Although it is not a saying you hear much anymore, success
in school used to be qualified by making sure you understood and were
proficient at the three Rs — “readin’, ritin’, and rithmatic.” And
while it isnt politically correct to reference them in that way today, the
individuals who spouted that phrase were actually on to something —
particularly when it comes to IT management.
You are probably going “huh?” about now, so let me
explain. The first 2 Rs when it comes to IT management are about
communication. I have written often on the importance of communicating well and
often with all those that are consumers of your services. So I wont beat a
dead horse on this issue (although I am sure I will come back to it again in
the future — its that critical).
However, neglecting the third R is what can get you into
real trouble. In terms of IT management, that third R means budgeting and
knowing the numbers for your operations inside and out. This can make or break
you as an IT management professional.
Once upon a time, IT was mysterious and magical — the
proverbial black box. Flawlessly running operations with little or no downtime
was both an art and a science. And as long as you did just that, most people
were pretty satisfied with your performance.
Times have changed, however, and people (your customers and
management) have come to expect IT services to be just like a utility — always on. Of course, the difference
between your IT department and a utility is that you are not a monopoly; there are not a million suppliers of
electricity and water out there knocking on doors and offering to sell them
cheaper and with the same level of service but there are for IT services.
There is always someone telling your management that they can provide the same
services as you better AND cheaper.
To make matters worse, your customers budgets are getting
squeezed ever so tightly and, guess what, you are just an expense, my friend.
No matter that you provide the best service possible — its just business, and
Frank here says he can do better than you.
So with that set of expectations, you had better be good at
“rithmatic.” What does that mean? Management expects three things
from your numbers concerning your operations: Transparency, Clarity, and
Consistency. They want to be able to see how you arrive at your numbers, they
want to understand the methodology you used to arrive at those figures, and
they want your numbers to be consistent over time — meaning that you are not constantly
changing your methodology and accounting practices.
Management may not always agree on how you arrive at your
numbers, nor your methodology for calculating costs — but those are things
that can be argued and defended.
What gets you into hot water is when your numbers dont meet
the TCC test (transparency, clarity and consistency). Failing the TCC test
creates doubt — doubt in your ability to manage the operations, in what you
are charging them, and doubt regarding whether there is any dishonesty
involved. If people think your figures are fishy, you have a problem.
So what does all this mean to a typical IT organization?
That bookkeeping and performance metrics are critical to your operation — not
from the stand point of how well your operation performs (although they play a
part), but in how your operation is funded and, just as importantly, how your
own performance is judged.
So as a manager, what does this mean for you? If this is a
weakness of yours, you need to get up to speed or find people to help you who
are well-versed in budgeting and accountability — preferably both.
What you should not do is bury your head in the sand or be
too “busy” running the operation to take care of these things
because, buddy, not knowing your third R will come back to bite you and HARD.
Here are a few resources to give you a start while you scour
the Internet, your peers, and mentors for help.