The top ten IT management mistakes and how to avoid them

Are you making common IT management mistakes? An executive coach shares his insight from years of working with IT management.

By Joey Smith

Working with IT managers on a regular basis allows me to see some great management styles and some really poor ones. There are ten major mistakes that I see IT managers make on a regular basis. Some of these errors have even cost some managers their jobs. Here they are:

Number 1: Focusing on technology and not the business

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

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

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

Number 3: Thinking that your team has it covered

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

Number 4: Not inspecting what you expect

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

Number 5: Not creating a partnership with business management

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

Number 6: Burning yourself out

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

Number 7: Not testing Your backup solution

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

Number 8: Not asking for help

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

Number 9: Not devoting time to personal development

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

Number 10: Not finding a mentor or coach

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

Joey Smith is the CIO, Founder and Executive Coach of HigherHill, Inc. Joey is also the only two-time finalist for the prestigious Georgia CIO of the Year Award and two-time winner for the Microsoft Project of the Year. For more of Joey's IT management insight, tips and tricks take a look at his Ezine entitled IT Octane!