A World Cup approach to IT

By the time it ends, the World Cup will have had, as always, a curious impact on enterprise employees. People who normally schedule back-to-back meetings start using up some personal days to watch their favourite teams face off against a major opponent. Conferences which traditionally leave little room for the unscheduled become interspersed with updates on scores from session moderators. And most significantly, executives who seem confounded by the challenge of making small talk with IT staff are suddenly in deep discussion about the particular playing style of Brazil, or whether Ronaldo is living up to the hype.

The analogies between winning the World Cup and successfully executing an IT project are almost too easy to make. Teams develop strategies not always knowing what kind of challenges (or opponents) they will be dealing with as they move from one stage to the next. Even relatively strong teams can be hobbled by unexpected blunders from a single player – witness England’s Robert Green’s fumble in an early game which led to a tie that felt to many like a loss. Small milestone victories, like Japan’s win over Cameroon, can build confidence in teams that don’t always seem to have the greatest chance of success.

Such comparisons come to an abrupt end when you consider what happens after an IT project finishes up, compared with a World Cup match. In Toronto and in many other multicultural cities across the globe, a World Cup win ignites a frenzy of jubilant cheering, car-horn-honking, rounds of drinks and flag-waving as animated as anything that happened in a stadium in South Africa. When IT departments manage to set up a new way of communicating with customers, create a portal that helps launch a new product or fights off a virus that could cripple the company, staffers feel lucky if someone bothers to buy a box of donuts.

Perhaps there will never be a day when senior managers drive around with cars bearing a Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware flag, honking their horns over the virtualization project that ends up saving thousands of dollars or improving the overall performance of their network. It’s unlikely we’ll see employees from various departments sprawled out in a local bar watching footage of an IT department turn the switch on a business intelligence solution that unlocks powerful secrets about the future of their company and market. But if we could somehow ignite a tiny fraction of that enthusiasm, evoke even a microscopic percentage of that sense of camaraderie, wouldn’t it be worth all the World Cups in, well, the world?

Sports has a way of creating fellowship and unity in groups that need both. As the lingua franca among everyday citizens during the 2010 World Cup, IT departments have an opportunity to use any discussions about the tournament with their colleagues as the building block for a relationship in which more common ground can be discovered. They can also observe in the World Cup victories a shining example of what it really means to celebrate success. ComputerWorld Canada is offering one way to recognize top talent with our first-ever IT Leadership Awards, nominations for which are open until August 11 at http://itleadershipawards.com, but there are many other ways to cheer on IT department colleagues or wave the flag of technology innovation.

The alternative is to simply move on from one successful project straight into another without fanfare, and without acknowledgement, waiting instead for an IT department error that draws a chorus of criticism like so many vuvuzelas. Much like those watching the World Cup this year, we have to find ways of tuning out all the noise and focusing on what’s really important: excellence in motion.

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