By John Sullivan

This article was originally published on on Sept. 25, 2002.

CIOs, listen up! You are affecting the lives of millions of project managers via your inaction. Most of it comes on the traditional “soft” issues—policy formation, governance enforcement, and general execution on things. You think things are okay, but things are often horrible—and your inaction causes a lot of unproductive, unvalued work that takes time and effort away from completing projects. Here are five things you can do for the IT project manager down in the trenches. (They cost nothing and yield decent financial returns and morale boosts.)

CIOs love lists. They are busy people and want everything reduced to “bullet items.” Lists simplify complex problems and political issues and often end up making bad projects and difficult situations look good in the short term, while effectively accomplishing nothing long term.

As a veteran IT project manager surrounded by overworked and discouraged teammates, I have written my own list with five no-cost suggestions that would help create a more loyal and dedicated IT staff and save a few bucks in the process:

1: Stop coddling the executive staff
Chronic policy exceptions for executives burden the IT staff with “workarounds” and hurt morale because they are constant reminders of management’s unwillingness to standardize processes. One good example: payroll. Changes to executive perquisites, special bonuses, and generally unique treatment of executive payroll issues cost money by creating retroactive pay routines on the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which causes additional configuration work and increased use of table space. That translates to higher disk space and data storage costs, reduced system performance, and increased overtime during upgrades while we convert millions of bytes of retroactive payroll data. Stopping these exceptions would cut costs and boost morale at no cost to you.

2: Back our efforts to change the business
As we execute your IT strategic plan and implement new systems and functionality, we create change to the organization. Predictably, the business resists and suffers no consequences while causing schedule delays and unnecessary overtime for us. We end up bearing the pain while helping to create change instead of being rewarded as “change agents.” So when the VP comes to you to complain about us as we execute your plan, don’t fold up and give in. Instead, create a little pain for those folks resisting change, and you’ll help get the results you—and the CEO—are seeking.

3: Enforce project governance
There is a huge gap between company priorities, departmental projects, and individual goals on performance review forms. To bridge that gap, some departments and people consistently go outside the project governance system to get pet projects done, and these folks wreak havoc on staff morale—and the IT budget. You know who they are, yet you do nothing about them. Apply some pressure to these people and their VPs to start complying with existing policies. This is one battle you should pick because it will focus staff and budget on the priorities that you actually want done.

4: Fund training
When it’s time for budget cuts, don’t jump on the company jet and fly to a tropical island to discuss cost-cutting ideas, only to come back and cut or eliminate the training budget. IT staff need training—it’s now a job requirement, not a luxury. We need the training to keep up with the ERP changes required by changes in tax laws and accounting standards. We need to know where the ERP vendor is headed in the next few years so they can provide meaningful input to your annual “Five Year Systems Forecast.” In some cases, we need it just to keep the ERP system secure and running.

5: Help change the company attitude about consultants
Information technology is characterized by teams, and many of our team members are consultants. We use them to purchase critical skills we don’t have and don’t want to keep on a full-time basis. We try to use the same consultants over time to reduce project risk, and treating people right is a critical part of the relationship. All your team-building pizza parties are meaningless when we stick a consultant in a junky cubicle and can’t get him or her a parking place when there are dozens of empty spaces in the lot because HR says, “that’s the policy.” The words “you’re part of our team” are drowned out by the screams of poor office conditions and street parking. Give us a hand here.

Yes, I know that consensus is the order of the day at the executive levels. But so is leadership, and even a halfhearted attempt at these suggestions would produce a morale boost and job loyalty no pizza party could ever achieve because it would prove to us something we often wonder about: that you really are on our side.