Project Management

Geeks vs. Flakes: The Unfortunate Disconnect Between IT and HR

Joe Wynne is a versatile Project Manager experienced in delivering medium-scope projects in large organizations that improve workforce performance and business processes. He has a proven track record of delivering effective, technology-savvy solutions in a variety of industries and a unique combination of strengths in both process management and workforce management.

Recently, we received an e-mail from a member who wrote, "Since you're promoting the idea of jobs in the IT community, I wonder if you've ever mentioned the People-CMM in the past. [My company has] just finished deploying a corporate initiative that seems to align nicely with the People-CMM. However, no specific mention of P-CMM was ever made during the presentation during deployment. Are other companies sneaking maturity models in through the back door? Are human resources people getting into process improvement without telling anyone about it? IT managers might want to take a look at the SEI web site and investigate, because there are some really good ideas in there. If nothing else, use Appendix C (Abridged practices) as a framework for doing a self assessment."

This brings up a critical issue that needs to be addressed: The continental divide between information technology professionals and human resource professionals.

I realize that there are advanced enterprises out there where the IT and HR organizations work together in harmony to the delight of the customer. In the main, though, there is a cultural disconnect in our workplaces. In its worst form, human resource professionals tend to see IT professionals as as techno-babbling, geeky cubicle dwellers, while IT professionals see HR professionals as new age head-in-the-clouds flakes.

I was working at a software development company when a funny example of this disparity occurred. A professional services employee asked the training group to eliminate the purple spaceships flying around on the software training CD-ROMs. Sound familiar? Seriously, though, these stereotypes are getting in the way of the total success of both groups.

There is historical precedent for this situation. In the 20th century, industrial psychologists, statisticians, human resource development experts, sociologists and others developed a body of knowledge for human performance improvement. Human resources specialists have translated this information into best practices for programs including compensation, evaluation, recognition and training. There is a surprising amount of expertise that has been developed, and conferences and professional organizations have arisen to spread the word. Still, you will rarely see an information technology professional involved in any of these.


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In the IT camp, the Software Engineering Institute created the People-Capability Maturity Model (P-CMM) to guide IT organizations. Of course, this model was created using the same knowledge base the HR professionals use. The only difference is that the SEI implementation is structured to complement its overall capability maturity model for the software development process. And what do you think are the chances that HR people are familiar with that process?

SEI published its P-CMM in 1995, stating in the document, "To date, improvement programs for software organizations have often emphasized process or technology, not people." Oops.

What we have now is a failure to communicate. The HR organization has one tradition; the IT organization has another. Neither group really has a clear grasp of the initiatives and programs of the other.

So it is not surprising that inquisitive gantthead wondered why a corporate employee development initiative never mentioned the P-CMM. And it is not surprising that he wondered if other maturity models were sneaking through the back door. There are similar models out there created by HR consulting firms, the members of which may never have heard of the P-CMM. The important thing to remember is that all the models have the same purpose: to integrate employee performance-enhancing activities into improvement programs that have up to now stressed process and technology.

Neither the HR organization nor the IT organization has a strategy to break into the culture of the other, yet both groups can benefit greatly from collaboration. Imagine how much more powerful software engineering processes will be when people-centered initiatives are incorporated. Coaching, performance feedback, rewards and recognition programs could be set up to maximize performance and employee satisfaction. We are in an age when finding, keeping and developing talent produces a key competitive advantage. HR specialists have the necessary expertise in best practices and company policies to make them your strategic allies. An alliance will enable both sides to expend more concentrated, effective effort on high value activities.

HR departments and IT departments should begin collaborating immediately for maximum mutual benefit. Take the initiative yourself to smash the stereotypes and start building a business relationship.

To help you, we will incorporate strategies in the Workforce Management Department to bridge this cultural divide, so that you can become more successful in your role and have a more positive impact on your organization.

For more on SEI's P-CMM, see Performance Management in this gantthead department.


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When an elephant is in trouble even a frog will kick him.