I was recently reminded of the old admonishment to "eat your own cooking" while frantically trying to repack the three trays of items the TSA had forced me to remove from my suitcase as I searched for my shoes, and attempted to keep my pants from falling down, since my belt was also buried somewhere on the x-ray belt. When I suggested that these rules were now crossing from the inane to the ridiculous, the TSA agent nearest me turned and said, in all seriousness "That's why I don't fly anymore!"
The best chefs constantly taste their food as they are preparing it, making minute adjustments, in order to deliver the best possible culinary experience. In many aspects of corporate management, and obviously with what passes for airline security, it's easy to forget to eat your own cooking, and lose sight of why you are preparing the metaphorical meal in the first place. While most of us in a corporate setting have lost the immediacy of the chef with a bubbling pot right in front of them, that should not be an excuse not to "taste test" the goods and services your company offers, and for IT, test the interactions between IT and the rest of the company.
Get your butt into the field
One of my favorite aspects of consulting, and one of the first steps I take whenever visiting a new client, is to see the rudiments of their operation. I've donned my work boots and toured factories and warehouses, sat in call centers "shadowing" agents as they fielded customer calls, and done "ride alongs" with sales reps, all in the name of understanding how a client makes, sells, and services its products. It is difficult to understand how your company works without spending a day or two seeing it function where it is closest to the customer, especially in IT where we often sit at corporate, or in a "low-rent" facility, far removed from where the actual work is done.
While these visits are interesting, they also offer concrete benefits to the company. When the CIO and all of his or her employees are familiar with how the company makes and sells its products, they are better able to build systems, processes, and services that meet the needs of the company. Many of us have been given a strange or esoteric requirement, which suddenly makes perfect sense when we see a business process "in the wild." Furthermore, when someone with extensive knowledge of the company's systems and processes is out in the field, they will likely see areas where existing systems could be leveraged, or tools that were built for one business unit that would be a perfect fit for another.
Getting IT staff into the field can also work wonders for IT from an internal PR perspective. The "Ivory tower" IT department that rarely leaves the cold confines of the server room will always be perceived as out of touch with "the business," and their relationship characterized by an "us versus them" mentality. When IT staff actively visit the field, and perform the jobs of the people that use IT's systems and services, IT suddenly appears much more understanding. The simple act of walking a mile in someone else's shoes will do more for IT's image than all the newsletters, lunch and learns, and missives in the employee lunch room ever will.
Sample the goods
With an understanding of your company founded in actually experiencing its products and services, the next key aspect of eating your own cooking is to try being a consumer of IT's services. Try the following with your own IT department:
- Ring up your help desk and see how they perform with various simple and complex questions.
- Call IT and ask if you can connect your iPhone to the corporate network, and see if you're treated like an adult with work to do, or a child being scolded for bringing the wrong toy to someone else's sandbox.
- Suggest a relevant and high-value enhancement to an existing system, and see if it ever lands on the right person's desk.
Just as the cook who doesn't taste his or her food might serve a bland or over-seasoned dish, the IT department that rarely ventures out of its offices will likely miss the mark on delivering what the rest of the company demands. Just as a big-ticket restaurant is rarely given a second chance when serving a poorly-prepared meal, the CIO of a high-dollar IT department will suffer a similar fate should he or she ignore the sage advice to eat your own cooking.
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.