Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Trap of Customization

I started this series of blogs on standardization with a story of how a leader of a manufacturing activity standardized his maintenance management systems into one...and dealt with the "we're all for a single system..so long as it's ours"  The epilogue to the story is that a year after finally agreeing a common system, the same business leader was asked to double the investment in the system.  The reason?  Everyone wanted their own version of the standard system!  The impulse towards customization is a strong one.  At a site level, there are a number of legitimate reasons...the local leader wants data arrayed in a certain way, some countries have regulatory requirements that drive unique solutions, Joint ventures pose a particularly difficult problem when the "minority shareholder" doesn't agree. In addition, there is often a legacy of those in the center trying to design solutions that businesses request...a genuine desire to respond to an articulated business need and therefore get buy-in.  There's a trap in these impulses towards customization.  When it comes to supporting IT systems in particular...HRIT, Finance IT, Procurement, Maintenance Management, Learning Management Systems(LMS)....etc,   customization drives complexity. The complexity creates instability and unreliability in the system and the instability/unreliability erodes confidence.... reinforcing resistance.  To deal with this dilemma, I think a leader has to do a couple of things.  One, you have to be explicit up-front that everyone won't get everything they want out of a standardized system...and in fact, in many cases, won't get everything they currently have..  Second, you have to listen hard and sort out legitimate issues, from smokescreens intended only to delay or derail the initiative.  Third, you need a  set of trusted colleagues with an enterprise first mind-set to help make tough calls.  Last, to reinforce a point made a few days ago, you have to get the governance aligned toward global, so that  "no" answer to a customization request will stick.

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