Leadership optimize

A technology manager's manifesto

Scott Lowe says many of today's businesses are incapable of keeping up and it's not all IT's fault. Here is his five-point manifesto.

One definition of the word manifesto indicates that such declarations can be related to life stances.

"A person's life stance, or lifestance, is their relation with what they accept as being of ultimate importance, the presuppositions and theory of this, and the commitments and practice of working it out in living." - Wikipedia

The world is changing and many of today's business are not capable of keeping up and I have some ideas why... and it's not all IT's fault.

Here is my five-point manifesto.

1. Take some responsibility for your own professional development

"But no one has trained me how to do that yet."

I am a big believer in professional development, but there comes a time when basic skills needs to be kept current.  These days, moving to a new version of Windows or Office shouldn't require weeks and weeks of intensive training.  To me, the consumerization of IT can work in both directions; IT will need to adjust and adapt, but that also means that, in these kinds of organizations, the general user base will need to ante up.

On this front, I have one major pet peeve: An employee that constantly complains that they have not been provided with the training necessary to do a job but that regularly ignores outreach attempts to correct the situation.

2. No, it's not IT's fault

Yes, your computer locked up and you lost 30 minutes of work.  Yes, your project is behind.  But... it's not always IT's fault.  It may become IT's fault when a computer has constant problems and IT fails to correct it, but it very well could be user behavior.  In many organizations, users still have administrative rights to their local desktop - with good reason - so they have to be careful about what they do; if they browse somewhere wrong, it an spell trouble.  In this case, users do need to be educated about safe browsing habits.

On projects for which IT is involved, it's really easy and pretty popular to throw IT under the proverbial bus in a CYA effort for the "business side" of a project.  However, both sides of the equation need to work together for success, not simply blame one another for failure.  Once the blame cycle is avoided, great things can happen.

It's surprisingly difficult to get out of the blame cycle.  It requires strong organizational leadership.

3. You're not our "customer"

I'll admit that I used to think of all of the people that IT supports as customers but lo longer.  The age old maxim "the customer is always right" simply doesn't hold and the word itself implies that people should get whatever they ask for.

IT resources should be as carefully shepherded as an organization's financial resources.  And, we all know that, when asking for money, we often get No as an answer because the proposed expenditure doesn't have a return or doesn't align with business goals.  Given the way that direct financial resources are allocated, why in the world would expensive IT resources be spent on people's whims?  Obviously, this doesn't give IT carte blanche ability to say no to critical items.

Rather than thinking about the people IT serves as customers, they should be considered coworkers or fellow employees.  In an ideal world, a different take on the terminology would help close the perceived gap between IT and other business units - and, yes, IT is a business unit.

4. Business... make an attempt to "get us"

I've read dozens of articles recently about how IT needs to change its thinking to be more like the business.  I fully agree; IT can't think in terms of bits and bytes, routers and switches, but must think about the bottom line and business impact of the services provided.

However, it can't be a one way street or it simply builds mistrust, skewed power positions and resentment.  I believe this is partially why there is a constant perception of so-called alignment issues.

IT needs to think about how each individual business function works, but each function should have at least some semblance of an appreciation for what it takes to run a complex technology organization.  I've been told recently that "no one cares what IT does behind the scenes."  But, guess what?  None of it is behind the scenes.  The core infrastructure is used by each and every employee.  Backups and recoveries keep the business running even when disaster strikes.

The list of what many people consider behind the scenes goes on and on, but IT should not be in the spotlight only when someone wants to play the blame game or when a high profile project does go bad.

I propose a meet in the middle compromise somewhere.  All executives need to have at least some idea of what IT does so there is a shared understanding for the value (or, in some cases, the lack thereof) and better plans and relationships can be built.

5. Hey everybody, we're not Burger King!

First of all, we don't have a creepy mascot stalking around dressed like a circus monarch.  But, beyond that, IT shouldn't be seen as nothing more than a team of order takers.  If that's happening in your organization, there is a leadership failure happening somewhere... and it might not be the CIO, who wields only so much authority in the organization.

The IT team should be seen as partners in business, able to do more than insert widget X into slot Y as per so-and-so's instructions.  In some cases, IT may not be able to build exactly what a user has asked for due to limitations in legacy systems that have to be respected.  In those cases, there needs to be a reality check and processes may need to be modified to meet system needs rather than business ones.

I'm not suggesting that companies become slaves to their software, but I am suggesting that everyone take a healthy inventory of system capabilities and limitations and make educated decisions about how to go about achieving goals in ways that don't create a massive long-term support burden.

Summary

Here's what I'm saying throughout this piece: Let's figure out better ways to meet in the middle.  Too often, pundits berate IT for not going all the way to one side and IT berates the business for not coming to their side.  What is not taken into consideration in many cases is this: There are no sides, at least in a well-run organization with reasonable people.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

15 comments
jdemersseman
jdemersseman

JPetel, I'm not sure if we read the same article. Based on your reaction, it seems to me that you're reading into the text things that weren't said. Yes, of course companies have IT departments to support the business and not the other way around, and we do need to bear that in mind and yes, we don't get to do the fun stuff all the time or even most of the time. Scott didn't say anything to the contrary. His "This isn't Burger King" comment had nothing to do with BYOT, it had to do with users making demands that things be done a certain way without taking other factors into account, first, technology constraints, second, other business requirements. Nobody gets to have everything there way all the time. That's simply a reality check. The other and more important point that you missed is the point about finite resources. We cannot be all things to all people all the time. If I look at the resources at my disposal, the projects that have been laid out by the business through governance, the maintenance required by our existing systems, and the requests that we get from users and apply budgetary principles I don't have the resources required to do everything. So looking at everyone in the business as a customer is going to create contention that is unnecessary and harmful to the strategic goals of the company. We get a lot of stealth projects submitted by PM's in operations and mid-level managers as service requests. If I took a git 'r done attitude for all of these I would not have resources left to address the items that the executive level has identified as a priority. So instead those projects are promptly sent to governance for review not treated as a priority no matter how much some operations manager may stomp and fume. There is no easy button. Finally, why is unreasonable to assume that if management is supposed to have a fundamental grasp of the other major service organizations in a company (finance, HR, and legal) that they not have a fundamental grasp of major IT functions? IT isn't new anymore. There are few if any companies that don't have some dependence on technology. If I need to go to a legal seminar or an HR seminar, should they need to go to an IT seminar every once in a while? Please don't misunderstand. I'm talking 60,000' stuff not bits and bytes. Here's an example. I direct infrastructure. There's a director in another country who oversees AppDev and PM. We are both staff constricted. This summer I lost one of three of my system administrations suddenly due to an injury at a crunch time for the business. Our firm's finance director seriously asked why our .Net developer couldn't cover for the missing SA. Most people in the business look at IT as this big homogeneous thing. They think if it runs on electricity that we are knowledgable about it and that anyone in the department can cover for anyone else. They need to have the basic information about IT foundations so that they can understand IT realities just as they and we understand HR, finance, and legal realities.

jpetel
jpetel

I had to read the article twice because I couldn't believe the "old school" trash I was reading! I was hoping Scott was being sarcastic, but after the second reading, I realized he was serious. I've worked in IT for 35 years with 25 of them managing staff and have spent a lot of my time working on teaching my staff to unlearn most of the items Scott highlights in this article. IT is not a game and it is not a place where you get to work on only the fun stuff, frequently IT workers have to do things that aren't the most exciting or interesting. Scott's list is full of the things that create a rift between the users of technology and IT departments. Scott portrays an acceptable attitude that IT has forgotten why the company is in business; its not in business to have an IT department. Our goal as IT workers is to drive the business forward by assembling tools and technologies that foster new strategies and opportunities and drive positive business change. If we were to follow Scott's manifesto, we would be quickly transported to the early 1990s and be resisting installing Windows because "this isn't Burger King." It is time to wake up and embrace BYOT and figure what is going to make employees more productive . Whether it is figuring out how to provide some form of basic training for office applications to identifying the next hot technology that is going to have an impact or how to deploy a new virtual server within four hours of receive a request. Get your head out of the sand and start to innovate before your IT department gets outsourced because yours isn't providing what is really needed.

jayanthi1998
jayanthi1998

The perceptions ,which are mentioned in the article, of IT in the business community and of business in the IT community are very common.The best way out is- as you put it- to not take sides and try to meet in the middle. Ofcourse, this is where strong leadership on both sides will help.

jtechip
jtechip

I found this article thoughtful and enjoy the comments too. In any business there is a choice on how to spend dollars to benefit the business. In my experience, a partnership between business and I.T. is the best. Ideally, business can describe their objectives and business and I.T. can work together to define and provide the solution that balances cost, timeframe, and business needs. Sometimes business people want to dictate everything and that does not normally help them get the most bang for their buck. It is true also in my experience that basic infrastructure, tools, maintenance do have to be invested in before I.T. resources can start to be used on top of that to help the business be more strategically successful. Sometimes also, I.T. will just do what the business wants without offering advice when they know there is a better solution. There are no easy answers here, particularly when dollars are stretched, but building awareness in the corporate culture can help. One thing I like is when at the end of project there is an evaluation meeting and an open discussion of what was successful and what was not successful; that leads to organizational learning that benefits future project and I.T. and business alike.

KNOWLEDGE464
KNOWLEDGE464

Finally someone with IT experience to understand what IT is and how it operates. We are not the business that runs a company we are the so called vehicle that business rides in order to generate compensation for a company. Any IT professional knows that they have to keep up with technology and we can blame some of a company's woe's on IT because the person running the IT department decided he knows enough to keep a company in the stone age of technology because it was working for them for so long hence the legacy app issues in many companies today. IT needs to keep its head in the game and on a swivel where we can gain knowledge in new technology and teach our users about the new technology and best practices and that we treat them like a customer not because they are right but because without them we would not have a job. I mean where would IT be if everyone knew how to trouble shoot their own BSOD and configure servers and run cable and manage the firewalls and keep the network protected. I know where we would be out of work or in an up to date hardware and software state. See, your message here is spot on but I still think we should be focusing more about how to keep our users trained and keep them informed that's how we can make more time for the more business side of IT which you state. See as some have stated there is not enough time in the day for the IT department because you never know what is going to happen. Well I trained my users how to do minor troubleshooting and how to give me diagnosis of their issues this helped me level the playing field I can focus on new technology and best practices and the business side of IT like how to make the engineering department more efficient by adding PDMVAULT for the Solid-works program and removing their downtime when they upgrade to new versions and testing it first all by centralizing their software upgrades to a server. This all takes time and in a department where there are few and too much to do IT could use what ever time they can get. Training users was the best route for me. How do we save a company money by creating efficiencies like an example I trained my users how to make macros in excel so now what took them 3 hours for a document it now takes 20 min that save a company money. See IT is not the money pit we are just asking for the tools to make things work efficiently like getting rid of access and actually buying the modules in your ERP system could save you tons of money in support. IT is always looking to save a company money we are just treated like bastard step children when it comes to budget cuts we are always first and last inline for any kind of spending so think of this if we do not get what we need how do we make due with what we have or just let it break so they have to spend on it? So good job on your message lets get some companies with some balls to get IT into the budget and your company up to date software and hardware wise. And lets stop bitching about what we can do and just get it done already...

dhbat
dhbat

thanks for sharing

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

I agree with everything you said 110%. I think the real issue is that the non IT staff don't understand what it is we do and they don't want to understand. Add to that the fact that they think that because they can go down to the local electronics store, buy a wireless router, plug it in and it works, that anyone can do our job. It's also easier to understand what the other support departments do (HR, Finance, Office Services) and the value they bring since it doesn't require extensive expertise in those fields to understand their basic functions. But for most co-workers it is harder to understand the complexities that we have to deal with on a daily basis building technological solutions that need to fit business needs and the added complexities that come with trying to scale up what is a simple technology in the home environment in to a large corporate infrastructure. It is this that leads to the ultimate alienation of the IT department in most organizations.

jdemersseman
jdemersseman

Well put. I'd add "You get out of IT the exponent of what you put into it." I'm not sure I can defend that mathmatically, but simply saying "You get out of IT what you put into it" makes it sound like a one-for-one trade, which I don't believe is the case at all. That is, an organization that is only investing the bare minimum to keep things going and makes the IT staff use every freeware tool in the world is never going to realize any true business benefit or innovation. You have to get IT past a tipping point where maintenance and support are efficient before they can begin addressing and anticipating business needs. A corollary would be "Are your expectations in line with your investment?" I deal with executives who are upset with with our conference phone system's quality, but then balk when I get quotes for a system to meet their requirements because they think it should be much less. I think this is related to your point 4. Many business executives suffer from what I refer to as Best Buy syndrome. They don't understand why the $400 consumer solution they know about won't work in their business, and too often they don't want to be bothered with the details. Nor is it always an investment in a technology that they have overly high expectations for. Sometimes its a complete failure to grasp how complex a project is. I'm in the midst of migrating three existing domains into one as a result of mergers. In the executives minds' this is a simple task that should have been done in month or two... Everything is simple to the person who doesn't comprehend.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Since when does limited resources mean you can turn down a request with no further explanation? If it was a good enough argument in and of itself, that's what you should be able to do with it. Every department has limitations, but the physical devices make IT different, and yet, that's not enough by itself. You have to communicate it in a way that is as understandable as necessary (meaning, the more clout you've created for yourself, the more concise it can be). If you create a company purchases policy, whether by your own power, or by drawing on the power of executives, then you can point to that as necessary. But if you haven't even checked to see if there is such a policy, you're screwed. Other departments have to juggle similar concerns when it comes to overtime compensations, so get a framework for handling the constraints. Don't make it your job to defend your position, most likely it really isn't - and defending is a losing game - it puts your defeat into the objective zone! As for your example: it is the finance director's job to weed out frivolous requests. Every department gets the same treatment there, unless they have a card from the CEO that says "This boy is golden, give him whatever he wants". Other managers just don't go griping about those "stupid questions" because they know it's their job to sell their requests. The finance director knows that, yes, defeating finance director resistance IS one of the objectives of managers. They can live with it. So can you. The business is best served when the finance director maximally resists requests and managers have to maximally drive their requests through finance resistance - odd, perhaps? But look at it this way; lets say the company has an IT policy that says "IT gets whatever they need to make everybody happy". Cool, right? But then you don't need an IT manager, just a bunch of happy techs and developers and someone to collate shopping lists. The need for an IT manager stems from the assumption that a managed IT department is able to enable business well enough, for less. Having to stand up for your requests is a natural part of that equation. If you don't know exactly why the other group can't pick up your slack, then it must mean that maybe they can. Think about that for a second: it means, that if it is absolutely certain that they absolutely can't, that's what you have to say, and that's what you have to be able to explain. Simple as that.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

"I didn't buy my computer to run your program" - I think I remember who it was, but it was a long time ago and I can't be sure I remember correctly, so, anonymous kudoes! Conflating that with your comment, the founder of a company could conceivably say: "I didn't found the company to have an IT department". Can you hear the shocked silence to follow that? The jaw hitting the floor in disbelief? :D

lcave
lcave

Great commentary!

santeewelding
santeewelding

Is your telling what all think and don't understand, passing it off as reliable and pissing on what "doesn't require extensive expertise" to understand. You are lost to your own anecdotal.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

"It's also easier to understand what the other support departments do (HR, Finance, Office Services) and the value they bring"... Say what? For me it would be everything else than that; I don't know what they do, nor why... of course, that may lead me to assign the whole mess to the Somebody Else's Problem -field. Maybe that's the problem, IT is too approachable :D :D :D