The Importance of Talent in IT

For a little diversion from Cloud Computing, let’s talk about the importance of talent in IT organizations.  Several weeks ago, while talking with a collogue about the Super Bowl game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, our discussion turned to the value of talent.  Player talent is highly valued in sports, but not valued as highly in the world of IT.

In pro-sports, player talent is viewed as a fundamental key asset.  If a player has more talent and gets a few more tackles in a football game; hits more home runs in baseball, or scores more baskets in basketball, than that player’s value can on the field and salary off the field can be many times higher than less talented peers.

Yet in many organizations, the talent of IT software engineers, project managers and architects is commoditized.  A standard bill rate or cost per hour is defined for IT roles and “rate sheets” are developed with published rates for various roles.

The standard rate sheet model assumes that all individuals in a given role produce the same amount of work.  Unfortunately, IT is more of a craft than a factory assembly line and the standard rate models may not be the best model to use.

The same individual talent differences that we observe in sports occur in IT.  Barry Boehm, in his 1981 book “Software Engineering Economics”, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Boehm), found that higher performing software development teams were up to 25 times more productive than lower performing software development teams. This is an astounding difference and one that may play a big part in why so many IT projects fail.

Boehm’s results have been replicated time and time again. More talented software engineers, project managers and architects produce substantially better products, faster and at a much higher productivity level.

I am not sure of all of the reasons why IT talent is commoditized, but one reason may be that we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on IT talent.  Instead, we focus on the latest tool or methodology, versus the talent of the individual using the tool or methodology.

Most professional sports have a large infrastructure of scouts, talent evaluators and minor leagues that try to identify talented players.  Sports also measures performance with every game. Maybe if IT organizations focused on identifying talented software engineers, project managers and software architects, than we would have fewer failed projects, more project successes and individuals in IT who have more talent would be treated as the super stars that they are, just as super star players in sports are treated.

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