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Nov 30, 2005

The World's Worst IT Organization

NOV 30, 2005 12:01:36 PM | View/Add Comments (41) | Permalink

Enough with the best practices to pursue—tell us the worst practices to avoid.

By Thomas Wailgum

Here at CIO magazine, we love writing about best practices. That’s mostly because, we believe, if we give our readership enough practical takeaways and good ideas from each story—told from the perspective of fellow IT execs—then CIOs and IT practitioners will be able to take those specific concepts and put them into use in their organizations.

Makes sense. The business world rests on a foundation of case studies of companies doing things right. Like rearing children, it’s how we “model” good behavior.

But that got me thinking: What about “worst practices”? Meaning negative modeling, the exact opposite of what CIOs should be doing. We never really write specifically about worst practices. Sure, we talk about them in failure stories (blown ERP implementations, change management disasters, faulty software rollouts), but we never call them out directly and say, “THIS IS A VERY BAD IDEA!” or “WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T DO THIS!”

The truth is, we all do things that are bad for us. Speeding down the highway, talking on the cell phone, kids in the backseat. Consuming too much junk food as you’re trying to lose a few pounds. Telling white lies to our spouses—for their sake. At the time, they probably seem like the best course of action, but from a more studied perspective surely would fall into a list of “worst” practices. Back in the business world, just look at the financial and accounting disasters and security slip-ups that seem to pop up continually. Worst practices are everywhere:

Worst Practice No. 1: Should we cook the books to inflate our earnings? Great idea! No one will ever catch us!
Worst Practice No. 2: How about turning off those security features on all the executives’ BlackBerrys? Perfect!
Worst Practice No. 3: I know, let’s filch millions from the company’s coffers and give our spouse a rockin’ birthday party? A party all will remember!

The list seems to grow every day.

One argument against devoting time and energy to collecting a list of worst practices, however, is that worst practices are just so gosh-darn obvious. No right-minded IT professional would need a reminder that, for example, she shouldn’t ignore user input when implementing a new enterprisewide system. Right? But sometimes these worst practices are more subtle, more deceptively alluring. After all, if every CIO knows what (and what not) to do, then why do we have legions of technology consultants, business gurus and systems integrators, eager to take CIOs’ money in exchange for advice on how to avoid disastrous IT situations?

So what I’d like from you are the worst practices from IT shops you’ve worked in over the years. I’d love to hear the true stories of IT stupidity, management incompetence and business-IT misalignment. Even those practices that looked like a good idea at the start. For your own safety, your responses can be completely anonymous and company names can be omitted. If you’re more daring, include your name and company. You can post them on this site for all to see, or you can e-mail them to me, in private, at

Just give me real events that had disastrous effects on that IT organization, and that, looking back, were a worst practice. I’ll take them all, filter them, and we’ll publish them in an issue that will open everyone’s eyes to the World’s Worst IT Practices.

Thomas Wailgum is a staff writer for CIO magazine.

Readers Viewpoint

Worst Practices
Posted: JUL 11, 2006 09:23:20 AM
These have been documented for IT projects in a book titled "Antipatterns in Project Management" Brown, McCormick and Thomas. Wiley press ISBN 0-471-36366-9

I recommend to all IT folks as good project management information

neal alexander
senior project manager

Oh to be an ostrich.
Posted: FEB 17, 2006 06:29:07 AM
I once worked for a boss whose entire team was going in different directions. No defined goals, mission, or true face in the business. Each group meeting brought more confusion and distance as there was no consistency and most of the other managers in the meeting brought their laptops with them to surf the web instead of listening to anything being discussed. This atmosphere only fostered the chaos that was ensuing within the IT department, projects were way off delivery and budget, and morale was extremely low. Things went as far as one of the mangers being told by the CIO for over a six month term, in front of the other managers, that he/she had a free ride on anything that was to be delivered. The CIO chose to ignore all the signs and continued to keep his head in the ground. Ignorance is not bliss.

Doctors don’t make IT Guru’s
Posted: FEB 15, 2006 03:40:54 PM
As a consultant some years ago, one of my clients was a Family Practice, about 5-7 physicians on staff and growing...One Physician on staff elected himself the IT guru of the office. He implemented a functioning network. I was later called in because he hit a snag and didn’t know what else needed to be done to have a fully functioning network and system. Little did I know that he would undo some or all of the configuration changes I made after each of my visits. Every time I had the system running like a dream...he would change it...and never tell me. No documentation. Nada.

Take, for instance, his daily backup procedure. I set it for daily backups, full on fridays...performed a test run and verified that files were being backed up. He undid the the daily settings (deleted is more like it.) Then recreated the backups to run everyday as Full backups.

Some weeks later, he suffered a hard drive meltdown. We had to restore from scratch. When it came time to restore the physicians’ database....the data wasn’t there. Seems that The Doctor didn’t know he had to set specific drives and folders to backup. All we had were the directories, but no actual data.

Moral of the story, either have faith in your people you hire to handle the tasks you hired them to do or don’t hire someone in the first place. Documenting changes you make might help too.

Flirting with Disaster
Posted: FEB 15, 2006 03:01:55 PM
As a consultant in IT management for more than 25 years, I’ve seen more than my share of screw-ups. One theme that has loomed large is commonality versus individuality in applications. Trying to build or install a purchased common system across multiple business lines is a rich source of cautionary tales. It sounds like synergy, always a favorite word in the boardroom, and of course, you listen to the users to make sure they get what they need. And therein lies the problem. Without tough-minded leadership from business—not IT—executives to ensure that existing processes get reengineered rather than taken as givens, every trivial difference is dutifully captured in the specs. The complexity overwhelms the effort and the result is typically a write-off or at best, something used by only a fraction of its intended beneficiaries.

In the governemnt, I’ve seen the opoposite. In the 1990s, the CFO act demanded that every agency be able to produce auditable books. Not surprisingly, financial systems were required for this, and sure enough, every single agency enshrined their trivial differences and bought and tailored their own sytem at a cost of billions to the taxpayer.

In all of this, the missing piece is governance. Without informed senior general managers intensively scrutinizing and questioning approaches and decisions, bad things will happen that no CIO can prevent, but will of course still take the fall for. This is truly a situation of "do it right or don’t do it at all".

Paul Clermont
Clermont Consulting

The Standish Group’s CHAOS Report
Posted: FEB 15, 2006 02:33:14 PM
In your article "The World’s Worst IT Organization" you asked readers to submit tales of IT "worst practices". While that may be anecdotally interesting, a more structured and systematic analysis will actually be more helpful. In that vein, I recommend the "CHAOS Report" written by the Standish Group in 1994. It is a compilation and analysis of 8,380 IT projects from 365 large, medium and small companies - Standish have continued their research and by 2003 had acquired results on some 13,522 projects, and is still on-going (I think). It is, as far as I know, the largest and most comprehensive study of IT project results. The full reports are not free, but if you avoid just one failure, you will recoup your investment several times over.

Bill Holden
Fujitsu Consulting

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Dated: November 30, 2005

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