I have just finished reading the autobiography of Steve Jobs. Very interesting and it got me thinking.
The Steve Jobs mantra is that customers and users do not know what they want until you give it to them. Who of us knew we needed an iPad until we saw one and then purchased one.
Remember the famous Henry Ford quote of "If I asked my customers what they wanted they would have said 'a faster horse' "
There is also a school of thought that we need to develop user centred design so that we develop IT systems that users want and need.
Do these two schools of thought contradict each other?
I think not. The important thing in user centred design is to as soon as possible show users what an IT system will and could look like and get them to touch it, feel it and use it. They may ask for things to be added and changed. You can also add things that they didn't know they wanted and see if they do really want them and need them.
Using this approach will avoid the age old trap of users specifying lots of requirements and what they think they want in their heads and then IT going away and translating this into an IT system that misses the mark. Try getting five people to describe a car in words and then getting someone to build it from the words. You will get some interesting results.
User centred design and delivery will allow users to quickly be able to touch, feel and see stuff and then say "nah maybe not" or "wow that is good how about adding this". All before too much time and money is spent building stuff.
Humans like to see and touch and play with things.
Once upon a time there was a business that mowed peoples lawns – LawnMo Inc. One day the technology arm of LawnMo Inc came up with the strategy for IT for the business. The vision of this strategy was technology that would perform mathematical calculations very fast with 100% accuracy. The technology people thought this was brilliant and would transform the business. In simple terms it was the calculator.
The technology arm went to the LawnMo Inc board and presented the strategy. With calculators you could do calculations faster, smarter and cheaper. It would enable you to quickly calculator the size of the lawn that needed to be cut and thus what the right lawnmower to use needed to be. It was a very impressive presentation.
The board listened to the presentation and at the end there was silence for 1 minute. Then one of the board of LawnMo Inc said.
“That is indeed a very interesting strategy by the technology arm. Very interesting indeed. One question. How is it going to help us achieve what we want to do next with LawnMo Inc?”
“What is that?”, said the technology person.
“Well”, said the board member, “It is to reduce the cost of cutting peoples lawns. We want to be able to make our lawnmowers more fuel efficient. How will your calculator IT strategy help us to achieve that?”
“Well it won't directly. It will help our finance department though”, said the technology person.
“Well, your IT strategy has no value to LawnMo Inc at this present time”, said the board member. “You can build your calculator but it will just sit on the floor and no one will use it. It will have no value to us. We could have used it in our finance department but our strategy is to outsource that.”
“Oh dear”, said the technology person. “I think we had better go back and ensure that the LawnMo Inc IT Strategy helps you achieve your vision”
“Better than that”, said the board member. “Why don't you work with the people putting together LawnMo Inc's strategy and where relevant add in any IT that can help us achieve what we want to do”
And so that is what the technology person did. So LawnMo Inc had the LawnMo Inc Strategy, and where relevant the required IT to help them achieve it was detailed.
So why do organisation still have IT strategies? There is no need for businesses to have an IT strategy. IT strategy is dead. What a business needs is a strategy for it's business. Within this strategy, where relevant, will be strategies for IT required to enable the overall strategy for the business.
So if your organisation creates business strategies and IT strategies ask yourself is this the right thing to do? Should you not just have one strategy for the business covering all the relevant functions that make up the business? All aligned to the overall vision and goals of the business.