Leadership

Five ways of thinking that can fell IT leaders

IT Consultant Ilya Bogorad sees a lot of IT departments that could be greatly successful if not for the faulty beliefs of their leaders. The five beliefs he sees more often could damage the IT shop as well as the IT leader's career.

Is your thinking impeding your progress? This is a significant problem for an individual and a much more serious one if you're in charge of an IT department. As the CIO or an IT Director, you steer a ship of technology and people and one hopes that your maps are up to date, your compass is true, and you know how to get to the destination most efficiently.

I see a lot of organizations and people as a consultant. I often encounter situations where I can't help but feel that an IT department could be a runaway success within its organization if it weren't for the beliefs that their leader seems to hold. I want to share with you a small collection of such limiting beliefs. There are five in this list but I could have just as easily added another twenty. As a matter of fact, I might review a few more in the next blog.

Can you recognize any that plague your organization?

1. The business should identify its technology needs

Think about this very carefully: Who is more valuable to you, someone who knows how to tighten a bolt or someone who knows which bolt to tighten? We're a knowledge economy and knowing what to do is much more valuable than being able to follow instructions.

If you believe that the onus is on the business to identify technology needs, you're wrong. You need the business to identify business issues, opportunities, and priorities, and then you and your people have to come up with a way of addressing them from the technology perspective. (Better still, you can elevate your personal positioning by delving deeper into the business content and strategy, but that's a different story). You and your department are the experts in technology, not the CFO or the Director of Marketing. If you see your department's raison d'etre as merely implementing and maintaining the technology that business chooses, you position yourself as the guy who tightens bolts. IT departments that fall into this trap get outsourced.

2. We are a fast-paced organization

I have yet to discover an environment that doesn't claim to be fast-paced. I no longer know what that means. What's important, though, is how this assertion impacts the people within. If you're told for a while that you're incredibly busy, you tend to start believing that it must be so, and your capacity decreases. If you're told that there's no time to think, you tend to sacrifice quality of decisions for the sake of speed, even though there may be plenty of time to plan and execute. The net result is an organization with a high rate of project failures, too focused on firefighting and too "busy" to think strategically and identify work that's truly important.

You can never be too busy for the important stuff if you get your priorities right.

3. We are under-resourced

This is a universal complaint and I've met plenty of IT executives that resort to it. It happens in organizations where there are staff members who can't coherently explain what it is that they do, where there are ten project managers for every project, where every trivial thing involves days of meetings, and where out of every ten projects going at any time, eight have no business value.

You can never have enough time, staff or money if your priority system is out of order. The key is in using the resources you have in such a way that they produce the best ROI possible.

4. Show me the money! For a project to be approved, it needs to save costs or generate revenues.

I know an organization that spent five or six years in cost-cutting mode. If you wanted to buy a pencil sharpener, you had to get a nod from the CFO. After years of this drought, cash finally became available and the company started to look for growth. There was a problem, though, in that the company's management at all levels had become unable to think in terms of growth. Their ability to innovate all but died and when bold and novel market moves were appropriate, they only managed to come up with meek, low-cost low-value initiatives. Even their ability to plan prudently was affected and they continually understaffed projects despite having access to necessary funding.

If you merely concentrate on the financial side of costs and benefits and require that all projects have a positive immediate ROI to be pursued, you're killing innovation in your organization. Think about it. How innovative would you want to be if every suggestion you make is immediately evaluated in respect to financial benefit?

Here is another blog I wrote about cost and benefits beyond the dollar sign.

5. In difficult times, we must cut costs

Prudent financial management is a must at all times, good and bad. But consider this - it's impossible to become successful by pinching pennies. It just doesn't happen.

The best value generated by an IT department today does not lie in trivial and often mindless cost-cutting but in innovation, business alignment and strategic thinking. Today more than ever, your organization needs new ideas, bold thinking, full understanding of business priorities and the ability to think about the needs of tomorrow, not the adversity of today. Will you be ready for the recovery? I predict that most organizations will be slow out of the starting gate.

As the IT leader, you must invest - not cut - time, money, executive support into business critical projects, while completely abandoning projects that are no longer relevant. You must constantly challenge your people to critically examine the ways you do business and improve them. They don't call you a leader for nothing.

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Ilya Bogorad is the Principal of Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc, a management consulting company located in Toronto, Canada. Ilya specializes in building better IT organizations and can be reached at ibogorad@bizvortex.com or (905) 278 4753

About

Ilya Bogorad is the Principal of Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc, a management consulting company located in Toronto, Canada. Ilya specializes in building better IT organizations.

23 comments
ask.mike.lee
ask.mike.lee

Who is more valuable?. None. They are both mediocre. One will be contemplating the bolt forever convinced that is a born again Plato . The other one really believes he is paid to "act" so he will change all the bolts just to be busy, except (of course) the one failing, so he will always have work to do. They are both wrong and a danger to any company. We need people of action and ideas. > "Think about this very carefully: Who is more valuable to you, someone who knows how to tighten a bolt or someone who knows which bolt to tighten?"

PlexusSage
PlexusSage

No one ever spent their way to success especially when times are tough and we cannot expect our employers to continue spending money on things we feel are innovative. Maybe that works in larger organizations or the federal government who can print money when more is needed, but not with SMBs and SOHOs. My first IT job was with a small, very frugal software consulting company and except for hiring me, God bless 'em, getting them to spend money on infrastructure was nearly impossible. You should have seen the people gather as my cube when I got to unpack and set up a new laptop. You'd think it was the Ark of the Covenant. One of the many valuable lessons gained from that experience was resourcefulness. It is easy to be innovative and implement the latest and greatest when VC is flowing like Mountain Dew. But what about the cash is so tight your employer or client is negotiating with all vendors for payment deferments and cutting back employee hours to make payroll and keep the lights on? Hard to imagine trying to approach the boss or client with a $30K or $10K proposal for new solution to replace the 8 year old mission critical SQL server that's losing drives in the RAID array like a kid losing teeth. Indeed, this is where the lessons I gained in that first IT job umpteen years ago pay off. Through resourcefulness I can keep systems running through these tough times and the one who signs my checks can stay in business and afford to keep me on until things improve. When sun shines again, I want my company to be remembered not as a cash-hemorrhaging cost center, but as the guy who helped keep their systems intact while they weathered the storm. Then we can talk about that $30k solution. Charlie O'Hearn www.plexuscommunications.com

bblackmoor
bblackmoor

These are all valid and legitimate problems. Unfortunately, the most common of these -- number one -- is often not something the IT department can control. I have seen it more times than I can count: business decision makers who think they are competent to make technology decisions. They trust the mechanic fixing their car to choose the right tool for the job, and they trust the plumber fixing their water heater to choose the right size and type of pipe, but when it comes to IT, they micromanage both the tools and the techniques used, because they are under the delusion that they are competent to do so.

lhaustein
lhaustein

The business wants to tell you what tool to use, how to use the tool. And they just want you to make it works and doesn't crash. IT would be much less time consuming if we were allowed to decide on the platform, then make it do what the customer/business wants. Sales, and CEO's deciding platforms causes IT to be slaves of maintenance. The writer of this original article was making way too many assumptions.

makkh
makkh

CEO / business owner can provide a destination, whereas IT will figure out the best path to be taken to reach there. If CEO / business owner attempts to show 'Bruce Almighty' style of leading, then business will remain in mist heading nowhere.

wrlang
wrlang

1. The business should identify its technology needs Both IT and the business need to define the technology needs. The business defines the need and a desired technology, IT provides options, business selects the best option. For example the business wants a nurse to enter information about patients and IT provides a suitable program to be used on a desktop while the business really wants a handheld PDA to be carried by the nurse. Granted, the requirements gathering should find this, but business does need to say what manner of technology they are looking for. I want someone who can tighten the bolt AND knows which bolt to tighten. It's fruitless to have an either/or. 2. We are a fast-paced organization Fast paced is a code phrase for out of control. Just like ? "whatever it takes", or "looking for high energy individuals". Use the Tortoise and the Hare analogy. A fast paced organization runs its people ragged with uncontrolled efforts and reaches the finish line at the same time as a more efficient tortoise organization. Which would you rather work for? Stay away from organizations and managers that use these code words because it definitely indicates a lack of management competence. People always like to associate these emotionally charged positive phrases with negative realities. A key question is ? how many of your projects come in on time and within budget? If they can't answer it, then the organization has management problems. The more time you take to whine about how busy you are, the less time you have to alleviate the problem of being too busy. Always spend some time finding ways to do your job more efficiently. If you're told that there's no time to think, you need to find a new organization. The net result is a dysfunctional organization. You can be too busy for the important stuff if everything's important. Each project needs to have a quantitative prioritization system and a documented reason why it has its priority. ROI needs to be reevaluated if consulting resources are needed to complete the project or the ROI may be delayed and that may justify lowering the priority. 3. We are under-resourced Every organization is under resourced when they are out of control. This is another code phrase. If a hiring manager tells you they are hiring because they are under resourced and that's the only reason they offer, be afraid, be very afraid. They cannot identify the priorities or what you'll be working on. You'll be thrown into the fire upon arrival. The key is in using the resources you have in such a way that they produce the best ROI possible. In addition, there are positioning projects that may have no ROI but need to be done to perhaps move the infrastructure in a specific direction and these need to be hooked into the ROI of business oriented projects. I'm sorry but we can't support your document imaging project this year because you didn't approve the 12 month network fiber upgrade project last year? 4. Show me the money! For a project to be approved, it needs to save costs or generate revenues. It's organizational management's job to keep opportunities for growth or strategic/tactical direction in mind at all times. They need to do their jobs. If IT has to prod them to do their jobs, the organization is dysfunctional. 5. In difficult times, we must cut costs Cutting costs means the organization is in trouble. Looking for efficiencies is entirely different concept that should always be part of the job of every employee. The only way to make an efficient organization is to communicate the organizational goals and ensure every employee is looking for ways they personally can help reach those goals. In lieu of actual management guidance, the traditional cost savings, revenue increases, and personal efficiency are always good to work towards.

Brother Martin de Porres
Brother Martin de Porres

Consultation with the workforce, can sometimes generate interesting solutions. For example a company some years back was in crisis, their operation was slow and inefficient, so a consultant was brought in. He arrived with a big box of Lego plastic bricks, and set the workforce the task of designing their own office space,...It looked as if the new arrangement would barely make a difference, but then the vital ingredient was revealed. "Knock a hole through that wall there!"...The suggestions were implemented, and workflow increased dramatically. That company went from strength to strength!

Fairbs
Fairbs

1. The business should identify its technology needs You also need to be wary of working on projects counter to business goals while thinking you are adding value. My ideal is the business providing the direction and IT a half step behind interpreting the goals and finding opportunities to achieve those goals. 2. We are a fast-paced organization This ties into the work hard or work smart systems paradigm. If you keep working harder and harder on the wrong stuff, you'll never dig yourself out of the hole. 3. We are under-resourced I agree. The focus should be on the highest priority work. If you are justifying IT's work and still can't get what the business wants done, then you should have the basis for a business case for more resources. Complaining and suffering won't cut it. The business needs to see rational reasons why you need more resources, what the added resources will accomplish, and actually see results if the resources are approved. 4. Show me the money! For a project to be approved, it needs to save costs or generate revenues. I see this as a failure of management to refocus resources. The new focus should be communicated explicitly and a portion of the budget / resources should be set aside for R&D to dig up growth opportunities. 5. In difficult times, we must cut costs I almost completely agree w/ your points here, but in reality the penny pinching can be dictated and beyond your control. Being slow out of the gate is a reason why these bad economic times will be stretched longer than needed. It will be interesting to see the rewards for those who find the next wave of innovation and ride it to the fullest.

eohrnberger
eohrnberger

I believe that you are correct in your statements. However, I would add the following caveat. It's business leaders responsibility to articulate where they need to go with the business, in business terms. It's IT leaders responsibility to understand the business needs and how to best support them with the most economical application of available technology. Further, it's their responsibility to effectively communicate how the technology will support the business needs in terms that the business leader can understand. The last part harkens back to effective communication, and properly setting expectations, both being key success factors that are often overlooked.

kingmail53
kingmail53

Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff, is credited with recently saying that one should never overlook the opportunity that comes with crisis. Okay. The ideas that are expressed in this post - about innovation in tough times are great. But, couldn't those innovations be focused on things that cut costs in reasoned ways? What so often happens in these situations is that the company must cut costs. Absent any alternative, or creative decision making, and hoping to avoid any show of favoritism - management takes the "democratic" across the board x% approach. Often exacerbating the problems that existed. Perhaps it would be better to take advantage of the crisis? Take a look at the IT budget to see where the money is going (if you actually have been tracking in enough granularity where your costs are) and decide where to make cuts to fat and not muscle? Some hints: in a typical IT organization 40% - 60% of the budget goes to bought hardware, software and telecommunications - typically more than 50%. Perhaps it is time to look at what you're spending with Suppliers and the total cost of ownership of each of the assets? Typically, data center usage is less than 20% at peak time. Are you kidding? Less than 20%? What kind of policies lead to having 80% excess capacity? Do you know what your standard services are? The steps it takes to accomplish them? And, how effective they are? Do you know the costs of your different IT groups? Not everybody in a lump, the individual skillset groups? Are they in line with services you can get outside? There are lots of ways to cut costs. Time to get creative. Cary King www.MinervaE.com

tonycopp
tonycopp

Psst! Rahm O'bama shouldn't taking too much credit from the "Never let a Crisis go to waste". That phrase was the mantra of Milton Friedman's Chicago school of economics where they would precipitate a crisis and in the aftermath of confusion serve up their Privatization agenda.Naomi Klein in "Shock Doctrine" shines there. Remember, fat is what you need or a burger is not juicy; not a bad thing when you want people to feed you their real needs so you can serve up a tasty solution. Be your customer and help yourself, wise IT person; it's all about making IT useful to people without IT.

mattbart4
mattbart4

Naomi Klein is a moron--the book is nothing but a distortion and exaggeration.

tonycopp
tonycopp

You are most welcome. I see that your ad-hominum comment is everything like clarity and precision.Privatization of Debtor Nations is Re-Colonialization. Shock and Awe in your living room.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

...is escalation of commitment (READ: throwing good money/time after bad). The larger the project, the worse this becomes. The Waste Management/SAP fiasco is a textbook case in this. It should have been fairly apparent early on that the ERP wasn't going to do exactly what WM needed it to do. But, hey, someone on high suggested it, so let's keep pumping millions into it, hoping to get a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Asides from the major FUBARs that ensue, the money flushed on these endeavors is money that can no longer be used to fund other operational or capital needs. That severely hampers IT. On the small scale, you see this all the time. A good example is the tech that will spend 6 hours troubleshooting a system when a re-image and reload would have taken 2-3; only to end up re-imaging the system, anyway. That's a few other issues that have to get put to the back burner; a bad proposition in times such as these. The problem with this is that this comes from both the intrinsic (ego, desire to succeed, etc.) and the extrinsic (repercussions for failure scare people into continuing to try and shoehorn solutions); so it is hard to address unless there is a culture in place that is somewhat tolerant of small scale failures.

matthew.balthrop
matthew.balthrop

people are terrified these days of the small failures. But lets face it, we're human. People are going to make mistakes, yet that is where a majority of a persons learning comes from. I'm sure there are some people out there who can get just about everything right the first time, every time. That is a small percent of the population though. Granted, there are some failures that need to be avoided at all costs, hence the need for such qualified people to manage Company Servers, ect. There are no fool-proof people though, and the misperception of perfection is what i think causes a decent amount of lost time/money. A "Professional" doesn't want to admit he's wrong. -alias

cooperl
cooperl

I think that Iliya actually hit the nail on the head -five times actually as all are true in their own way. I would make the following points: - Technology is not just hardware and software as process is also a form of technology and without this "technology" the other ones simply fail to deliver. - Items 2 and 3 are the equivalent of an athlete or a sports team believing their own press clipings. Because we (or someoneels) said it, it must be true. People stop questioning the assumptions that were made to make those assertions in the first place. They may have been valid for a week or so three years ago, but is it stil true? - To borrow a line from an old movie, "what we have here is a failure to...", in this case it is a failire to lead. Leadership is not an IT only domain - the business must also lead. Without leadership (meaning you have an articulated vision accompanied by a workable and communicated strategy), all of the points made by Iliya are true, plus a whole lot more. - It is not about business-IT alignment and it never was. It is about business-IT integration and operating as a cohesive team focused on the same set of desired outcomes that are defined by the business. - IT needs to understand that it exists because the busienss exists, not the other way around. - If the business does not understand what you are talking about, think about what you are saying and how to say it differently in a way they can understand. IT has to stop believing its own press clippings and get out and talk to the business. Maybe you really are busy doing the wrong things. Einstein once began a letter to friend with the line "I would have written you a short letter but I never had the time..." We need to make the time to understand where we are going. He also said ""Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal." Technology is not the reason we do things. It is supposed to enable our visons to become reality. Nor is technology the vision itself. And yes I am in IT...

richardp
richardp

Definition for Technology -- the study of techniques. Keep your eyes on the goal, then pursue and apply techniques to fulfill that purpose.

Brother Martin de Porres
Brother Martin de Porres

A good leader will also be a good listener, and encourage the team to make suggestions. From time to time, they are brilliant ones!

reisen55
reisen55

I just came out of a nice IT department that had a horrible leader. This fellow went ahead and began changing things, such as a dedicated name and location syntax for servers and workstations so they could be identified easily. Nope, he wants any old name. He believes that IT should be isolated from the company and then received feedback that users perceive IT as being isolated from the company. No brainer there so they are implementing a new ticketing system with SLA and response times - yeah, like that will do the trick. And emails, NEVER email an end user, EVER. WHAT???? Oh, wait, we have to be an isolated entity. New software? INSTALL, do not pre-test it EVER, just run with it. Result: evening backups for 54 servers in datacenter, once flaw-free - were now endlessly corrupted. Beautiful. The manager this idiot replaced knew his stuff, was good and complained to me often, bitterly, about the changes.

fidlrjiffy
fidlrjiffy

I don't know about the people of write these articles but as a reader I'm pretty darned frustrated. Of course the points made in this article and so many others are true. Writers love to write them and readers love to read them. It's sort of a mutual hug fest. Tell you what I want: an article that makes the people that count actually do something, or not continue to do stupid things, whichever the case may be.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

First, it's always easier to talk than to do. Second, it's always easier to point out problems than to solve them. Third, it's always easier for an outsider to see the issues without avoidance. Fourth, the common presumption that business leaders know what they are doing, where they are going and think before they do. Since this started as two reasons and grew into four by the time I had finished ... I'm sure you can fill in even more. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca

don.gulledge
don.gulledge

Seems everyone is an expert, but when the bullet really hits the target only the real hard core very grandular IT guy accomplishes something worth mentioning. There are so many books, methods, articles such as this that expound great information, but never really give you anything except food for thought. There is no great method, model, or procedure that can ensure success other than honest hard work applied directly at the problem without the expense of human personalities, pencil pushing beaurocrats, or political deadweight. Shaun Connery once said that Americans analyse everything to death before they can do anything. He's right, we've become a nation of analyzers and not doers. But, that's what happens when jobs and promotions are given out on the basis of who you are or who you know instead of what you know and what you can do. The real problem is that most people that are made from the "who you are or who you know" group really believe this stuff and think it works. Had any MBAs in your environment. Need I say more.

ibogorad
ibogorad

I am not offended in the least because you are right on the key issue. Forever we have been reading and writing about IT - business alignment and the very same topics as we saw 10-15 years ago appear in the print today. Some of the repetition is justified as much as publishing articles about raising kids, interviewing or spring gardening - new audience grows up and this is truly a perennial topic. But it may seem a little tiring for those of us who have been around for awhile. There is much work in this area to be done and, frankly, IT-business alignment is what I enable my clients to achieve - usually already very successful organizations looking to be even better. But please accept this point - you can lead the horse to water but you cannot make them drink. I cannot make anybody say to themselves "I must think and do things differently" and then actually do something about it. But I know for the fact that some have. Very valuable contribution, thanks again.

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