A green field IT function

As I continue to get some thoughts together for the presentation I’m giving in May at the ITDF, and also with some of the recent conversations about start up mentality in existing organisations (see here and here), I’ve been wondering what would an IT department look like if you could start, today, with a completely blank sheet of paper?

Whilst this sort of “green field” thinking might not lead to a practical, implementable blue print of what an organisation could do, it might lead to some interesting ideas that could be implemented. Too often our future is constrained by the legacy of our past.

So this is something of a call for comments – if you could design a corporate IT function from scratch, what would it look like?

A good starting point, I believe, is to have a clear sense of purpose. There’s a great TED video by Simon Sinek that explores this by talking about the power of why? Sinek argues that thing that differentiates great organisations and great leaders from the norm is that they start with the “Why” – the reason, and from that derive the how and the what.

For me, the Why?  of a brand new IT function would start something along the lines of “Helping our people and customers to get the most from the technology that they use.” It puts the focus on what I think the future of high-value IT management within organisations is – helping people to do stuff.

With that Why? in mind, “IT” would need a new name, and it would be much more focused on people rather than the technology itself. In an era of consumerised technology, helping people to make the right technology choices, and then helping them individually or in teams to be able to exploit that technology to best advantage seems to be of stronger value than trying to make complex decisions on behalf of others. The function becomes a coach and mentor.

I realise that this is maybe idealistic, but that’s kind of the point of this exercise.

So – what do you think? What would IT look like if you could start with a blank sheet of paper?

10 thoughts on “A green field IT function

  1. Hi Matt,

    As a starting point, I’d have to agree you need to start with a clearly defined purpose. In almost all of the cases I’ve seen, the evidence would suggest that, in itself is easier said than done. Drucker himself, in an article, New Templates For Today’s Organizations (Harvard Business Review), written in 1964 said “We have learned that “Structure follows strategy” … We realise now that structure is a means for attaining the objectives and goals of an institution. And if a structure is to be effective and sound, we must start with objectives and strategy.”

    I’ve been doing a fair amount of research on organisational design myself recently while working on a training product which will describe how to increase value, improve flow and advance quality (we – the people that I am working with on this and I, occasionally tweet some of our research at @vfqdev which will be of interest to you). I don’t have anything conclusive as yet, but I’ve come across two quotes which offer an insight in to what the answer will be overall:

    “There is no clear “winner” in [organisational design], so what do we do? We first look at the objectives—the drivers of success … We then choose the organizational form that best fits the primary objectives, adjusting it as necessary to these objectives. This chosen form will have some features that will most likely be undesirable, so we identify these weaknesses and put appropriate compensating mechanisms in place.” Smith, P., Reinertsen, D., 1998. Developing Products In Half The Time: New Rules, New Tools. John Wiley & Sons.

    “By now, however, it should have become clear that there is no such thing as one right organization. There are only organizations, each of which has distinct strengths, distinct limitations, and specific applications. It has become clear that organization is not absolute. It is a tool for making people productive in working together.

    One hears a great deal today about ‘the end of hierarchy’. This is blatant nonsense.” Drucker, P., 2007. The Essential Drucker: The Classic Drucker Collection. Revised Edition. Elsevier Science.

    I’m really interested to see how your presentation develops, if only to help me understand this a little more!

    All the best, Dan.

  2. Matt,

    Enjoyed your presentation yesterday.
    Thank you for the TED video by Simon Sinek link – most thougt provoking.


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