I remember being about 12 or 13-years-old the first time I tried to start a band. Just me and a few of friends. Playing our instruments as inoffensively as possible: two guitars, one bass, and my drums.
I was a novice drummer at the time, very little formal training and very flawed technique, banging away to what sorta-kinda sounded like a constant rhythm. I knew what my role in the band was: keep time. Just keep time. But I felt I could do more, so I did. I would add solos and fills where they didn’t belong, just because I was capable of doing it. Well, sorta-kinda.
Looking back, I will gladly accept the title of “weak link” in this band, but my counterparts weren’t much better. One guitarist had an ear for heavy metal, the other for jazz. If you asked them they would both have claimed to be the band’s “lead guitarist.” How cool is that? TWO lead guitarists?! Pretty original, right? Turns out it doesn’t work so well if they’re both out of tune and no one fills the rhythm role. With front-men basking in the blinding limelight of fame, it’s easy for them to overlook the critical components of balance and cohesion that really tie the band into a presentable entity.
Our bassist was a prime candidate to even the band out. He was probably the best musician of all of us: solid technique, decent rhythm, knew his scales. The only problem for us was that he knew he was the best, and resented being relegated to playing the bass. He should have been the one in front of us, playing crowd-pleasing solos on the edge of the stage. Instead, he was back in the corner, begrudgingly nodding his head to the beat while trying to keep my quarter notes in time. Well, for about 15 minutes. Then it was walk downs and bass leads in every song, and there we’d be without structure once again.
At the root of the problem wasn’t our capability, or lack thereof. It was our lack of unity. We had no shared vision, no cohesive mission. We all wanted to be good, famous musicians: but we didn’t know how to be a band. We broke up after three weeks of playing together, which wasn’t even long enough to come up with a name for ourselves.
I tell this random story today, because this seems to be how a lot of IT environments end up functioning. The email, IM, and collaboration teams do their thing, and the application teams responsible for information governance scramble behind them to find cohesion in the midst of regulation, litigation, and efficiency. Every application and tool is striving to provide “rock star” capabilities: the best analytics, best CRM, best enterprise social tools. But like a band with too many lead guitarists, they often fall into the trap of not truly working together as a team.
Like all the greatest bands, an IT department can get lost among the weeds of budget numbers, the introduction of new instruments, and personnel changes. But it’s important to keep your organization’s vision in focus through everything, so you can avoid conversations like the one below:
“Yeah, my ECM touches some SharePoint files and user-selected emails, but I need your help making sure I can export all of User X’s data from 2008 to 2009 to legal by next week.”
“Well I wish I could help you, but my archive has only been in place since 2011. We didn’t migrate the old system into production because it seemed like too much fuss over old, inconsequential data. The legacy team takes care of that and their budget just took a big hit in 2015. But hey, good luck!”
Yes, having the right instruments in place is half the battle – my band would have been even worse if we just had four guitars – but having a unified vision for your applications and your organization is the only thing that’s going to allow you to use them correctly.