The Trickle From the Pipe

I spent many years managing engineering projects.  It was satisfying work, because the people doing it are very dedicated, they have a culture of finding the best solution, and they get satisfaction from seeing their creations go into the world and be useful (and profitable).

When I began to consult for managers who were counting on IT to provide functions and capabilities to enhance the business, I was shocked to find that IT was regarded as an alien land (full of technologists who speak a different language), and as an untrustworthy department (because of many late or failed projects).

I began to visualize development of IT-based capabilities as being a water pipe, with a Niagara Falls of effort on the input side (IT doing development), and just a trickle of useful results coming out on the business side.  So I set out to discover what was blocking the pipe – or diverting the flow to somewhere else.

While consulting for an insurance company client, found some answers.  Here are some ways the flow of IT is diverted or blocked, and some ways of correcting them:

1. Emergencies pre-empt everything.  The same people are responsible for creating new capabilities and for dealing with crises.  So whenever there is a crisis, all work on the new capabilities stops.

Key projects must have committed resources.  While it’s good to make IT developers responsible for problems in their programs, it is crazy to pull the best people off of all projects to address urgent problems.  Instead, there should be a stable of top trouble-shooters available on short notice.  These people should not be committed to development projects.

2. The project is delivered, but it’s the wrong thing.  When Business and IT don’t speak the same language and don’t plan strategy together, projects can be chartered and completed without knowing what is actually needed for the business.  The result is often a functioning program that doesn’t do what the business needs.

Business and IT must collaborate in strategy and planning.  While they are planning, it helps to have someone who speaks both languages present.  Business and IT also benefit from learning about the other side’s interests and measures of success.

3. Both IT and Operations collude to treat IT development as if it were the same as call-center operations, for example.  But software development is Engineering, not Operations.  So the best software designers leave the organization, and IT projects are implemented by second-tier people who are neither as efficient or as capable as the top-level people.

Software engineering should be recognized as professional work needing the best people you can hire.  Then the physical and management environment needs to be maintained for this professional work.  If you can’t provide such an environment in IT, then the work should be outsourced.  It’s better, however, to have it close to the home office.

With the rapid evolution of IT, it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of new technologies and not pay attention to the core management issues that are wasting a lot of IT effort.  But by correctly managing IT projects and the business-IT interface, you can have more resources available to pursue the latest needs.


If you find these ideas useful, you may be interested to read an article I’ve written, titled, Nine Mistakes That Get in the Way of IT-based Business Excellence.  To receive a complimentary copy and to sign up for a twice-monthly e-zine on this topic, please go to



John Levy works with Finance and Operations executives who are sponsors for new IT-based business capabilities.  He helps them to succeed with their projects and to transform their relationship with IT.


Getting business value from every dollar spent in IT is not easy.  You need a guide who is knowledgeable about technology and also speaks the language of business.  John specializes in rapidly getting IT to align with business strategy and to contribute efficiently to the success of the enterprise.


John has been consulting in industry for over 20 years.  His book on management for technology executives, Get Out of the Way, was published in May 2010.


For more information, please visit ,
email him at , or call 415 663-1818.


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About John Levy

John Levy, Ph.D. is an expert in computers, software and storage who is available for consulting in patent litigation.

For more information, email him at, or call 415 269-4096.
And check out John's profile on LinkedIn!