Leadership

IT: Ending the whining

This follow-up to Note to IT: Stop the whining seeks to give IT pros some usable advice for how to clean up their tarnished images.

My last blog, Note to IT: Stop whining, seems to have hit a sore spot. The preponderance of comments were negative, ranging from the childish ("screw you"), to the amusing ("may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits"). Nestled in the sea of negativity was some truly insightful commentary. Feedback that the tone of the article was overdone was fair, yet the sea of downright puerile comments lends some credence to what offended readers most: the image of the IT pro, a brilliant mad scientist type with limited people skills stewing in a sea of angst and aggression. Certainly this image is not representative of the entire IT industry, and many commented that they put up with the negative aspects of an IT career because they truly love their work with technology, which is laudable.

Perhaps the most helpful comments were that the article's point was well-taken, however after casting stones, it failed to deliver any insights into how to change this state of affairs. In addition to assurances that my armpits are flea-free, I offer some thoughts on how to move beyond the whining.

Forget "alignment"

We've spent more than a decade in IT talking about "alignment" and "getting a seat at the C-suite table." In contrast, look at counterparts in Finance, Sales, Marketing or Operations. There is no talk of aligning Sales with "the business," and rarely do you hear CFOs or COOs lamenting their inability to get the CEO's ear. We tend to focus on technology as the sole reason for IT's existence, rather than the tools of the trade to accomplish the company's objectives. From the CIO on down, IT needs to see technology as their toolkit, not their raison d'être. The best carpenter will work with you to design a new porch for your house, determining how you intend to use the porch, addressing aesthetic and pragmatic concerns, and asking questions you might have otherwise not considered, well before the first nail is hammered. Too often in IT we show up with nails and hammer in hand and start working, when the problem might require a plumber instead. IT's role should be more about joint problem solving and diagnosis than just implementation.

The IT Human Resources process is broken

I lamented the tendency of IT to "certification surf" in a past column, with HR making hiring decisions based on what certifications were on one's resume, then summarily "downsizing" those people when technology changed or the skill was no longer relevant. While any corporate function has a need for those with unbridled technical experience, be it Sarbanes or .NET, I firmly believe IT frequently fails in developing their peoples' abilities to learn, solve problems and interact with the rest of the corporation. IT has focused on hiring wonks rather than hiring for skills that can grow inside and outside the IT organization. The best solution to this problem is simple, yet time consuming: IT needs to go back to interviewing holistically rather than certification surfing or pure skills-based interviewing, and rigorously developing their people. If mid-level managers and CIOs put as much zeal into evaluating their people as they put into evaluating new technologies, IT will excel.

You're going to be outsourced. Unless...

Interestingly, several comments in the blog I referenced earlier accused me of coming down from my ivory tower, traipsing around to clients and leaving a sea of outsourced IT departments in my wake before hitting the links for a martini or three. The truth is my golf game is horrendous and I prefer Manhattans. Kidding aside, nowhere in the previous article did I mention outsourcing, save for a reference to outsourced payroll functions unrelated to IT. Outsourcing is an obvious concern for many in IT, since it has become increasingly easy to outsource commodity business functions. Where IT should find hope in that last sentence is that outsourcing requires a commodity job function to be successful.

If you're the stereotypical propeller head toiling away in a cubicle slinging code, the bad news is that you're going to be seen as a commodity. The good news is that if you can develop a deep understanding of your company's business, or critical relationships with counterparts in other business units you're no longer a commodity. IT needs more of the latter, and by developing your relationship-building skills, and ability to articulate and solve business problems, you're ahead of the game and on the shortlist for a promotion rather than on the outsourcing blocks.

While it's obviously critical to keep up on your technical skills, avoid getting lost in a tech "arms race" at the expense of other developmental aspects of your career. Hot technologies eventually go cold, but superior people skills, problem solving ability or customer service are always in vogue.

At the CIO level, shift your focus away from commodity functions. Outsourcing is not always the best option, and I've advised many clients to "insource" a commodity technical function. Let that crack young manager take over network ops and have full reign of the roost, coming to you only for a budget allocation and reports on the internal organization's performance, managing every aspect of the function as if it were an independent business. This gives your people valuable experience, potentially provides a more compelling cost structure, and gets you out of the business of having to make those 3AM calls when the network goes down rather than focusing on the more important strategic aspects of IT.

Beyond the whining

I stand by my frank assessment that many aspects of an IT career are technically and intellectually challenging, yet utterly thankless and that this is true in every other corporate function. Those who dismissed payroll processing as a simple matter of entering numbers are no different than those in Finance who dismiss IT's role as shuffling a few DVDs into a server and pressing Enter. The infrastructure and utility aspects of every corporate function are baseline expectations, and will go unnoticed until they go bump in the night. Rather than lamenting this fact of existence, focus your efforts on delivering value beyond this baseline. At the C-level, it might be identifying an existing system that could speed the launch of a new product or be leveraged to deliver new capabilities. At the line level, it might be an hour or two spent helping someone in accounting learn a database tool that will save them weeks of spreadsheet jockeying, earning you undying admiration and building esteem for IT as a whole.

If you're mired in firefighting, look at how you're working, and the lost opportunity cost engendered by lack of focus on highly visible and highly valuable opportunities. There is likely a valid business case for anything from a maintenance contract on a particularly troublesome piece of hardware or software, to dumping a system or creating a new insourcing mini business unit within IT to get out of the firefighting mentality. In short, instead of whining, present the problem and offer a solution. A CIO I recently spoke with said he's never fired anyone for a good idea, and every leader worth their salt will entertain a good idea for positive change. Rather than being seen as a group of complainers, seek to make IT an organization that's a font of great ideas, the only lament coming from leadership being that there's no time to implement them all. That, and be sure to check your armpits for fleas!

Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group, and author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology. Prevoyance Group provides strategic IT consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at patrick.gray@prevoyancegroup.com.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

108 comments
jkameleon
jkameleon

Generally speaking, you shoudn't whine regardless of whether it's justified or not. Nobody listens, and nobody cares about it. You must zip it, and act. From your blog: > c) IT has an almost impossible job - balancing innovation, keeping lights on, compliance and security. Your job will become far less impossible, if you scrap the innovation. Everybody will be happy, and you'll have one thing less to worry about.

Bizzo
Bizzo

How can you scrap innovation in IT? In fact, how can you scrap innovation in any kind of industry that is continually moving forward?

jkameleon
jkameleon

> though it sounds like you have learned many different programming languages and tools...in some books that is innovation... I'd call that "keeping myself current with fashion". Once you've learned two or three procedural computer languages, you've learned them all. All Touring based stuff is basically the same. What is IT innovation supposed to be anyway? Unless I've missed something, there hasn't been any in the IT ever since the 1990s. True, everything seems to be changing, but that's fashion, not innovation. New concepts get introduced, live on hype for a couple of years, only to be unmasked as total crap in the end (MTS, COM, etc). Icons and colors change, UI design changes, mainframe processing gets distributed only to get centralized again, and clients grow fat and thin according to the logic of women's shoe heel height. Not that I'm complaining, though. Changing fashion without innovation is keeping our jobs, after all. It's a similar situation as textile industry in the times when it was high tech. If you are that enthusiastic about true IT innovation, try to imagine how many high paying high skilled jobs were destroyed by the invention of spreadsheet.

vmirchan
vmirchan

and love your tongue-in-cheek profile ...glad you have survived all these years in IT "without innovating" - though it sounds like you have learned many different programming languages and tools...in some books that is innovation...

jkameleon
jkameleon

Just don't do it. As a matter of fact, abandoning innovation is the path of least resistance anyway. The purpose of IT is to serve buerocracy, and buerocracy is, by its very nature, rigid and given up to routine. Don't get fooled by its verbal support to innovation; it's just that, verbal. Actually, buerocracy abhors innovation. So, by innovating, you burden yourself with additional work, only to get into trouble. If you don't innovate, on the other hand, nobody will notice. True, lack of innovation is detrimental on the long run, but that's not your problem. If not for anything else, your chances of staying in the IT profession long enough to be affected by any sort of long term consequences, are pretty slim. If offshoring, automation or age discrimination won't get you, your own burnout and surfeit almost certainly will.

Paul Wallis
Paul Wallis

If business and IT could sit around the table together and discuss an easily understandable 'big picture' of their relationship, produced from a computer model, then life would be a lot easier for both sides. There are a couple of examples on this Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OBASHI

itnews
itnews

Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE PILL....

melekali
melekali

I think your thoughts are excellent and quite constructive. I'm unsure your loose use of the term "IT Pros" really captures the real pros. I work with some who are inexperienced and who I would not call IT Pros. They are learning and so are more like IT Larve.

megabaum
megabaum

You're correct about my spelling errors, sorry. =P These are fixed now. M.

steve.james
steve.james

Megabaum! Excellent rebuttal by the way! As for the spelling errors, no worries. I believe those of us with half a brain realize that you were free writing at the time of your post and when you are passionate and on a roll spelling and grammar are often victims of the moment. Cheers, SRJ

mary.c.dighton
mary.c.dighton

I loved both articles. You have hit the problem right on the nose. I've worked in IT for 20 years and I hate whining. It's immature and unprofessional. Thank you for having the guts to stand up and say it. This goes for every job. Stop whining and just get it done!

jfg1963
jfg1963

I totally agree and due to my past experience, I wonder: If the rest of Cs dont behave the way they do, as Patrick stated, regarding IT, What would be their excuse when they dont make the numbers? In our days, The CEO that still thinks in terms of "IT aligning with the business" and not thinking of IT as a "natural" part of the company as SALES is the right professional to be the CEO? And, almost forgot another important role, the CIO, How someone, in our days, could be the CIO at a Large Company, when he doubts about implementing a business continuity policy and infraestructure ( I mean the fact itself)?. I think this one doesnt deserve to be CIO.

jkameleon
jkameleon

> If the rest of Cs dont behave the way they do, as Patrick stated, regarding IT, What would be their excuse when they dont make the numbers? The usual: "There's critical talent shortage, we can't find the RIGHT talent to proactively align our business needs with projected market demand, blah blah blah. Universities aren't doing their job, see, it's their fault, not ours. Yea, and government failed as well, it should do more to perceptionally manage those lazy young bastards who won't study for IT careers." Works every time, everybody seems to fall for it.

jkameleon
jkameleon

It indicates, that people still give a shit. Better be thankful for it.

michelle
michelle

When the "whiners" finally roll over and play dead, you can be sure their resume is being updated and they've ceased to care about growing the business or contributing to the bottom line or getting on board the latest corporate train ride... they're now just biding time because no one will let them contribute to the overall vision.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Judging by the level of the talent/skill shortage shouting pitch, the next round of downsizings, & layoffs should come any time now. Whiners and others might update their resumes as much as they want, soon they will have nowhere else to go, as usual. That, however, will not prevent them from ceasing to care & contribute, biding time, and generally playing dead. Such behaviour & attitude is sometimes called "organizational cynicism". As far as I can tell, organizational cynicism in IT grows rampant ever since the 1990, and there is no way of stopping or reversing that trend. IMHO it doesn't make sense either. IT's purpose is to serve buerocracy. Sooner or later, IT will pick up each and every buerocratic habit in existance, and consequently integrate with business completely.

drl.techrepub
drl.techrepub

I walked into a clients building at a little after 9am having driven from the office Christmas party in Manchester, which I'd forgone the benefits of, all the way to London (about 4 hours drive early in the morning) which meant I'd only had about 3 hours sleep. As I walked through the door the director of the client company literally stormed up to me and demanded (shouted) "What time do you call this!!!". I was so tired and exhausted and caught off my guard that my response was a little more plain than usual... Director: "What time do you call this!!!" Me wearily: "What time is it?" Director: "9.30!!!" Me quietly: "I'd probably call it 9.30 then." Director: Speechless, storms off with other staff at the company laughing behind his back. It wasn't my intention to ridicule him at-all because I've always given the clients interests very high priority and am so very aware of how much PR I have to do to inspire confidence. I was just dog tired and somewhat taken aback at how unappreciative he was at the effort I'd gone to. But his attitude was symptomatic of a bigger issue. I'm not sure he learnt anything from the experience, probably not, but I certainly did. I saw in those few seconds that he perceived me as something very low and insignificant and it was something I'd avoided acknowledging before that day just so that I could carry on in a positive up-beat manner. I now observe more closely and see the scenario play out time and time again to a lesser degree. I.T. bods are not considered to be very high up the food chain, even though we often have to know many other jobs within a company to be able to perform ours well. It is this lack of understanding that is, I believe, at the heart of why I.T. staff eventually grow a tough skin, i.e. so we can just get on with the job without being affected by the cr*p. So yes, there is a need to be reminded to soften our stance from time to time when we get battle hardened. That's where these fictitious extra days off that you mentioned us being given (hah! NOT) in other articles would come in handy. Stress of the job can lead to a hardened attitude, but my cure would be to go out in person and see that there are humans at the other end with problems they don't understand. That is the lesson we need to be reminded of from time to time. They just need to be taught manners.

drl.techrepub
drl.techrepub

Quick, someone blame I.T... I mean CALL I.T.!

WKL
WKL

to stop the whining? I realize that you're not going to understand what I'm talking about, but you people live in such a Korporate Dream World that it's difficult not to believe that you're seriously delusional. Corporations are Frankenstein's Monster entities created by a legal fiction that serves to shield sociopathic and psychopathic mentalities from culpability for their misdeeds, and they represent the very antithesis of human rights, freedom and dignity and democracy. There isn't just indifference and derision toward the Korporate Kulture anymore, there is ever mounting anger and disgust toward it, for many very good reasons (which includes everything from your typical abuse of power to outright criminality toward employees and customers). And yet, here you are again, promoting the tired old stereotype of the "Inhuman Socially Dysfunctional Nerd" devoid of "people skills" and how they are such an impediment to the Korporate Kulture, to either be eliminated or assimilated into the Korporate Mindset of Marketing Hype and "People Skill" BS (read how to manipulate the typical sucker-born-every-minute) and had better kowtow to the "ever-cheaper, ever-faster, ever-more efficient and productive, doing more and more with less and less (especially with less and less to the employee and more and more to the C-suite)" mantra or else. Not only are the technical adepts getting damned sick and tired of being the C-suite's scapegoats, you'd damn well better believe, people generally are getting sick of it, my friend. The standard Korporate Krapola slinging is beginning not to work any more. And by the way, the "Nerds", "Geeks", whatever that I've met throughout my own decades-long technological career are far and away better grounded in reality and have generally had vastly superior understanding of and compassion towards humanity than your typical Overpaid Whiney-bitch Gen-X C-suite Suit. (And if you'd like examples of just how superior I'll be glad to provide them.) So stick that in your Republican pipe and smoke it.

No User
No User

Although as far as the Republican pipe goes oddly enough most of the big Tech guys favor Democrats. Which bodes well with my point that the extremists on both sides have taken over and have gone so far left and right that they melded together out in lala land and became two sides of the same coin but are to stupid to realize it. So I think a blast from the past 60's style now applies and that is The Establishment. :0 If you look at my posts you will see a recurring theme that I make which is that IT MUST sit at the big table as an equal and determine the roll of IT. The IT folks seated at the big table MUST be chosen by IT. Technology is in every aspect of business and there for business is best served if IT folks are as well. IT is the very fabric that binds the various segments and functions together that form a business. IT allows business to perform functions that it otherwise could not and in other ways to perform more efficiently. Although Technology may change form it will never go away. Business is dependent upon IT and it's wedded with business forever. One of my major reoccurring points is the self fulfilling prophesy of the standard business types and this is part of it. Does anyone else see that the standard business types force IT outside of the business process (or at the very least won't let IT set at the big table as an equal) and at the same time will tell IT that they need to align themselves with business and become part of the business process? Doth thou see a conflict with that? It's certainly self serving is it not? Does anyone else see how blinded they are in that they can't see IT in the very fabric of business and would there for declare IT as being outside and separate from the business? If anyone needs business alignment it would be the standard business types / C-suite needing alignment with business. More to the point they need alignment with reality. Bringing IT into the fold so that business can get the most out of it and business can be at it's best is the ultimate goal is it not? So how do you get there by kicking IT to the curb, locking them out of the room with the big table and then adding insult to that injury by then telling IT that we are out of alignment with business? Is it then any wonder that you might find IT folks who want to be left alone to do their thing and not COMMUNICATE with them? This of course to the untrained eye could appear that IT folks can't COMMUNICATE. Did you ever notice when IT folks talk to the standard business types we use our middle finger to push up our thick black plastic rim nerd glasses. We don't mean anything by it we are just pushing up our glasses. ;)

drl.techrepub
drl.techrepub

Although a little stongly put, spot on! And by the way, when I say strongly put I don't mean over-stated, just no punches pulled which in this forum is a breath of fresh air. Someone else mentioned Y2K elsewhere. I'll take the opportunity to say here that if I hadn't spent a very intense year of hard work there would have been more than just one machine (which we all knew about and had arranged to take off-line just prior to 2000) that would have caused havoc in the financial institution that I was hired by. I can only shrug and sigh when I hear idiots (there's no other word for them) say it was all a myth. Everyone I knew was up to their ears in aligators stopping it from being a very real disaster. Funny how the facts are dismissed in the popular press whenever it's mentioned. I guess they like to keep us in the "completely unnecessary" category despite what turned out to be the best planned and executed preventative action in computing history! Why don't you write an article on that TR? Bring some of that hard work into the public view. (Don't you ever feel that all this is a waste of breath? I do, but it's still nice to know that years from now it'll still exist in an archive somewhere, and someone may see it and say, wow, weren't those I.T. guys spot on!... Shame we ignored them and they all left. [Just me then is it?]). Recursion: See 'Recursion'. See! We DO have a sense of humour too!

drl.techrepub
drl.techrepub

Although a little stongly put, spot on! And by the way, when I say strongly put I don't mean over-stated, just no punches pulled which in this forum is a breath of fresh air. Someone else mentioned Y2K elsewhere. I'll take the opportunity to say here that if I hadn't spent a very intense year of hard work there would have been more than just one machine (which we all knew about and had arranged to take off-line just prior to 2000) that would have caused havoc in the financial institution that I was hired by. I can only shrug and sigh when I hear idiots (there's no other word for them) say it was all a myth. Everyone I knew was up to their ears in aligators stopping it from being a very real disaster. Funny how the facts are dismissed in the popular press whenever it's mentioned. I guess they like to keep us in the "completely unnecessary" category despite what turned out to be the best planned and executed preventative action in computing history! Why don't you write an article on that TR? Bring some of that hard work into the public view. (Don't you ever feel that all this is a waste of breath? I do, but it's still nice to know that years from now it'll still exist in an archive somewhere, and someone may see it and say, wow, weren't those I.T. guys spot on!... Shame we ignored them and they all left. [Just me then is it?]). Recursion: See 'Recursion'. See! We DO have a sense of humour to!

drl.techrepub
drl.techrepub

Although a little stongly put, spot on! And by the way, when I say strongly put I don't mean over-stated, just no punches pulled which in this forum is a breath of fresh air. Someone else mentioned Y2K elsewhere. I'll take the opportunity to say here that if I hadn't spent a very intense year of hard work there would have been more than just one machine (which we all knew about and had arranged to take off-line just prior to 2000) that would have caused havoc in the financial institution that I was hired by. I can only shrug and sigh when I hear idiots (there's no other word for them) say it was all a myth. Everyone I knew was up to their ears in aligators stopping it from being a very real disaster. Funny how the facts are dismissed in the popular press whenever it's mentioned. I guess they like to keep us in the "completely unnecessary" category despite what turned out to be the best planned and executed preventative action in computing history! Why don't you write an article on that TR? Bring some of that hard work into the public view. (Don't you ever feel that all this is a waste of breath? I do, but it's still nice to know that years from now it'll still exist in an archive somewhere, and someone may see it and say, wow, weren't those I.T. guys spot on!... Shame we ignored them and they all left. [Just me then is it?]). Recursion: See 'Recursion'. See! We DO have a sense of humour to!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Don't say any of that at work. :D The salute the logo mentality never really caught on in the UK, where it did, the salute was the same one our longbowmen gave the french at Agincourt.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I'd not like to be on the receiving end of [u]that[/u] salute! :D

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

The reason the CFO and the COO don't lament getting the CEO's ear is because they have it. Not all CIOs need to sit at the leadership table, but many that should, don't. I am also a bit confused by your heading when the content of your paragraph provides a great example of achieving the alignment you advocate forgetting. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

how can they do their job, they relying on us plankton or something? The shouldn't just sit at the table. Occasionally they should get up and align the COO and CFO heads with their buttocks, thereby eliminating an unsettingly confusion. Why does IT get surprised so often, because the only guy the other Cs might have told was hiding under his desk, because he doesn't understand this techie stuff.

seanferd
seanferd

Alignment: Chaotic-Neutral. ;)

colin.boswell
colin.boswell

Have you looked at the literature that links people in high performing tehnical IT roles with mild sympton=ms of Ausbergers Syndrome.An interesting brach to wander thru!

adamblevins
adamblevins

The difference between IT and Sales or Marketing is that IT provides an internal service that enables to business to function. Sales or Marketing on the other hand drive business. Lets not split hairs and discuss how in some cases certain technologies have the ability to drive business. Largely IT has infrastructure and support roles. In my opinion (14yrs of experience in Project Mgmt & Support) IT is most similar to the motor pool. We maintain tools needed for specific jobs and roll out new ones as needed. Hence aligning with the business is critical else you are unable to determine the business need and proper equipment choices cannot be made. My two cents.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]...IT provides an internal service that enables...business to function.[/i] IT [u]is[/u] business infrastructure: network and computers connected together, paralleling an electrical or plumbing system in structure and greatly exceeding either in complexity. It's not an IT failure to align with business, however, that is the problem, but the business failure to treat changes to IT the same way they treat changes to the physical plant. When planning physical infrastructure, business works with an architect to design a plan to meet business needs within fiscal limits; no responsible business would contract for physical plant in any other fashion. Yet in the case of IT, this process is nonexistent. Business units simply tell IT what they want, then are not willing to listen to IT when told the requirement cannot be met within the allotted budget. For example, a few years back, I did a site survey to determine the physical infrastructure requirements for a complete wireless network in a 4-floor combination warehouse/office, 354,000 ft^2 (32,888 m^2) in size. Based on building size and projected load, I recommended 6 APs on the warehouse floor and an absolute minimum of 8 per office floor for a total of 30. Including power and Cat 5 pulls and switches, the total estimated cost per access point was about $340. Actual response to the survey results: "What do you mean, it's going to cost over $10,000 to install wireless in the building? You only need one wireless per floor! I've gone on the Internet and you can get those for less than $100 each!"

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

And then recieve a budget desktop. They're equivalent right? Sigh....

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Just before I retired from the USAF, the military supply system inflicted this one on a sister unit. The unit had been one of the first to get an in-house network and had gone all-out with Token Ring. Then two of the access units failed out of warranty and they ordered replacements. The USAF supply system only had one in stock, so they substituted a like item for the second... . . . You guessed it! The unit received both a MAU and an Ethernet hub.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

erm bollocks. The tools we provide allow the job to be done differently, either quantitativley or qualitatively. Obviously what the tool does, and how has a major impact on this. Proper equipment choices, yeah right, when did that ever happen? Those choices are effectively made before any IT involvement, our job is to make the choices work. In my opinion (21 years+ at the sharp end) it's the idea that somehow IT can divine business need with no input from the business itself is obviously the falling down point. And why do we get no input? It's because of people like you promulgating the idea that we are somehow outside of the business. We don't need alignment, we simply need including. Business alignment is alleviating a symptom, not curing the problem.

adamblevins
adamblevins

I've got to say... spoken like a cog in the wheel. You have to understand the business you are supporting and their priorities to do proper consulting. I attend weekly executive staff meetings to learn about initiatives and am expected to provide input on how IT can support, or obstacles that will be faced during implementation. That is why alignment is critical to the success of the business. When you understand that, then executives will perceive your department as more than break/fix. Alignment isn't about them following your advice to the letter, it is about coordination between teams to support and drive business.

adamblevins
adamblevins

Mega, Yes, I have felt your pain at times where something makes sense but politics keep it from happening. The higher up the chain you go, the larger of an issue that becomes. Example: I learned a few years ago that a valuable team member was being laid off. I presented cost savings plan with an ongoing yearly savings exceeding his annual salary to exec's. I included charts, graphs, historical data from Accounting. I brought a petition from customers he worked with stating his value and asking to keep him. It was a black and white decision to me...but he was laid off because of political reasons. We lost that battle. Other times your project is just not a high priority, you get voted off the island due to lack of resources. Example: While working for a state government as the staff IT Consultant, I was asked by the top exec in our organization to lead a cost savings project implement multi-function printing where appropriate across the enterprise. We came to a point about a third of the way through the project where replacement costs became an issue. The state felt with their buying power costs should be reduced, the vendor felt they had them contractually over a barrel, and the project was cut as a result. It made sense to complete the project, and I pressed the issue, but executive management felt my teams impact would be greater on a different project... they cussed the vendor and moved us on. However, I will say on the next project, an enterprise system integration, we had managements ear and they considered all of our recommendations. We had an enormous budget and resource pool, and the gates were opened for us so to speak. I regularly met with A and B level execs on that project because my Sponsor was a B level within our organization. Following that I managed network migrations for a Fortune 5 company. While I never met Gary Reiner or Jeff Immelt personally, I worked regularly with site CIO's to plan and execute, and also to manage vendors on site. We spent a good deal of time with each plant we migrated to learn the patterns of business units, technical dependencies and gauge potential impact of the work we were planning on operations. There was a lot of haggling and explaining, and in some cases, revisiting company policy...which is awkward as a vendor to remind a client what their policy states. As a result, schedules were impacted, OT was worked, vendors were crucified and change management boards were charmed. It wasn't always easy or fun. Regarding schedules not being met due to unforeseen issues, I generally recommend creating a phase or sub-phase to complete the extra work, allowing the original work to be completed on time. As far as budgets, we never blew a budget. Regarding grouchy teams... I give everyone a chance to give feedback on my teams... I also buy beers or dinners at project completion. :) Hope that answers some of your questions. Adam

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

that I want it yesterday and it better not cost more than $10

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Immediately! On the price-is-no-object optimum solution! It's fun to dream...

raiderh808
raiderh808

so what happens when the CEO says "You're the IT guy, you should know"?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

quality. That was so good I feel like buying a magic dust refill for my wand so I can rescue some of your projects for you. :D

megabaum
megabaum

Adam, One more thought... Since this posting focuses on the issues, can you tell us if you experience any of these issues on your projects? I'm just curious if your IT teams enjoy a 40-work week. Are they always meeting deadlines? Are they feeling heard? And are they free from the IT whining syndrome that is the subject of this posting. If you tell me yes, I probably won't believe you. But I bring this up, because I think all we are trying to get across is that these issues are present in IT today. Please say you understand =). Later, M.

megabaum
megabaum

Hi Adam, Good suggestions, but I'm not sure if we're really connecting. Also, you're incorrect =) I'm an IT PM as well - I know the race of negotiating with managers for resources, funding, scope changes, etc. The "alignment" issues that I'm raising are not really addressed at the IT manager, or VP of IT level, they are managed at the CIO, CFO and CEO level, e.g. the executives who set the pace for budgets, projects, layoffs, and business goals. As the PM (in most organizations), you are probably not going to be negotiating with the CIO. Typically PMs negotiate budget, scope, and resources with their IT managers and/or business managers, who then collaborate with the their managers (e.g. the CIO or CEO), who eventually collaborate with other C-levels. And if you're lucky, you'll get to "present" your case to all of the C-levels on a board, however this isn't really a negotiation is it? Anyhow, the issue still remains. While you are "aligning" with the Business, your C-level executives are making decisions that alter the success of your project and leave IT holding the bag! You can try to negotiate, but in some cases it doesn't matter because company-wide goals, layoffs, and budget cuts will always take priority over your project. And you can try to negotiate $budget, but again if there's a budget-cut at the C-level, it's not going to matter. You can always try to negotiate timeline, however if your C-levels have already set the expectation with client, again it's not going to matter. Or you can go for more resources, but if you're negotiating for resources and you're already behind schedule, chances are you're going to miss your deadline altogether. And in all of these cases once the decision is made by the C-level, there's little or nothing your IT Manager or Director can really do. Most of the time we have to accept the decisions ...communicate them... and then watch our IT teams perform small miracles to make it all happen! These types of scenarios are pretty common in the IT world - and they cannot always be resolved with superb project planning or negotiations. If you've been in the business a while, I'm sure you've seen some of this. And regardless of how good you are, sometimes you just have to accept it and move forward. So the issues I'm looking at begin when C-levels make decisions for "short-term" gain, rather than implementing long term solutions which are effective for the organization. This type of decision making is almost always driven by political and/or financial gain. With this dynamic, which we?ve seen for years, you'll typically see ongoing OT, missed deadlines, half-baked technologies and an overall feeling of frustration in IT. So it?s the IT staff that suffers in the end. Together we can accomplish a great deal, but there are always going to be issues; some we can work through and some we can't. However we STILL need to address these issues in IT and unfortunately I don't think business alignment is the answer. At least it hasn?t? worked over the last 10 years. So we need to be far more creative in solving these problems. Maybe we stop playing the "whining" card and try to understand how these issues impact our IT gurus. Good luck and thanks for your insights. M.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Some solution to a problem like we can't do or won't be able to perform a critical business function is not hard to sell, for anyone with an IQ above thirty. How do you prove and sell the case for re-factoring. The case for investment in tools, people and resources. IE ones where the costs are hard, but benefits are far more fuzzy from a short term numbers point of view. These are the ones that make us 'whine', when we get smacked between the eyes by the consequences we predicted from not doing them. Worse still even with a recent example of such a miserable failure, it's still very difficult to get non IT people on board. The similarities tend to be technical and therefore hard to prove without trust. And it's that, that we do not get.

adamblevins
adamblevins

I'm an IT PM, so I don't have the issue of not having managements ear. Generally my projects are enterprise level, are high priority, directly meet a business need and the organization makes attempts to meet resource needs based on my proposals. It sounds as though you are not in a similar role, and your suggestions to management go unanswered, ignored or partially accepted. I would suggest tying your need directly to a deliverable in a realistic and quantifiable way, then providing potential solutions. The number one complaint I hear from executive management is that they want (and value) team members to formulate a multitude of realistic solutions, THEN come to them. Not the other way around. The exec's want to listen and help clear obstacles to put a solution in motion. They don't want to hear "Here is an answer and it costs xyz dollars." They want to hear "We have identified an issue with data conversion that will skew financial reports for our customers and internal accounting dept. Possible solutions are A, B and C, and this is the impact to potential business units, budgets and customers for each. We see B as the best alternative due to blah blah blah, and would like your feedback and support to implement this action plan." Yes, you have to do your homework and bring copies of supporting information to the meeting. (action plans, skewed reports, budgets, etc..) It may also help to bring a Subject Matter Expert from an affected department to explain in more detail. That's what my experience has shown to be the most successful. Adam

megabaum
megabaum

I agree with Hopkinson, Yes, ongoing stakeholder communication and involvement is important and it gives IT insight into business goals, ideas, and upcoming projects. However this type of alignment doesn't address many of the issues that IT faces today. Too often, regardless of this "perceived" alignment, the business doesn't include IT in the decision-making process and ultimately IT is left holding the bag and working OT to meeting impossible project goals... That's the reality and typically the reason why 80% of software dev. projects are either: 1) late 2) over budget 3) do not include all of the "in scope" deliverables. While most IT/ Business groups do an okay job with alignment, we are still lacking when it comes to setting project goals as a team. Usually, the Business sets the pace and the rules. Nonetheless, this outdated attitude that IT doesn't know how to align is not only inaccurate, it doesn't advocate good morale or real solutions. Simply put, we (e.g. IT professionals)already get the fact that "alignment" is important to our success. However, we need to broaden our thinking if we want to address the real and ongoing issues underlying the IT-Business dynamic. About whining: Just a quick tid-bit about whining and human nature. Whining is the same thing as complaining or venting, right? Has anyone ever watched "Hells Kitchen" or the Donald Trump Show? Even our celebrity superstars turn into nut jobs, when they have to play the role of PM. And each time the PM has to deal with complaining and whining from team members. Does anyone have a girlfriend or boyfriend who doesn't whine from time to time? HA. Generally speaking, it's pretty ignorant to assume that IT departments are the inventors of "whining". You might look at some of the examples above, or observe other departments who have it much easier than IT. Guaranteed they are whining about something. Long overdue: Please appreciate what your IT group is doing for you and undertand the issues they are facing. And most important, let go of the eroneous assumptions and rhetoric =) seen on this posting. You'll get so much more out of your IT teams. All the best.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Wrong again I work for a software producer. I produce software for a software producer. How is it possible for me to be unaligned with the business?. I'm making the software they wish to sell! I'm making it as well as they allow me to! I'll give you insight. Software changes, see if you can get that across the next time you have tea and biscuits with the executive. Doesn't matter whether the software is infrastructure or product. Hard numbers except costs are really difficult to come up with without spending significant money. It's not my fault they keep choosing short term gains and long term costs instead of the other way round. Software is a long term highly volatile investment. If the business looks at it over short spans they will always be overreacting and end up wildly out of control. Does this ring any bells?

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

The 'alignment' issue and the IT for IT's sake issue. Your analogy with sales struck me. When sales is sent out with goals and given aggressive objectives, they meet them. There is adjustment of goals, and aligning sales goals with product launches, but not 'business alignment'. I agree about Cert surfing, and here's something that I saw in the 90's. A company I worked for would terminate employees who had 'dated' skills and hire employees with the new 'hot' skills. That caused some of the problem. The HR mess, again I agree. HR has no clue as to what we do. We've all joked about the ludicrous job requirements we see posted. WANTED: IT professional with 5+ yrs of COBOL, DB2, VB.NET, and C++. $35/hr. I don't know how we are going to get the HR issue fixed though, but I think it's more than half the battle.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

But, that's a tough road to travel. I don't think we'll see a totally fix for another decade, but I think we've moved passed the backwards mentality of certification surfing.

Editor's Picks