Purpose first, technology second

You don’t need a digital strategy. You need a better strategy, enabled by digital.

—George Westerman, “Your Company Doesn’t Need a Digital Strategy“, MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2018


This is line with what I think. Some people will get a new technology and it becomes the center about which an organization must revolve. “Hey, we bought this thing, now use it so we can justify the expense.” It’s right up there with making your organization revolve around process. “Organization” is intentionally abstract—it’s work, it’s a professional society, it’s a club, it’s home (guilty as charged).

Technology doesn’t provide value to a business. […] Instead, technology’s value comes from doing business differently because technology makes it possible.

There’s a line I put in my LinkedIn profile: “Serve the Purpose, not the Process”. I mean it. It’s the same in this case: serve the purpose, not the technology. If you don’t remember that, you will drift from your own vision of what you want to create in the world and instead start focusing on feeding and watering some thing that you bought. Let’s steal a line from Chuck Palahniuk: “The things you used to own, now they own you.”

INCOSE is awful about this. They invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a website for members and local chapters. And when I say “create for” I also mean that we’re required to use it; no buts. It’s taken them almost a decade and two attempts and it’s still lousy. They selected the technology without, it seems, much input from the users or beneficiaries of it. In the end, it’s hard to use to the point of not wanting to use it—which brings up a question of whether or not to renew that subscription. What is the recourse? Nothing. It becomes embedded in the process of the organization, and in an inflexible organization that process drives your organization instead of being driven by it.

Give me a garage solution that works over a professional solution that doesn’t any day. (That’s garage as in something you make yourself in the garage, not a typo; garbage is garbage, whether you make it in the garage or the lab.) Some of the solutions that come from the bottom have been designed organically to meet a need, and the solution mimics the design of the organization. Fit the technology to needs and it will become a part of the organization instead of the opposite. It won’t be as stylish, but was that the point?


There are some areas where it makes sense. At Mason we invested quite a lot of money in some new test equipment. We needed it. From that point on, the system testing we did on our flight control products had to be tested, and to some extent designed, with this test equipment in mind. (I guess this isn’t exactly the same—we did, after all, design the test equipment to fill a need.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *