Copyright © 2012-20 Prem Kamble
Managers Don't Need IT Skills
- They Need Behavioral IT® Skills

Summary:  Behavioral IT® is a new term coined by Prem Kamble. It is important for all Managers, particularly CEOs, CXOs and Department Heads. What is Behavioural IT? Is it a new field of study within IT, or is it a skill? Well, it is both, argues Prem Kamble. Managers can heave a sigh of relief as they really don't need to know IT. Managers need to know Behavioral IT. They need not harbor that inherent fear of IT, nor the painful thought "I do not know IT".

Behavioral ITŪ is a study of behavioral aspects of participants and stake holders in an IT Implementation that can make a difference between success and failure of the project in any company. Alternately, Behavioral ITŪ skills are the skills required by all managers to manage people and processes impacted by rapid IT-Driven Change.

Click on Related Articles to see many more articles and research papers on Behavioral IT®


This is the first of a series of articles and research papers on Behavioral IT®. Click on Related Articles to see many more.

"Behavioral Finance" and "Behavioral Economics" are relatively new topics of study in the areas of Finance and Economics respectively. They explore the impact of human behavior and psychology on decisions like investment and spending. There is a scope for a whole new area of study and research which I call "Behavioral IT". Information Technology or IT is not all technology. People are an important part of this technology game. It is very well understood that software development is a people intensive activity unlike a manufacturing activity where machines are involved. But what is not very well appreciated is the role that people at all levels of an organization play during the implementation of software, a step which is the last mile without which no IT activity can be complete. Implementation impacts much larger groups of people as software gets rolled out to reach all the users in the company. Attitudes, mindset, beliefs, misconceptions, fears and behavior of people at all levels play a significant role in the success and failure of this phase of an IT project.

IT is the primary driver of change in businesses today. And people naturally and strongly resist change. Behavioral IT® is a study of behavioural aspects of participants and stake holders in an IT Implementation that can make a difference between success and failure of the project in any company. Alternately, Behavioral IT® skills are the skills required by all managers to manage people and processes impacted by rapid IT-Driven Change.

Before I put up this first article on Behavioral IT on my website, I did a google search on "Behavioral IT" to check if anyone had defined this term. I did not find any relevant entry (See the Google output here). Now (Nov 2012), my page (this page you are reading) shows up as the first entry in google search output. In fact this is the only relevant entry as all other entries do not exactly match the search term "Behavioral IT". It appears that no one has used or defined this term.

Click here to see the Google search output before and after I uploaded this article.

If I am the first to use this term, it becomes my responsibility to define this term as clearly as possible. So let me try to define it in this article. Though I have been working and writing on this topic for long, I have not christened it "Behavioral IT" so far. Being my first penned thoughts on defining this term, they may be incomplete and to some extent unstructured. I am sure a more precise definition will evolve as I refine this article, hopefully with the help of useful comments and feedback from you, the reader.


Whereas there is enough emphasis so far on the behavioral issues in the software development process, what has been relatively ignored is what typically gets left out in most IT projects - the last mile, i.e., the actual transition from the old system to the new computerized system. We call it the implementation and user acceptance of the new system. In an IT project, the last mile is the most important and most difficult part of the journey. This last step is important because a failure at this stage would obviously imply a higher loss of resources and time, having spent the time and resources already on the development of the IT project. Usually the maximum number of people are involved in the IT project during implementation. Moreover, the maximum variety of people (right from clerical and executive level to CEOs) are involved during this phase. A failure at this stage implies higher stress and lower morale for maximum number of people.

Unfortunately, most IT Professionals lack the skill to see a project through the last mile. They are comfortable doing all the technical preparatory work for IT projects in the cool comforts of their offices, but fail miserably when it comes to implementing systems in the tense, heated environment of vested interests, personal preferences and rigid mental-emotional make-up of people reeling under the impact of IT-driven change.

Behavioral aspects are very important in the implementation phase not simply because more people are involved, but because people are expected to do what they resist most, i.e. change their way of working. People naturally resist change and complex behavioral patterns come to surface, which the IT Transition manager or Implementer has to overcome to succeed. It involves people's attitudes, fears, dogmas, mental paradigms, misconceptions, resistance to change and various human character traits. A software solution may look excellent when demonstrated on the computer screen. But if is not accepted and adopted by the end users, all the effort, time and money spent on the project is wasted. And the wastage is huge, looking at the amount of unimplemented systems in companies and over 70% failures in ERP implementations.

I did an extensive search on the web on people issues of IT. Most of the papers written so far deal with Human Computer Interface, Interface design, collaboration, people issues in software development, etc. (and of late, on the impact of social media on people's behavior). If at all behavioral aspects have been studied in IT, they are with respect to two main areas of IT - behavioral issues in software development phase or development project management, and behavioral aspects in man-machine interface. There is very little work done on behavioral issues during the Implementation phase. Whereas researchers have gone as far as neuro science to localize the functionality of the brain areas that impact Technology Adoption (a field of study called NeuroIT), not much research is done on the behavioral aspects that are at play during the most people-centric stage of IT project, that is, the stage of IT implementation.

Behavioral IT

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Though Behavioral IT can be used to cover human behavioral issues impacting all people aspects of IT listed above, we need to emphasize on the Implementation phase of IT project while defining Behavioral IT because of aforesaid reasons.

I would therefore define Behavioral IT as Behavioral aspects of IT driven transitions, particularly the stage of implementation when there is maximum people involvement and also maximum project risk due to behavioral traits, attitudes and fears of people. This is the stage when people's behavior is most unpredictable as they are in the most uncomfortable and vulnerable state - that of change. Change causes considerable stress, and the implementation stage is the stage of nailing the change (and hence the stage of maximum upheaval and turmoil).

Behavioral IT needs to examine and understand the impact of IT-Driven change on the behavior of people, and use it to ensure the success of IT project implementations. This would include people's attitude, mindset, beliefs, mental-conditioning, concepts and misconceptions about IT and the impact of all these people related issues in the success or failure of IT Driven change. This also includes a typical behavioral pattern of humans which I call "Living in the Past Syndrome". Simply put, in this context it means that we are still in the industrial age mentally though physically we live in the information age.

Not much study is available on this topic, though I believe that this topic needs greater attention. Most of the IT projects fail today not because of technical issues, but because of behavioral issues and people issues. With failure rates in IT projects as high as 70-80%, it is important that this area gets its due attention. There is immense loss of money, time and opportunity, not to mention the high stress and productivity loss in employees due to IT projects.

Behavioral aspects of human being have been applied in the field of IT in limited areas like Software Project Management, Human Computer Interface (HCI), user-interface design, etc. Not much research has been done on the behavioral aspects of people reeling under the impact of IT-Driven change and its impact on success or failure of IT project implementations.

Definition of Behavioral IT

Behavioral IT as an Essential Managerial Skill

Behavioral IT is a special skill essential for all managers to succeed in this IT Driven world. Managers don't need to know IT, they only need to know Behavioral IT. Behavioral IT provides an avenue for managers to acquire just the right IT skills which they need, without knowing technology. Behavioral IT as a skill is discussed in this article.

Behavioral IT Framework of Implementation

Behavioral IT can be defined as a field of IT that proposes people-based theories to study the causes of success and failure of Software implementation projects. Within Behavioral IT, it is assumed that the success or failure of IT projects do not merely depend on the technical issues as is commonly believed, but largely due to people's attitude, mindset, beliefs, mental conditioning, concepts and misconceptions about IT. Hence a Framework can be developed with focus on people to successfully implement IT projects. I call it the "Behavioral IT Framework of IT and ERP Success". This Framework is not included in this article and is described separately in another article. (Click here to read)

Understanding "Behavioral IT" Skills

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A good way to understand "Behavioral IT" is to look at the typical behavior or traits of managers who display "Behavioral IT Skills" in contrast to managers who do not have the same skills. Knowledge of Behavioral IT, in fact, is the key to personal success of all managers. Behavioral IT skills are particularly important for Department Heads and CEOs who are the primary drivers of change in IT Projects.

Department Heads/ Managers with Behavioral IT Skills:

  • Team up well with the IT folks 
  • Understand the capabilities and limitations of not only IT, but also of IT folks to get the best out of both
  • Understand their own key role that they play in driving change during the transition process and don't just leave everything to IT departments
  • Recognize the demands of technology and are ready to collaborate with IT folks
  • Successfully manage within their department the natural resistance to IT-Driven change during implementation
  • Understand that turmoil and turbulence are imminent during the implementation phase and are well prepared to handle the transition with maturity
  • Ensure successful implementation and thus reap the benefits of IT to improve processes in their own department
  • Are less stressed as they have the right information and control 
  • Are most likely to grow in the organization 

Department Heads/ Managers who lack Behavioral IT skills

  • Keep complaining. "These IT folks just don't understand my business"
  • Are more concerned about saving their skin just in the eventuality that the project fails
  • Ask for the moon and then complain that IT folks can't satisfy their requirements
  • Don't use most of the features having asked for very advanced features in the system
  • Are shocked to know that IT is not all that smooth sailing as they expected (particularly during the implementation phase)
  • Keep asking for changes and expect that their demands for changes should be immediately met
  • Do not understand the demands of technology and keep wondering "why can't the IT folks do such simple things when they have such a powerful tool"
  • Get worked up due to the complaints and restlessness of their subordinates as they struggle to cope up with the change. Immediately start pointing fingers at IT.
  • Do not understand their own key role of driving and managing the change within their department. They think everything about IT is IT department responsibility.
  • Fail miserably in the implementation or IT transition phase and start the blame game

The same is true for CEOs.

Behavioral IT aware CEOs:

  • Understand that IT implementations almost create an upheaval and ensure that IT and the user department heads work as a team during this difficult time.
  • They ensure that the situation as described above for the non-aware manager does not arise.
  • They understand that IT implementation is not all technology, but a people and change management game.
  • They understand their own key role in steering and driving this change.
  • They do not over-react to complaints and counter-allegations during the turbulent phase of implementation knowing pretty well that people's frustrations are more due to change rather than real technical issues. (read a real story of a mature CEO in my blog "The Best and the Worst CEOs for Computerization").
  • They will not hesitate to personally oversee the IT implementation.

CEOs who are not Behavioral IT aware:

  • Avoid active participation in IT implementation and delegate it to COOs or CFOs.
  • Do not appreciate that IT Implementation is highly collaborative activity involving not only active participation from IT and user department, but active involvement from the CEO too.
  • Over react to complaints from user departments. For every issue reported, they think technology is the problem and start blaming IT department.

The Way Forward

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Since not much work has been done in this important aspect of IT, it is important to start with educating senior management on Behavioral IT and its importance in the success of IT Projects. Behavioral IT skills are required by all managers, irrespective of their function, as all managers need to use IT to speed and streamline their processes. Behavioral IT skills are also required by CEOs and Heads of departments, because they play key roles in the success or failure of an IT project. It is an irony that most seminars and courses on Change Management do not even touch upon managing IT-Driven change, which is the primary driver of change today. With this need in mind, some seminars have been designed for senior managers. Please click here to see more details about these seminars.

It is important that this skill is imparted right at the entry stage or at management education stage so that young managers enter the corporate world equipped to manage people behavior under IT-Driven Change. Hence, it is recommended that courses on Behavioral IT be introduced in the management curriculum. A course on Behavioral IT has been designed for MBA students, which could well be the first of its kind in the world! This course has been delivered at IIM, Indore. Click here for details of the course or write to me for details.

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(Keywords: Behavioral IT,Computer,Implementation,IT Best Practices,Infotech,CIO,People Issues in IT,Human aspects of IT,Psychology of Change,Software Professional,Psychology,Behavioural IT,Behavioral aspects of Information Systems,IT management,Change Management,Prem Kamble)

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