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Lost in Translation - Why Being a CIO is Hard

Clarke Bishop, Problem Architect at Innovations Domain
Clarke Bishop, Problem Architect at Innovations Domain

Clarke Bishop, Problem Architect at Innovations Domain

More and more CIOs realize they’re in the “translation business” and it’s exhausting.

• Senior executives are demanding to know why you’re not investing more in the latest Sizzle-Tech with no clue what it is or why it matters.

• Vendors are pushing a product with some supposedly innovative features. But how could it apply to your situation?

• HR and Recruiters write job descriptions that all sound alike and do nothing to help you find the right people.

• Consultants are advocating some new process and have impressive credentials, but will it work for you?

You, the CIO, are constantly translating, constantly trying to sort out what’s relevant and where to spend your limited attention and budget.

Science fiction writers have long imagined a universal translator. After all, how could we talk with aliens without a common language?

I can’t help with aliens, but here’s a solution for CIOs. There is a universal language. Problem — the language of the business problem. Translate each situation into a real business problem and most of the confusion and complexity goes away.

Clarify the problem by asking these seven questions. Unless there’s a clear answer to each question, there’s no need to keep exploring.

1- What’s broken that the “solution” fixes?

Never agree to meet with a vendor or spend more than a few minutes on the phone without getting an answer to, “What’s broken?” If nothing is broken, there’s no problem, and you don’t need to spend any more time or attention.

Many innovative ideas seem interesting. Yet, there are far too many solutions in search of a problem, and you don’t have time to waste. By understanding “what’s broken,” you’ve got an initial clue to understanding a problem that may be impacting your company.

2 - Does this matter to our business?

Some problems impact specific industry categories or technical infrastructure more than others. Nearly every industry has a significant investment in information technology, yet there’s also a great deal of variation.

Verify that the problem (what’s broken?) is relevant to your industry and your infrastructure.

3- Is this our problem?

Perhaps you already solved the problem or your smart staff already mitigated the problem. Or, by understanding what’s broken, you may realize that this is the problem that has been causing all kinds of headaches.

4- How bad is it?

The problem could be a minor nuisance or a major expense or risk factor. Compile data that quantifies the extent of the problem.

5- Do we need to fix it now?

Unless the problem is both urgent and important, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the resources needed to fix the problem. If it’s not urgent, keep monitoring the problem as it may get worse or become more urgent in the future.

6- What will it take to fix the problem (People & Money)?

You’ve determined that your business has a problem, something is broken. It’s having a major impact and needs to get fixed now.

Do you have the right people with the right expertise to solve the problem? And do you already have the needed budget or will you need more money?

It’s too soon to build a complete project plan. Just go deep enough to know you’ve captured all the relevant costs and can estimate the budget impact.

7- Is the initiative approved?

Now all you have to do is persuade your CFO it’s a worthwhile investment. Fortunately, you’ve done the translation needed to make a good approval decision.

You clarified what’s broken, understood why it’s having an impact on your business, and quantified the cost for your company. Then, you verified the problem is urgent, needs to get fixed immediately, and estimated the required resources.

When the problem, impact, and fix are defined this clearly, the approval decision is straightforward. The executive team understands what’s happening, what you’re going to do about it, and why.

Adopt the practice of answering each of these questions before starting any new project. Everyone on the team will be aligned and focused on all the right things—focused on fixing the real business problem.

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