, , , , ,

Like many people around the world I have certain expectations.

When I want some artwork done for a sales campaign, yes, I expect the people that I commission to show a lot of creativity.

When I want to read a novel, go to the theatre or simply chill-out watching a movie, yes, I do expect some degree of creativity.

But, when I want to rewire my house, I don’t bring an electrician in to be creative, I bring them in to do their job, to do what needs to be done, what I have asked to be done.

Or when the on-board car computer tells me that I should change the brakes and tires, I don’t ask the fitter to be creative. I trust that they will do the right job the right way.

And when I send a parcel by courier delivery, I don’t expect them to be creative about how they get my package to the required destination, I expect the courier company to know how to do this as well as they know how to eat, sleep and drink.

I also don’t expect to be given unnecessary options. Such as, should ‘Bob or Angela do your tires?’, or ‘do you want your delivery made in a pink van or blue pick-up truck?’

So, I am continually lead to ask, why the hell do so many people in IT think they have to be creative?`

In much of what most of us do, creativity, resourcefulness and ingenuity usually comes into play when things go wrong. But, not so in IT. Usually, when creativity is introduced into IT, things go wrong.

Maybe this is why there is very little regulation when it comes to professionalism, standards and ethics in IT. If you were designing a suspension bridge, building a power plant, or constructing airplanes, there are all sorts of constraints and rules that have to be considered, all of which govern what can and cannot be done.

In many walks of life you cannot just ditch rules, regulations, laws, guidelines, physics and even good sense, just because you want to be extra creative.

The thing is, the bigger the element of creativity in IT projects, the greater the scope creep, and the greater the likelihood of the right things occurring becomes less and less predictable.

There are a number of problems with creativity and IT.

If the in-house technical staff are let loose with creativity without being given any actual goals, then they will reinvent the wheel, slowly and badly, and then add some irrelevant ‘feature’ to it, in order to distinguish it from the wheel that was invented some time ago.

If the outsourced and offshore teams on your programme or project take up the creativity shtick big time, you can bet your bottom dollar that the prime motivators are greater income and greater margin. Theirs.

Yes, there is room for creativity in IT, just as there is room for creativity in the automobile industry, or in any industry, it’s just not typically required to anything like the same degree in any regular IT shop or any regular garage, and even then only when there is a problem that is notably unconventional.

When people in run-of-the-mill corporate IT shops, and that includes the outsourced and the offshored, recognise that first and foremost they are the painters, plumbers and electricians of IT, and not the scientists, gurus and artists that some pretend to be, then we will have achieved substantial progress.

If IT shops can overcome the mania to be creative and suitably uninformed, then we can get away from death-march projects that are based on preconceptions, designs and aims that completely ignore engineering best practice, architecture best principles, and the availability of tools, applications and appliances that will already do the job in all essential aspects.

Example in point. Bill Inmon has described Data Warehousing in a way that if you follow the fundamental guidelines that he lays out, then you can’t go far wrong. Ralph Kimball too has meticulously described ways to build a Data Warehouse and how to model usable data marts based on robust dimensional models. Personally, I prefer the Inmon approach, because of what I see as extra flexibility, but this may not always be needed. Either way, I would recommend using one of the two approaches, or a hybrid mix of the two. But this frequently does not happen.

However, what a lot of people in IT do is this. “I don’t need Inmon or Kimball to inform me how to do this stuff, I know it”. Can you imagine someone saying “I know nothing about civil engineering, construction, bridge building or physics, etc. but I’ve lived with bridges all my life, so therefore I am as fully qualified as anyone else to design and construct a bridge”, they would never be taken seriously, right? So, why do people get away with this sort of thing in IT, and on almost a predictably regular basis?

That said, if a genuinely creative person wants to work on information technologies then there are plenty of things that they would be better off doing, rather than joining a corporate IT shop, such as turning a great and creative idea into a great new business, helping an established corporation push the envelope on tangible creativity, or even make a big mark in a small and promising technology start-up.

But I won’t leave things there. and in future blog posts I will be examining how organisations can reimagine and reengineer their IT organisations, and then to formulate and execute a strategy which will allow them to become essential business partners in an organisation rather a obtuse and necessary inconvenience.