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No more Mr Nice Guy

It has been my experience that IT professionals will do just about anything to please the user.

Regardless of what is requested, the typical IT pro says yes. But what has it gotten us? We are being outsourced, offshored and told that we don't matter. We agree to a major enhancement to a system during development, and we get charged with missing budgets and deadlines. We agree to modify an outside package, and then we are criticised when we incur ongoing maintenance costs.

It's time to become more professional and take our place in the company hierarchy. It's time to stand up for our principles. It's time to say no.

When users don't have time to tell us what they really want in their new system, we should say, "No. You can't have the system until you spend the time to tell us what you want."

When users come to us during the development cycle and significantly change the specs and expect us to meet all the former deadlines, we should say, "No. If you want these changes, we are happy to put them in, but we are also going to have to re-estimate the project and develop new timetables and costs."

When users ask us to customise a commercial software package, we should say, "No. The reason we bought an outside package was to avoid the downstream maintenance and compatibility costs. If you go with an outside package, you must agree to conform to its processes."

When a user department asks us to determine the return on investment and then sell the project, we should say, "No. We would be happy to work with you on the process, but it's up to you to calculate the ROI and sell it to the steering committee."

When a user department complains that it didn't receive the expected benefits of a project, we should say, "Back off. We are responsible for developing the system on spec, on time and on budget. You are responsible for making the changes necessary to ensure proper implementation and the resulting benefits." In order to better control our fate and reputation within our companies, we in IT must begin to act the same way other support departments do.

No construction company would erect a building without an agreement on specs. It would say no.

No construction company would ever make a field change of significance without having a signed-off change order in the files. It would say no.

No construction company would be expected to justify a factory that it happens to be building. If asked to do so, it would say no. It would also say no if its contract required it to be responsible to attain the savings that were included in the justification.

Now, I don't expect IT pros to say no by "just saying no." There are ways to say no that help everyone understand the roles that IT and the users must play in every development cycle. The ability to say no tactfully and with respect is a major skill set that we need to develop.

I believe we would all be surprised at the results if we stood up for these principles in a professional manner. Every profession has rules of conduct that are not violated. Many professions, such as accounting, have organisations that establish the rules, and woe to the person who violates them. But experience shows that as soon as users feel that the rules can be adjusted, they will ask us to do it. My advice: Just say no!

Paul M. Ingevaldson retired as CIO at Ace Hardware Corp. in 2004 after 40 years in the IT business. Contact him at ingepi@aol.com.

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