Don't Hide Your Systems Savvy Practices
It's great if you have systems savvy. It's even better if you practice it in public. Systems savvy starts with the ability to see and understand the possibilities of all the technical and organizational options available to you. Systems savvy people either don't have, or can overcome, a bias towards stand-alone technical or organizational solutions. Instead, systems savvy people look to how they can build systems out of combinations of technical tools and organizational practices. But here's the trick -- if you practice systems savvy in private, your good decisions have less power. Explicit use of systems savvy is better than tacit use because it allows others to coordinate. Think about the benefits gained in a kick-off project meeting if the group comes to a set of explicit decisions about where files will be stored, how sign-offs will be managed, and the best strategies for communicating. Coordination can also be more physical -- I had a recent phone call with a building supply vendor who carefully laid out the options for transporting and offloading some recycled plastic panels: Would a forklift be available to lift the pallet off the truck? If not, would at least one person be available to join with the driver in offloading by hand? Both scenarios illustrate the value of working together to make technology and practice tradeoffs. This is even good advice for all systems management, not just ones where technology is playing a role. Nilofer Merchant says in her organizational strategy book, The New How:
If, say, only a small group of leaders knows why decisions are being made the way they are, it leaves the rest of the organization in the dark. It suggests to people that there’s some “all-powerful wizard” behind the mysterious curtain who is the only one with the ability to make things happen, and that each of us is not a co-creator. It can leave the organizational players believing they have no say in what is being decided. By now, you know these two outcomes are taboo. Everyone is better off when they know why decisions are made with as much accuracy as possible. It gives them an understanding of what matters and provides information on which to base the trade-offs constantly being made at every level. It also boosts buy-in and energy from the organization. When reasons behind decisions are not shared, the decisions can seem arbitrary and possibly self-serving. That is, they may seem like they are made for the good of the decision makers, rather than the good of the organization. (p. 59)From Nilofer's perspective, we not only gain improved coordination from being explicit about our systems savvy practice, we also gain motivation and commitment. Rhonda Winter, CIO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has helped me with another perspective on the explicit use of systems savvy. I'll be sharing her thoughts soon.