It takes guts to transform your bottom line

IT needs technology enthusiasts in charge. Sure, you need good business judgment, but the best information systems are created by IT professionals who also understand how the system will be 'driven,' designing something they'd enjoy driving themselves.

          Management Speak: I want you to come out of this project looking like the hero.

          Translation: I want to come out of this project looking like the hero.

          -- This week's contributor, having requested anonymity, must remain an unsung hero.

          How do you decide which books to buy and read? These are two different decisions. Some books are ammunition. When you need support for a position that's been challenged, books follow the Harvard Business Review and official-looking analyst reports, look at trade press articles, and are a parsec or two in front of facts and logic when it comes to persuasive power.

          Luckily, you don't have to read most business books, which simply stretch a pamphlet's worth of ideas into a thirty-buck purchase.

          Then there's Robert A Lutz's Guts. Guts has a lot of munitions value because Lutz is the guy who turned Chrysler from the failing K car company into a powerhouse. His credentials are impeccable, but don't buy it just for that. The book is well worth reading.

          Lutz may have been the most successful "change agent" in the history of business. He took a company run by business professionals whose sole purpose was making money and transformed it into a car company run by people enthusiastic about cars. In the process, Lutz turned Chrysler from a money-losing disaster into a high-growth success story.

          Read the chapter about the Dodge Viper. Strict business analysis said the Viper made no sense: It could have no real impact on profits and absorbed critical resources at a crucial time. Lutz, the president, persuaded Bob Eaton, the CEO, to build it anyway.

          The Viper saved Chrysler. It transformed Chrysler's image; it restored employee morale; and it completely changed how Chrysler designed cars and brought them to market. Lutz describes Chrysler's top-to-bottom transformation as "getting back to basics." With the Viper project, Lutz and Eaton got Chrysler back to the basics of being in the car business and loving it.

          Any lessons for IT? Of course, if you know where to look. Chrysler turned itself around by putting car people back in charge. IT needs technology enthusiasts in charge. Sure, you need good business judgment. Lutz has excellent business judgment. But he's a self-described car nut first.

          Chrysler turned itself around by making cars designed by car enthusiasts, not focus groups. Likewise, the best information systems are created by IT professionals who also understand how the system will be "driven," designing something they'd enjoy driving themselves. They don't ignore the end-user any more than Chrysler ignored drivers. Great IT designers work with end-users to become end-users themselves, in addition to being engineers.

          Chrysler changed its design process from a series of hand-offs that led to extensive re-work to collaborative teams that included all areas of expertise needed to create a complete design. In contrast, lots of companies still organise their business change programmes into separate "business" and "IT" projects, almost guaranteeing both conflict and incompatible business and technical designs.

          Guts describes more than technique. First and foremost, it's a book about leadership, from a proven leader who clearly understands the subject in both theory and practice. Lutz eloquently presents the case that "managing change" is the definition of leadership, that courage is leadership's core competency, and that leadership is both inborn and teachable. Guts can't give you the inborn part. But for the teachable aspects, you need it on your bookshelf -- after you've read it.

          Show some leadership by sending Bob an email at ISSurvivor@cs.com. Bob Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant with Perot Systems.

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