Experts and Expertise
In large part the antidote to mastering the complex domain in which decisions
are made is "expertise". Expertise is a critical ingredient in any decision centric
activity. Experts have the insight needed to be able to address the six great
challenges listed in the previous section and because of their experience they
are better equipped to navigate the complex domain within which project decisions
Experts' prior experiences give them the situational awareness needed to be
able to ask the right questions at the right time and the ability to identify
optimal answers. Their depth of understanding reduces the level of uncertainty
associated with the decisions they make and also helps them avoid making too many
mistakes. Those advantages make experts more productive than others and that in
turn can improve the overall project environment by helping to reduce the stress
levels to which the team is exposed.
Of course everyone likes to think of himself or herself as an expert. Pick
up a stack of resumes and you'll find the word used liberally. The problem is
that as an industry the IT sector has generally poorly understood the nature of
expertise, the processes by which it develops and how to recognize it when building
a team. In most practical situations organizations simply measure expertise by
years of experience.
However as those in the trenches are fully aware, the difference in capabilities
between individuals can be significant. Studies on the subject often show a 10 to 1
variance between the most and least capable IT workers.
The net result is that organizations can at times end up with teams whose capabilities
fall short of that required to ensure the success of the project. It is that gap
which provides the tinder from which project failures occur.
In part the problem is structural to the industry. Unlike other professions
that are "decision centric" and "expert" driven, such as medicine, law and engineering,
the IT sector lacks a professional infrastructure that establishes and maintains
levels of professional practice. In the legal and medical professions the barriers
to entry are high and practitioners can be disbarred if their services fail to
meet professional standards. In the IT sector the barriers to entry are low and
there are no professional bodies with any form of real authority. Although various
bodies do offer certification programs for IT professionals, the certifications
in the IT sector are generally toothless and often mean little more than a person
has memorized some material from a book.
Interestingly, other project environments in which the barriers to entry are
low and there are no governance bodies suffer from similar problems as the IT
industry. One example is the home renovation business. With the boom in the housing
market that took place a few years ago there was a corresponding boom in the need
for contractors to do renovations. Again there were no barriers to entry into
the sector and no governing bodies to oversee professional practice. Although
there are good renovation contractors out there, there are also many who lack
the expertise to be doing what they claim they can do. As a result, complaints
about failed renovation projects represent one of the most common complaints reported
to the Better Business Bureau.
So significant is this problem that here in Canada there is a highly successful
television program called Holmes on Homes. In this program, an expert in
home renovation visits the homes of people who have fallen victim to shoddy contractors
and helps them fix up the problems. Given that the show is currently in its 7th season
and runs on networks around the world, it seems that this is an issue that resonates
with many people.
B., et al, Software Cost Estimation with Cocomo II, Addison Wesley, 2000
7. DeMarco, T., & T. Lister, Peopleware: Productive projects and
teams, 2nd edition, Dorset House Publishing, 1999
8. Complaints Statistics, Better Business Bureau, 2008