This information is also available as a PDF download.
IT managers can easily get caught up in day-to-day operations and activities and lose sight of important management behaviors. Whether you're a new or seasoned manager, the following suggestions can help you be a great IT manager.
#1: Spend time (and money) developing your people
IT is a constantly changing field, and many IT workers love to learn about new and improving technologies. For many, learning is not just enjoyable, but is necessary to do the best job possible. IT Managers should budget for training and development and encourage staff to participate in events whenever possible. If your budget is tight, explore free regional presentations and workshops, set up in-house training, and get creative with your development dollars. Don't forget about cross-training exercises as well. Even in a large IT group, there are jobs that only one person does routinely. Make sure others know what to do if that person is suddenly gone for an extended period.
#2: Get to know what your staff really does
Although you don't need to master every task your staff handles (see the next item), you should understand your staff's normal work routine. Familiarize yourself with each person's responsibilities, if you aren't already. Ask team members to explain and demonstrate important tasks — such as data backups.
I once had an existing IT employee transferred to my sub-group. Immediately after the transfer, I began working with the individual to learn his job role.One month after the transfer, during a key production period, the employee suffered simultaneous tragedies — a parent died and the employee developed pneumonia. With no direct backup, I jump in and accomplished the job with the knowledge I had learned during the first month and a great deal of help from others. As a result, I gained a great deal of respect from the employee, who had previously suffered negative experiences with management. Understanding what your staff does not only increases their level of respect for you, but it also makes you more credible as a manager when faced with difficult situations or decisions.
#3: Don't do it for them
If you move from an "in the trenches" IT worker to a management role, avoid the tendency to take the reins too quickly. Your knowledge and skill level may exceed your employees', but you must help your staff learn and grow. There is a fine line between coaching and doing. A good manager will know the difference.
While there may be an initial training period where you are more involved in doing the day-to-day work, use appropriate delegation and training strategies to move the work into your staff's capable hands. If you are new to delegation procedures, read "New managers must learn what and how to delegate."
#4: Know the business and make sure they know you
It is almost a cliché, but all IT managers must understand the business they support and use this understanding to build services and infrastructure that support business goals. You should also show your direct reports how their work affects overall business goals and ensure that business administrators understand what IT does for them. Showcase your department's activities through annual reports, regular communications, and frequent project updates.
#5: Treat communication as a busy, fast-moving, two-way street
Information is not a limited commodity to hold. It should flow freely and easily between management and workers. If you sense that you are not getting important information, consider ways to increase communication. Likewise, don't hoard information, unless it is confidential. What seems irrelevant to you may be highly relevant for someone else. Reward information sharing between your direct reports.
#6: Encourage everyone to work as a team
The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Encouraging collaboration and teamwork helps remove silo-like isolation that often occurs in technical organizations. Cross-functional teams are extremely important because small changes in one area can have significant ripple impact across other IT units. Reward efforts that allow for collaboration and develop an environment where workers can feel comfortable asking for and giving assistance to one another. Frustrations often result when one team member knows something that others spend hours working to resolve. Teamwork will fuel your communication vehicle.
#7: Provide feedback regularly and let employees know what you want
Some IT jobs make people feel like islands. They work on a project or assignment independently and may not regularly interact with their manager or co-workers. Be sure your staff knows what they are doing well and what needs improvement. These can be casual conversations, formal performance reviews, or public praise events. Check out "Performance evaluations: More gain with less pain."
If someone isn't living up to expectations, be sure that person knows what those expectations are. Staff members may not realize that the assignment you gave them last week was a priority item for a high profile project. Be clear and direct when making assignments. When employees finish a job, make sure they know how pleased you are with the work they did. Geeks need love too!
#8: Hire well
If you have never hired before, ask for assistance and do your homework. Hiring poorly can be more costly than not hiring at all. Technical skills are only a small piece of the puzzle. You should know if a person will integrate well with the team. It may also help to get your team involved in the hiring process, when it's appropriate and allowed. Your staff can help you determine whether the applicant relates well to others and has the appropriate soft skills. See "Seven signs that a job candidate won't work out."
#9: Understand best IT practices but don't just make them buzz words
Learn and understand the best practices that apply to your environment and measure yourself and your department against them. Explore ITIL and determine whether you should implement at least portions of it in your department. Ensure your disaster recovery plan is up to date and ready for action. Perform regular security assessments. Proceed with caution, however; throwing around buzzwords won't gain you any clout. You must truly understand the ideas and their application to your environment. Then, plan and implement appropriate related changes.
#10: Be a good project manager
Did your last project suffer scope creep? Most projects, particularly IT ones, don't fail because the project itself was bad. Most failures are a result of weak project management. If you haven't had any formal project management training, find and invest in a good program. Read and utilize resources like these downloads:
- Build a foundation for project success with this definition template
- Master these 10 processes to sharpen your project management skills
- 10 things you should know about managing IT projects
Don't fall into the trap of thinking that simply by having regular meetings, you are managing the project. And since IT usually has more projects than people, be sure to train lead workers with basic project management skills so you can delegate specific aspects of the project or even entire projects to their control.