Sunday, December 4, 2011

Part 12 - When your logic fails, trust a hunch.

(This is part 12 in a series of 16 posts about IT leadership in higher education titled 
Everything I Need to Know about IT Management I Learned from Star Trek. See Part 0 - Introduction for the full list.)

By observing Star Trek's Captain Kirk we inevitably learn that when your logic fails, trust a hunch. This is great advice for IT leaders when fixing stubborn problems. But you need to take it to the next level. You should always make decisions in three places: your head, your heart, and your stomach. The head is logic. The heart is emotion. The stomach is intuition (“gut” feeling). All three must be aligned and in agreement.

Now here’s the part that bugs IT folks: logic is not enough. Getting comfortable tapping into all three of these decision-making inputs is tough for IT folks who are typically completely reliant on logic, day-in and day-out, to solve computer problems. But leadership is very different. You never have all the information at your fingertips. You usually have shades of grey. That is where emotion and intuition come into play.

I had an interesting decision to make several years ago. I worked in a university where the learning management system (LMS) strategy was inadvertently “one of each.” We had major implementations of six different products across campus. It seemed like every department had it own favourite and we had one of every possible learning management systems available. Needless to say, it was a very expensive situation and no one appeared willing to compromise.

However, I noticed we had some pockets of strong support for a particular open source product. I also had someone on my team who was excited about championing that product. We did our homework and our best guess was that this product looked like a winner. It seemed to be getting more popular throughout the industry and the product looked like it was pulling away from the pack, but only a little bit at the time. There were concerns. It was open source software and there were a number of risks and unknowns associated with that type of product at the time. I was also nervous because we didn’t have a lot of experience in this area. On the other hand, the vendor support for from our largest proprietary LMS vendor was disastrous and we needed another solution.

In summary, my head said: “we are seeing a trend, but nothing definitive.” My heart said: “there are a lot of people I trust who are advocates.” My gut said: “we need to do something now.” Putting it all together, my hunch was: let’s invest in the open source system. So we bought a server, gave my product zealot a full time job, and launched a pilot with 15 courses. Within 2 years we had 400 courses on the new system – more than any other LMS on campus! Plus, the total number of LMS supported courses grew by 50%. This meant faculty were not only adapting quickly to the new system, but more faculty were generally willing to use an IT tool to enhance teaching of their courses. By the end of 3 years we had nearly 1,000 courses on the new system. The total number of LMS enhanced courses grew dramatically and many LMS users voted with their feet by moving to the new system.

This original “hunch” led the university to recognize the need to move from the old “one of each” strategy. By the fourth year, the user community chose to make the new system the standard learning management system on campus. We had moved from "one of each" to one.

In any decision, you need to make sure your head, your heart, and your stomach are all telling you the same story. Then trust your hunch, invest in it, and support it!

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