The welling up of excitement around the idea of acquiring new systems is palpable in companies; the feeling is that action is being taken to move the enterprise forward.  And it’s hard to be the skeptic in the room, but you must, if you are to be a successful manager of technology.

One of your main roles as an official or unofficial manager of technology is to keep asking questions. This has the effect of exposing and testing the initial rationale for a project. For example, in the scenario below let’s say you are the CIO or CEO.

CIO/CEO: What exactly are the benefits of this investment?

Manager: We’ll be able to cut customer order lead time and reduce our on-hand inventory.

CIO/CEO: Great. How?

Manager: The new system will give us real-time visibility of our vendor inventories and plant inventories, and instead of waiting for reports we’ll see our inventory positions and planned production and receipts real-time.

CIO/CEO: So people will be monitoring inventories, planned and actual production 24×7?

Manager: Well, that’s possible, but might not be necessary…

CIO/CEO: How exactly will the order fulfillment and material buying change after the new system is put in?

Manager: As I said, we’ll be able to see the real-time situation, and be able to make better decisions…

CIO/CEO: Yes, but exactly what will change, in terms of process, compared to today, to give us these benefits?

Manager: We’ll be making smarter decisions because of the real-time information and ….

Does this dialogue ring true in terms of how projects are justified? The problem in this hypothetical conversation is that the manager hasn’t thought beyond the basic headline argument that real- time views will make everything better. This should be a danger signal – people have bought into an imagined benefit without proving out to themselves exactly how this benefit will be achieved.

Some other relevant questions in this scenario would be: “Is lack of real-time visibility the only constraint to lower inventories…how will lower inventories translate into real savings besides reducing cash flow…how will you change your decisions about production and will the company be able to execute these changes in production scheduling…when customers miss the order cutoff do they order anyway and take delivery later…?

Asking questions, especially specific ones, quickly changes the conversation from one of vague potential to real-world feasibility.  You will be viewed as a wet blanket, a naysayer, a stick-in-the mud cranky old fashioned Resister to Inevitable Change.

But in positioning yourself in this way you have taken the first steps to successfully managing technology.  Your questions will initiate pragmatic thinking.  They will cause people to stop and consider the realities of what they are proposing.  Reality is a good thing.  You will set in motion a different but important conversation.  Your questions are in effect defining the requirements that the proposal must meet before it can be considered a worthwhile endeavor.