Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Taking Stock of 2013: Part I: IT Leadership

A year ago I blogged about my 2013 goals – business intelligence, ongoing delivery of projects, becoming more engaged with my team, adopting Agile/Scrum. If you told me then that I would leave my wonderful team for a brand-new challenge leading Harvard’s Student Information System implementation program, I’d have called you crazy. And yes, I knew the project was on the horizon. Yet on May 1st I officially began life as the Managing Director of the Harvard SIS Program.

This is an unbelievably difficult undertaking – far more complex than someone outside higher education or lacking Harvard context could probably understand. Nothing quite so vast and unwieldy as the HealthCare.gov clusterfuck, but there are enough similarities that I’ve been keeping careful track of the publicized failure points – inadequate testing, system-to-system integration points, internal/external politics – to make sure we avoid them. Yet it is also a truly remarkable opportunity to improve the experience for students, advisors, faculty, and administrators… It has been amazing to learn how things are done today, the struggles with accessing relevant information, the proliferation of shadow databases to overcome limitations, and the appetite for almost anything that improves the current state. "I just want something that works" said one future user, although I know that expectations are far higher than that – it is Harvard, after all. 

I tried to leave my former department in the best shape possible, though there have been more situations than I can count on two hands where I chastised myself for missing the mark. We did secure funding for three major projects back in the spring, so that was good. And I was still there to see us close out several other successful projects – all credit to the teams. Thanks to sharing a Confluence portal, I can still pay attention to what’s happening amongst my old colleagues – and only occasionally chiming in (a bit voice-from-the-grave for some folks, I bet) with kudos and remarks. But I still feel awful about a few things that got lost in the shuffle during my transition.

My new student information systems team began life as a single node on a virgin organization chart. Fast-forward to our holiday party three weeks ago – nearly forty people playing at Yankee Swap. Of all my accomplishments for the year, that’s definitely the greatest – though most of the credit belongs with our superb recruitment lead, all I do is interview, collect feedback, and make the yay/nay call. This team is poised for greatness; it will take every ounce of greatness to pull this thing off… But we can defer that topic to a future blog on 2014 goals. 

Beyond mustering the troops and the far-from-trivial task of securing the funds necessary for this endeavor, we made real headway on delivery. We completed in-depth requirements discussion and began application design and configuration. We completed several rounds of Scrum/Agile training and launched multiple teams to operate under those principles. We initiated usability research to support the design of an advisor/faculty portal. We moved into our permanent (3+ years) office space and I learned more than I wished to know about office furniture pricing. And we have a solid plan in place for going live with the first major components of the system in November 2014. (Though it frightens me to put that on the Internet).

From a more personal standpoint, I continued to learn a lot – still dabbling with OBIEE, immersing myself in Scrum, learning the details of PeopleSoft Campus Solutions (student systems I know, but it had been ten years since I’d seen Campus Solutions), implementing Salesforce for project management, and becoming fluent in the tenets and vocabulary of “User Experience” (UX). I learned a great deal from things that didn’t go as planned – OBIEE adoption in my old department, my first draft of the SIS project funding model, the first three attempted approaches to engaging school subject matter experts for SIS – to name three from a much longer list. We urge our people to embrace risk-taking so they can learn from fast failures and I can certainly say that I've modeled that behavior. For example, I feel so much more confident about my second attempt at mobilizing Scrum teams after realizing all the things I screwed up last time!

Overall, 2013 was a good year for me as an IT leader, but not a great one. There was just too much turmoil – I look forward to a more coordinated (though no less fast-paced) in 2014!


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