Babel Redux

God came down to see what they did and said: ‘They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withheld from them which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down and confound their speech.’ And so God scattered them upon the face of the Earth, and confused their languages, so that they would not be able to return to each other, and they left off building the city, which was called Babel ‘because God there confounded the language of all the Earth’”.  – Genesis 11: 5 – 8

There is no shortcut to leading an organization today. No path to quickly getting up to speed to make the right decisions. No fast track to Heaven. We now must speak his language, fluently. That guy’s language. The “business-IT” divide is a myth. They are now one and the same: There is no business without IT. Get used to it.

computer_guy-150x150We laughed. We ignored his silly acronyms. We pretended to know what he meant when he spewed what we thought were common words like “requirement” and “interface” and “database.” But we really didn’t. We trusted him.  We placed ourselves at his mercy. Then our $4 million project went off the rails. And we had to rely on him to make it right. In other words, we were screwed.

“But he’s a project manager,” we were told in some sordid attempt to give us comfort. But what did that mean? He had “PMP” after his name? Did he get stuff done? Was he a leader? Was he assertive? Did he anticipate the multitude of risks that plague so many projects? Did he have plans to subvert them when they reared their ugly heads? Did he understand our business? Did he communicate clearly the issues that needed to be tackled so we could make informed decisions? “He must be smart; I can never understand what he’s talking about.”We satisfied ourselves. We got lazy.

The other day, I queried my neighbor’s natively French-speaking four year old with utter confidence, “Koman-sa-VA?” (Comment ça va?, which I’m pretty sure means “How’s it going?” in French) and he looked at me like I had three heads. So much for Rosetta Stone. The lessons provide the foundation, fine. It’s speaking the language every day, associating the words with the things and actions they represent that enable us to converse. This is why we can’t be an executive and take an IT course and expect to be able to properly manage – or even understand – what the heck is going on with our technology, which today means our business.

Because, like my neighbor’s kid, that guy was born into a different world entirely. With different rules. His cultural practices each have their own sub-cultural practices that require deep dives into an uncomely number of idiosyncrasies to properly understand. And to further befuddle us, he’s  embraced a confusing conflagration of complicated blather. What dialect shall we speak today, sir? Shall it be PMBOK or PRINCE2 or Agile for our project management approach? And in what shall we program? Java or C# or COBOL, anyone? How about using HTML5 or Ajax? Use cases, user stories or activity diagrams? Should our architecture comply with Zachman or TOGAF? Be represented by UML or Archimate? Shall we adopt COBIT or ITIL or both? Oh, COBIT you say? Which one? COBIT 4.1 or COBIT 5? Are our processes following ISO/IEC 15504 and APQC PCF?  Tell me, sir. Which do you prefer? What’s best for us? (Heh heh heh.)

How did this happen? I’ll tell you how it happened: We let it happen. We asked that guy to build our tower to eternal paradise.

So it’s Babel revisited. We ignored his pronouncements and told him to do what he thought was right and consequently the IT gods have rained holy hell on us all. Our punishment is a confluence of “standards” and architectural principles and stylistic preferences that are often incompatible and usually incomprehensible and always frustrating. And here’s the scary truth: To make good decisions, we have to understand it all. We have to become that guy.

IT is the center of our universe, all of us. Doesn’t matter if we build space shuttles or sell chickens. It’s not easy to digest this stuff. But we just have to. Or we’ll be forever beholden to an increasingly complex and often conflicting array of frameworks, protocols, standards, certifications and “best practices.” The good news? There’s a way out. Immerse yourself. Educate yourself. Start now. Visit Wikipedia. Pick a topic. Project Management. Software Development. Enterprise Architecture. Something. Anything. Know what’s going on. Help me untangle this mess. Don’t leave it to that guy. Seriously. For the love of God, please, I beg you.

I welcome your thoughts.