you can often see Albert’s frustrations with humankind. To me, it’s not so much that people are stupid that causes challenges but rather the fact that they all think in different ways. The ability to understand these differences and work with them rather than push against them is a skill that you need to acquire if you want to be successful in local government management.
A typical local government office is a melting pot of ages, race, social backgrounds, education and gender. You have all the ingredients for creativity and innovation, and I’ve seen plenty of great examples of this. However, the challenge facing local government efforts to innovate is that it is constrained by budget, risk aversion, lack of knowledge and internal politics. In particular during my career I’ve found that getting the IT department onside is absolutely critical for the success of almost every project, and sometimes this can be easier said than done. It’s a good job I don’t give up easily!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I value the IT department above any other. Forget the Chief Executive – it’s the IT guys who really run the Authority. If the network goes down the world as we know it ceases to exist. Never, ever underestimate the importance of their contribution to the successful delivery of any IT project. If communication breaks down between the IT team and other departments then it can be the death knell for successful project delivery. The issue arises from the fact that they are very good at what they do, and what they do is think in binary! Let me explain.
I once interviewed a candidate for an IT position. On paper he looked great, qualifications over three pages of CV in all manner of technical and IT related subjects. If I told him to strip down a server and rebuild it I’m sure he would have done it and put it back together again like a soldier striping down a rifle. However, I managed to render him speechless by giving him a simple scenario of “A user reports they can’t print, tell me what you would do?” The reason this threw him was binary thinking. If I had said the toner is out replace it, he would have done it, but giving him the opportunity to consider options with no instruction was the killer blow.
The moral of this story is that to deliver any IT project in local government you need the IT section more than anyone else, but you are going to have to manage them carefully, ensure that you’re clear about what you want and when you need it. Not only that, don’t expect them to provide you with inspiration and new ideas. That’s down to you and your team.
You also need to ensure that you involve the IT section at the earliest point in your technology project and that they make up at least one of the member of the project team. There is nothing worse than spending time and money on a project only to find that it has security, software or hardware issues that prevent you from using it. Technicalities like this can be a minefield so let the experts handle that bit. This is where thinking in binary is an advantage. Unlike Einstein this will allow you to go to infinity and beyond!
Fail to do this and maybe Einstein was right after all…