Leadership

The 10 biggest mistakes IT managers make

Certain common IT management mistakes can make you less effective, hamper your career advancement, and even jeopardize your job. Executive coach Joey Smith has spent years working with IT management and he put together this list of the mistakes he's seen most often.

Certain common IT management mistakes can make you less effective, hamper your career advancement, and even jeopardize your job. Executive coach Joey Smith has spent years working with IT management and he put together this list of the mistakes he's seen most often.


Working with IT managers on a regular basis allows me to see some great management styles and some really poor ones. On the lower end of the scale, I see IT managers make 10 major mistakes fairly often. Some of these errors have even cost some managers their jobs.

Note: This list is based on the article The top ten IT management mistakes and how to avoid them. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Focusing on technology and not the business

The typical IT manager comes from a technical background in either infrastructure or development. Based on their technical roots, they tend to focus their efforts in their expertise when in fact they should be looking for ways to support, enable, and improve the business. To be successful, IT managers must become business leaders and turn their focus and expertise to business issues and problems first.

2: Thinking "out of sight is out of mind"

It's important to remember that in IT, no news is not good news. IT managers tend to trudge along without ever looking at their progress. The most powerful task you could ever do is an assessment. There are several ways to do this. You can do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis or you can do a full-blown formal IT assessment. You might even use a scorecard system to track where you are as a department. You can download a free scorecard developed specifically for this purpose.

3: Thinking that your team has it covered

In the TV show The Apprentice, so many teams ended up in the boardroom because the leader delegated a job but didn't follow up to make sure it was done right. Following up is not micromanagement. It's your job as a leader to ensure that the task gets done correctly.

4: Not inspecting what you expect

This mistake has its roots in mistake number 3 but can be carried forward into other aspects of IT. For instance, you could possibly expect great performance out of your servers but may not have a system to make sure they're running at peak capacity. This ultimately leads to poor planning, budgeting, staffing, etc. If you want to avoid this common pitfall, make a comprehensive list of expectations for your entire department. This could include critical projects, network and server performance, client satisfaction, etc. Double-check the list to make sure you are inspecting all expectations on a regular basis. Keep a checklist or develop a daily disciplines worksheet to follow everything that needs daily inspection.

5: Not creating a partnership with business management

I find a great deal of IT managers reporting to operations and finance personnel instead of presidents and CEOs. The only way IT can be an effective and strategic element to business is through partnership with business executives. You must lead and influence your reports, peers, and leaders to have a maximum impact on the organization. The quicker you can get on the leadership team, the quicker you will have the ability to execute on number 1.

6: Burning yourself out

I can't tell you how many IT managers I coach who have not had vacations in a year or longer and routinely work more than 70 hours per week. This is not only a mistake, but it's a formula for disaster. Sometimes the thinking is that your business can't live without you. The truth is, your business cannot live with you burning yourself out. It only leads to lowered productivity and, eventually, your giving up or getting disgruntled. Do yourself, your business, your employees, and your family a favor and take some time off.

7: Not testing your backup solution

I always tell my new IT managers that one of the most important aspects of their jobs is ensuring a reliable backup. Breakdowns in technology hardware are inevitable. The next best thing is fault tolerance, but I have even seen that fail. Don't think for a minute that if you have tapes and if everything looks okay in your system that everything is okay. Make sure you test backups regularly. Do test disasters and make sure you can recover.

8: Not asking for help

Too often, I've seen costly mistakes made by managers and technicians who try to solve an issue alone without informing anyone or even reading the manual. This is a costly mistake. If you get in over your head, do the right thing and seek help. The key to successful IT management is not knowing the right answers; it's being able to find them and execute a solution as quickly and cost effectively as possible. Don't hesitate to bring in the experts where necessary.

9: Not devoting time to personal development

There's no excuse for this mistake. Personal development is not your company's responsibility -- it's yours. I can always tell a person's success potential by the last five books they've read and by the seminars they attend. Every IT manager should be devoting at least 30 minutes a day to personal development. The truly successful devote even more -- in some cases, upwards of two hours or more per day. The most common excuse I hear is the lack of time or money. The answer lies in the successful management of money and time.

10: Not finding a mentor or coach

The quickest route to success is to find someone who has been there and then emulate that person. The quickest road to pain, hardship, and failure is to go the journey alone. Whether you're in management or not, you should always have a mentor or coach and you should always be mentoring or coaching someone else. A coach will help you achieve more than you could by yourself by imparting wisdom, accountability, and crucial advice where necessary. By coaching or mentoring someone else, you're doing the same, but you're also solidifying your own concepts by teaching them to others.


Sound familiar?

Have you found yourself falling into one or more of these traps? Are there any other mistakes you've made -- or seen other IT managers make?

7 comments
1av8r
1av8r

My first and biggest mistake was not having a good mentor. A good mentor will help you avoid the other pitfalls.

jck
jck

Not backing up their peoples' professional input to a situation. Nothing worse a manager can do than go into a meeting with the results of their competent staff, and just turn over like a cheap hooker in a meeting of their peers. When you have an IT staff that is good at what they do, you go in there and defend them to scrutiny. I've seen too many managers just go into a meeting, and when told "we don't have the budget" for something their staff says is needed, they just roll over and tell their staff "we just have to do" instead of telling management "if you want to take that risk, then the consequences are on you". But that's a problem with non-IT management: thinking fiscal equilibrium = IT security/stability.

YetAnotherTechie
YetAnotherTechie

Devote up to 2 hours per day to personal development?? That's a dream! Managing time and money is a factor alright, but sometimes workload given from above just will not allow anywhere near that no matter how good a manager you are.

LarryD4
LarryD4

Good honest hard facts about IT Managers. Its just a shame that ego and attitude get in the way.

davidt
davidt

Too often I let the business-convergence side of IT go slack while concentrating on the technical side. This was a wake-up note for me, once again.

bdbailey.law
bdbailey.law

I know that we've all been told to separate work and home life and achieve balance. But, what do you like to do in your down time? You can read professional literature while spending time on a treadmill or stationary bike at the gym or home. Instead of cruising over to ESPN.com during your down time, grab something out of that pile of tech mags on your desk. Or start cleaning out all that stuff in your RSS reader that pertain to your career. Go in a little early, or stay a little late.

callen
callen

Most of my professional development comes from listening to podcast. I have the commute to work, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, even when I am sitting in the office working on a project. You can get technical, industry, and managerial podcast that help out. (Manager Tools is fantastic). Also, reading books and magazines and RSS feeds when I need a break from something that I am working on. It doesn't have to come all at once. And If you execute some of the things you learn, you will find that that you have more time because you are working better, smarter, and faster.