UN: How not to manage IS/IT

image Smoke and Mirrors small A metaphor / parable on how tax payers’ money is burned within some internationally (un)-coordinated organizations aka multinationals aka United Nations.

The underlying story is based on actual experiences in the field of Information Systems / Information Technology (IS/IT) within one of the largest UN organizations. While – as we hear – since then things got even worse, this short story not only tries to demonstrate the lack of professionalism in those organizations, but also what happens when people who “know what they are doing” come to those organizations without political protection by their own governments. The sad endings to these stories are often like in the underlying true case used for this metaphor.

With that case we know about the professional coming in (who was an IS/IT manager with real hands-on knowledge that had earned him some of the most prestigious awards of the industry that money can’t buy) got pushed out of the organization with criminal means and Mafia like methods, threatened, smeared and witch hunted and already till today had to endure besides this multi-million dollar personal damages. The people responsible for the mess and disasters got promotions and after running the whole organization into the wall with almost 10,000 people suffering for years because of that and far beyond USD 100 million direct damages caused (indirect a multiple) were at best just moved aside to some other posts or even further palmed off.

We have recently spoken with one of their senior directors who (and that person really didn’t like that) had to acknowledge / confirm the amounts and damages mentioned above, and that they have to do almost everything of that multi-year program again.

Not that they would now consider hiring some real professionals – they seemingly continue to use people coming in by nepotism, with “legends / success stories” on their CVs from other similar failures as their achievements. The key reasons for failure of that program in the past were lack of business, IS/IT knowledge and management skills. The writing was already on the wall when they started up the program a few years ago with an almost “skill free zone” as the program management team after having excluded the few skilled ones that tried to participate by dodgy maneuvers and shady deals with some of their buddies.

What a waste of time, talent, ideas and money. And in the case of that organization also of lives. Not that anyone of those pulling the strings would care. And of course this complete failure was declared a success.

But now the metaphor / parable:

A new approach to IS/IT

There was an old man who lived on a street in one of the beautiful parts of London. So it happened one day that a shop opened on the other side of the street just opposite from his house. The new owner of the shop had just put up a marquise that said: “Candies, Books, Newspapers and everything you need” and was standing outside his shop proudly admiring his work.

So one day the old man walked into the new shop and asked the owner for some candy. The owner described the man all the benefits of his candies and how important it was to get these candies. The man liked what he heard and told the owner of the shop:

…You persuaded me, now I know these are exactly the candies I need and I would like to buy some of those. Just give them to me and I take them home to my house on the other side of the street…

Sorry sir” said the owner “…we don’t have any candy in the shop, but I will personally look to it that you will get these candies delivered within the next couple of months.

Well” said the man, “… these must be very special candies and I have realized how well this person speaks about candies and then he has described me also that this is the way to get candies. Maybe I’ve done something wrong in the past when I got my candies“.

But the owner of the shop was a very special business man. So he thought to himself, my clients want me to deliver candies to them so what will I need. I will need a car to deliver the goods, not just a normal delivery car one can buy from any car dealer, no, it has to be a very special car, one that needs to be built first. So he goes off and hires 2 mechanics to build the car.

While they are diligently working on building the delivery car, the shop owner has a second thought. Maybe a car alone will not do the job. I will have to build a street and cars also need petrol. So he starts discussing these issues with the local authorities. “…as with streets in London…” the local authorities tell the shop owner, “…you will not need to buy them to drive on them“. But the shop owner insists and after long discussions they agree to sell him some virtual share of the streets with the condition that all other shops and citizens will still be able to use them for free. And they point him to a council in Kent that needs to sell their streets as it is so short of money. So the shop owner goes off to buy some of the streets from that council.

I the meantime the old man came by the shop and wanted to know what was going on with his order of candies.

Well” said the shop owner “…there have been some unforeseeable issues with the candies“. But if the old man would be willing to buy a share in his delivery car that is specially build for such service and a share in the streets he had acquired with great effort, he could have the candies very soon. “And” said the shop owner, “…tell all your friends and neighbors to also buy some of the candies from me so we can get them cheaper. These are approaches I’ve learned during my time as candy adviser with some very large and clever enterprises…

The old man not very experienced with these enterprise issues, goes off and persuades some of his friends and neighbors to also buy something from the shop owner.

So from time to time the shop owner drives over to the other side of the street to deliver some goods to the old man and his friends. He does not do that by crossing the street, he first drives out to Kent to use some of his expensively bought streets and then drives around London to use his share of the streets there. And often the candies are not sweet and the books are full of empty or half printed pages. This is because the shop owner decided that printing the books himself and making the candies could be a even better service to his shoppers. After all, he really knows how such complicated matters are best dealt with.

So the old man comes by the shop another time and complains about the quality of goods delivered and the time it takes to get them. But the shop owner only explains to him all the efforts he has to get through and that he can’t even afford a help to load the delivery car as he already employs the two mechanics to look after the car. “…it does break down all the time, but this is normal with these special delivery cars and the next version my mechanics are currently building will solve all these problems very soon…

So this goes on year after year and some of the shoppers already started wondering how they could thank the shop owner for all the efforts he goes through to get them these special candies.

But then one day a new neighbor moves into a house on that street. Having been a shop owner himself for many years, he is getting more and more surprised when he learns the stories about buying candies from that shop owner. And he tries to discuss these issues with his neighbors and shows them a shop just next to the house that has been there for many years and sells candies and books and all the other things. But nobody listens to him as they all get such great service from the shop on the other side of the street.

…But the candies in this shop cost much less and you can just walk into the shop and get them. And everyone else on our street buys their candies from the other shop next to their house or another shop a little further down the road. The owners of these shops also deliver the goods to the people’s homes and if you buy candies they taste like candies and books don’t have empty or half full pages…” says the new neighbor.

So one day the owner of the special delivery shop on the other side of the street learns about the new neighbor and persuades the old man and his friends to kick him out of his house as he might be disturbing the special delivery of the candies. And he will also need to buy some petrol stations because otherwise the second version of the delivery car that is planned to be completed within the next month will not be able to run on the newly build streets in Kent.

And one night a large group of “friends” together with the owner of the special delivery shop gang together and tear the new neighbor out of his house beat him up, try to burn down his house and let him lie bleeding on the street.

The last thing we heard was that half the houses on that street had to be demolished after the owner of the special delivery shop started to offer construction work as well.

Note: We suggest to read some parts of Winnie-the-Pooh to the puppet players at that organization particular those lines starting with “…here is Edward Bear…” till “… and ready to be introduced to you.

And hey, if a small bear can manage, you might be able too. Believe us – change is not always bad – particular when it involves arrogant and ignorant nay-sayers like those.

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