DIY Technology Projects: Threat or Menace?

Executives sometimes think they can meet their technology needs more efficiently by circumventing IT. That's almost always a bad idea, but killing ...
Susan CrammJanuary 5, 2012

Smart people can make stupid decisions. Case in point: business executives who decide they can address their technology needs without involving IT, responding to the IT supply-and-demand crunch that afflicts so many enterprises today.

In my experience, nobody wins in these do-it-yourself projects. The executive who sponsors the project puts his or her reputation on the line by promising outcomes dependent on technologies that he or she is ill-equipped to develop, implement, or manage. The IT executive finds him- or herself powerless, relegated to integration and support tasks without having had adequate resources and time allocated for the project. Meanwhile, the CFO watches dollars flying out the window as the budget for ill-conceived and poorly executed initiatives becomes a moving target.

But although it’s tempting to try to redirect a DIY technology initiative and send it back into the arms of IT, that’s usually the wrong thing to do. Invariably, the IT executive will try, but fail, to address the technology needs of the now very grumpy executive. The very grumpy executive will blame his or her function’s performance issues on the lack of the necessary technology to support the unit’s plans. And the CFO will discover that it costs more to stop a DIY project (while trying to satisfy the requirements of the ever-grumpier executive) than it does to let it go forward subject to agreements with the executive to operate within newly defined guardrails regarding costs, benefits, and timing.

Drive Business Strategy and Growth

Drive Business Strategy and Growth

Learn how NetSuite Financial Management allows you to quickly and easily model what-if scenarios and generate reports.

Once begun, DIY projects take on a life of their own and it’s in the best interests of all involved to make the best of a bad situation. IT should heed the advice of one wise CIO and treat the projects as a “great opportunity to partner, change their organization and save everyone’s job” by supporting the initiative and improving the way future project priorities are defined and the speed at which technology is delivered. And CFOs should snatch (at least a little) victory from the jaws of defeat by holding the business executive accountable for delivering performance improvements enabled by the new technology.

The only way to prevent DIY projects from emerging in the first place is to set up a situation in which business leaders would never consider going rogue — by pursuing low-priority initiatives and/or contracting directly with an external IT provider. As CFO, you should partner with your CIO to:

1) Sponsor an IT prioritization process in which business leaders can get to weigh in and have their voices heard. Once decisions are made, however, everyone is expected to buy in.

2) Ensure that IT operates as a “one-stop shop” (by brokering internal as well as external technology solutions and delivery approaches), and stipulate that IT-related procurement decisions require IT approval.

While it’s a given that smart people at times make stupid decisions, they rarely embark on courses of action that run counter to their best interests. DIY projects are a symptom of enterprise incentives and capabilities gone awry. Help your smart people make smarter IT decisions by learning from — not stopping — DIY projects.

Susan Cramm is an executive coach and president of Valuedance, an executive coaching and leadership development firm specializing in information technology. She is a former CIO and CFO, and is the author of The 8 Things We Hate About IT: How to Move Beyond the Frustrations to Form a New Partnership with IT (Harvard Press). Susan can be reached at