My wife and I are hooked on a television show called, “Undercover Boss”. In this show an upper level executive, usually the CEO, of a company will “go undercover” and perform some of the lower entry level jobs in his company. The show is very well done and the boss always uncovers the human element of what makes his company great.
The part that impresses me the most with the show is that people tell their co-workers things they wouldn’t dare tell their boss. In general people have a fear of their boss, and it is probably because of the fact that if the boss so desires, the employee can lose his job. However, when speaking with other co-workers, this dynamic is gone and the two employees are on a level playing field. This gives the boss a unique insight into what the lower level employees really feel about decisions that have been made at the top.
I think this would be a worthwhile activity for a CIO of a large IT shop. What would your CIO learn if he were to go down and spend a week on a project for a must have corporate initiative? Here are some insights I believe a CIO would have if he were to go under cover in his own shop…
- Schedule vs. Quality – I’ve written several times about how project quality can sometimes suffer because a deadline is set before a project begins. I think it would be enlightening for a CIO to sit in meetings where the topic is “what corners can we cut to get this done on time.” I know many CIOs get reports about project status, and if a project is YELLOW or RED, it means the project is behind schedule. That is the point in a project when these type of discussions take place. This is when cutting corners becomes the mandate in order to get back on schedule.
- Workload – In many IT shops there are more concurrent projects then there are people to work on them. Many IT workers are working on 2, 3, or more projects at the same time. This may be okay if the projects are simple, but many times the projects are multi-month, high impact projects. This can lead to a decrease in quality simply because the employee is juggling too many activities at one time.
- Production Support – Wouldn’t it be fun for a CIO to sit with production support analysts for a week? I think the CIO would be amazed at the unrelenting onslaught of issues that a support analyst works through in a day. Maybe the CIO would get an appreciation for the struggles the support people go through every day.
I’m sure there are many other lessons that a CIO would learn if he could only step down to ground level for a few weeks. Of course, in order for something like this to be effective, the CIO has to be unrecognized. Unfortunately in many IT shops that wouldn’t be possible, but maybe the CIO could get someone to go in proxy for him, who would then report back at the end of the month. The invitation is open, because I’m sure many IT workers would love the opportunity for the CIO to know what it is really like day-to-day in the trenches.