Sales people that don’t meet their quotas don’t hang around long.

Finance people that can’t meet an audit are often looking for other sources of employment.

Factories that produce poor quality products find their orders drying up.

Pretty straight forward.

But in many, many companies and organizations, folks accept that “technology is hard” and that “things break.” When upgrades take systems down for days, or reports only work most of the time, people shrug their shoulders and accept “that’s just the way it is,” because “technology is hard.”

And, it’s true. Technology has its challenges, which change year to year, month to month, and even day to day. Indeed, in the error of cloud software, you can often show up one day and find that what was working yesterday isn’t working today.*

Answer: Set your expectations higher

But, really, really, really. That should be the exception, not the rule. If I can help my clients understand one thing, it’s this: Things can be better. You need to have higher expectations.

When you set your expectations, you need to make sure the folks who meet those expectations are rewarded. The folks who don’t are counseled, trained, and maybe switched into a different position. 

As Joanna Rothman, agile project management expert, said in a recent podcast, culture drives success. (Something else I need to write about).

Expectations are front and center in my thinking right now.

I’m currently helping a client reorganize their entire data infrastructure. The project involves everything from fixing key infrastructure issues and creating standards for development and change control, to redefining roles and responsibilities. 

At this stage, just being a solid project manager is returning results. Getting tasks onto a list and knocking them off. Looking for what’s failing and getting it fixed.

But, as I’ve discussed with my key executive contacts, our long-term success will be limited if we don’t change the culture. Case in point: Every night hundreds of jobs/tasks/flows run, bringing data from a dozen different systems and transforming and loading for a couple hundred different reports. And, until now, there’s been no comprehensive plan for monitoring nightly failures.

So, I’m working on IT 101. We’re creating processes in order to monitor everything that goes on and know when problems occur – before a user reports a problem. Clearly not brain surgery.

But here’s the key cultural challenge: Almost 20% of scheduled jobs are failing each month.

This is a number I’ve never accepted at any of my clients. If one process dies per month, I’m unhappy. But what’s really concerning here is that most of the team isn’t particularly bothered by this state of affairs. (Management feels otherwise). It’s always been this way and they’ve always fixed things when someone complained. That’s how things go.

Why changing behaviors (adaptive) is the key to IT success

Until this attitude changes, the organization isn’t going to make the progress they need. If folks don’t care about results, if they don’t think about how to get better results, then they’re always going to need an enforcer who risks becoming a micromanager.

More important, if we don’t develop within them with the attitude that things need to work, we’re going to keep failing.

This is absolutely an example of an adaptive challenge.  The challenge is not the software. Or the process. It’s the expectation. It’s how people relate to their work. 

We can define processes. We can create standards. But if folks don’t care, things aren’t going to get that much better.

What’s your company’s experience with technical projects? Do folks expect things to fail? Do they demand success? Have things changed over the course of time? What made them change?


* Talk to any technical presenter about this development Once upon a time, you’d prepare your demos on your laptop, back them up, and maybe even bring a second lap top if you wanted to be an “always prepared” boy scout about it. 

But you knew that what you rehearsed yesterday would still be there today. In the cloud world, more than one presenter has found in the middle of the presentation something that wasn’t there when they last looked at the software. Oops.

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