Spend time “on” and “in” your IT department

The idea of spending time “on” and “in” your IT department is best described using the example of a small one-person consulting firm specializing in management consulting.  Like most small companies, the owner, has two primary responsibilities; first, generating revenue by doing hands-on consulting and second, trying, to find future consulting assignments.  The problem is that if you try to maximize your revenue by spending all your time working on your current client, when your consulting engagement ends, you don’t have your next client lined up.  Alternatively, if you spend too much time marketing, you run the danger of not properly servicing your current client and/or reducing your billability. Department managers have a similar dilemma.   That is to say, if you spend too much time ”In” your department working on tasks performed within the department, you don’t have time to properly manage your staff and/or perform manager-level tasks such as salary planning and budgeting.  Alternatively, if you spend too much time “on” your department, performing general management functions, then you run the risk of not properly managing your staff. One of the hardest things for self-employed consultants and first-line managers is to properly divide their time between these two types of activities.  This phenomenon is doubly true if the manager is in a player/coach type role where he/she officially has both managerial and individual contributor type responsibilities. Some of the reasons that this balance is hard to achieve are: The pressure to complete department tasks on time and under budget prevents you [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:04:17+00:00 November 23rd, 2020|

Great IT Managers are also teachers

As IT Managers, we wear many hats, including delegator, commander, disciplinarian, leader, decision maker, facilitator, and role model.  Great managers, however, are also teachers, providing instruction and insights to their staff on topics such as: Job specific skills Navigating company politics Leadership skills Interpersonal skills Professional growth and career advancement Life skills, when asked for personal advice Incorporating teaching into your management style has many advantages for your company, your staff members, and you personally. Regarding the advantages to the company, teaching your staff is a triple win.  First, improving the skills of your staff can enhance company morale, boost productivity, increase quality, and reduce employee attrition.  Second, as your staff becomes more highly skilled, due to your tutelage, they increase the company’s bench strength as new projects and challenges arise.  Third, you may be the manager, but you are still an employee. Hence, the more you learn by teaching, the more valuable you become to the company in regard to future promotions. Regarding the advantages to your staff, they’re learning new job skills, gaining insights on navigating their professional careers, have the benefit of working in a nurturing environment, and are enhancing their future professional marketability. The advantages to you personally include: You learn by teaching. The reason you learn when teaching a topic is because students’ questions cause you to consider things from different perspectives, this giving you deeper insights into the topic/subject you are teaching.  Also, teaching makes you break down tasks into steps so you can explain them [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:04:30+00:00 November 16th, 2020|

IT Managers must dance when the music plays

No, I’m not suggesting that you actually start dancing around the office, especially if your ability to dance is similar to mine.  What I am suggesting is that, as an IT Manager, there are specific times and key situations when we really earn our pay.  Depending on how we act, these situations can get us promoted, get us fired, or cause us to be forever ignored and un-promotable. These situations could be related to: Issues with an employee A business partner/user A major production problem causing great risk for the company A major mistake made by someone within your department A natural disaster A major company challenge that potentially brings great success The rollout of a new company product or service As managers, most of workdays, workweeks, and work-years are spent performing standard processes and tasks such as: hiring new people, creating budgets, overseeing ongoing department processes, and going to various types of meetings.  Then, out of the blue, a situation arises that’s highly visible, time sensitive, politically charged, and for better or worse, centered around you or your department. When this situation arises, consider the following advice: Even if the situation is emotionally charged, be calm, think logically, and don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Just because you are temporarily put in the limelight and in full focus of senior management today, it doesn’t mean you will be there tomorrow. As a result, don’t burn any bridges with your boss or other important people.  If you do, once [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:04:41+00:00 November 9th, 2020|

Name your IT projects based on the result you want

At first glance, which of the following projects do you think have the better chance of achieving their needed business results? “Sales Process Redesign” OR “Revenue Growth Enhancement” “Business Intelligence System Implementation” OR “Competitive Analysis Information Gathering” “Employee Inventory Skill List Enhancement” OR “Talent Management Maximization” When looking at the three comparisons above, my contention is that the names listed on the right have a greater chance of meeting their business objects than the project names listed on the left.  The reason for this statement is based on my belief that a project’s name helps define its purpose and helps the project’s manager define his/her team’s vision. When looking at the project names listed above, the names on the left describe the work to be done and the project names on the right describe the business outcome to be achieved.  This subtle difference in naming convention can help the team focus on the “project why”, not just the “project what”.  This simple, seemingly small, difference can help the people working on the project focused on filling the business need, not just completing the business task. In addition to providing project focus, the names on the right also have the potential to help motivate the team.  It’s funny, sometimes in life it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.  As an example, which of the following two rally cries do you find more motivating? “Ok team, let’s get out there and redesign the sales process!” “Ok team, let’s get out there [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:05:02+00:00 November 2nd, 2020|

Be skeptical and engaged not cynical: It fosters innovation

As the IT Manager of a busy department with too much to do and not enough people to do it, it’s easy to simply say no and walk away when a member of your staff suggests an idea for a new project, process improvement, or potential opportunity.  The problem with this approach is that it sends the wrong message to the members of your staff.  I’m not saying here that you should do every idea that your staff suggests, that would be impossible and, quite frankly, odds are that not all of the staff suggestions would be worth doing.  What I am suggesting is that you do the following:  Listen carefully to each suggestion. Who knows, it may be a really good idea and something that you would like to implement within your department.  Discuss the rationale behind the suggestion. This discussion will allow you to not only gain an understanding of the issue at hand, but it will also give you insights as to how the employee assesses situations, defines problems, constructs action plans, and presents his/her business case.  These insights into your staff member’s abilities is valuable when trying to delegate tasks, provide training,  give performance reviews, and deciding how to promote. Thank the employees for their initiative. Whether you use their idea or not, even whether you like it or not, thanking the employee for taking the time and caring enough to make the suggestion has many advantages, including: You are letting the employee know that he/she is being [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:05:13+00:00 October 26th, 2020|

Find meaning beyond just the paycheck

The interesting thing about this column is that it’s not only good advice on how to treat those you manage, it’s also good advice for you personally, regardless of your professional level. Let’s begin by talking about you as the employee and then talk about you as an IT Manager.  My question to you is this: Do you find meaning in your job or is it just a way to feed your family?  Don’t get me wrong, working hard to feed your family is a noble and important goal, I have done it myself for most of my life.  The questions behind the question are: Do you like what you are doing? Do you find meaning in your work? Come Friday afternoon (assuming you work standard business hours) are you thankful it’s a weekend because you are sick of your job or simply because you are looking forward to spending the weekend with loved ones? Does your job allow you to employ your best skills and talents? Is there some other job you would rather be doing? To coin an old expression, does your job get you juiced? (excited and energized) My goal here is not to get you to quit your job.  Rather, it’s to ask you to pause from your daily tasks for a few minutes and look at your job from the perspective of your values, interests, career objectives, and goals in life. I’m asking you these questions for two reasons.  First, as human beings, it’s a wonderful thing [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:05:23+00:00 October 19th, 2020|

Don’t mix IT operational and non-operational tasks

Given the technically sounding title of this column, I thought it would be best to begin by explaining my definition of operational and non-operations tasks.  Then, once defined, explain why you don’t want to mix them. Operational tasks are the mission critical activities and department processes that, by definition, take precedence over all other department activities.  In Information Technology (IT) groups it’s running the daily and nightly production.  In Finance groups it’s opening and closing the monthly books and dealing with budgeting and cash flow issues.  In Human Resources groups it’s salary planning, hiring new people, performance reviews, and dealing with unexpected employee related issues. Non-operational tasks are everything else.  It includes all of those things you would like to do within your department to move forward.  This includes project work, documentation, cleaning common office spaces, implementing new processes, other activities that help move your department forward. At a conceptual level, if possible, you don’t want to assign operational and non-operational tasks to the same person.  The reason is that operational tasks, by design, have to come first.  As a result, it becomes very difficult or impossible to ensure that your team’s non-operational tasks can be completed on time. This is the case because it’s very hard to know exactly how much of your team’s efforts will be spent on production-related activities in a given day, week or month. As an example of this concept, I spent many years managing IT groups.  Given the nature of IT in most organizations, it’s very [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:05:35+00:00 October 12th, 2020|

Have an authentic management style

An enormous amount has been written regarding management styles, best practices, techniques, and theories.  I applaud the authors, social scientists, academics, and business leaders whom have put their thoughts into print and have greatly forwarded the occupation of professional management.  In fact, I have read many of their books and their collective thought has made me a better manager. My first suggestion to you is to become a voracious reader and learn as much as you can from these thought leaders in management and leadership. My second suggestion to you is take this knowledge, combine it with your personal experiences, strengths, weaknesses, values, likes, dislikes, and personality type and define the management style that works best for you. The management style to create should be uniquely you, not uniquely someone else.  You may have had a manager that you so highly respected you made the decision to manage just like him/her.  Alternatively, you may have read a book that you so loved the concepts that you wanted to manage your staff exactly as prescribed in the book’s verbiage.  Lastly, you may have taken a management class, seminar, or webinar that you thought was so noteworthy that you want to follow the exact management formula articulated by the instructor.  I caution you to do none of the above.  You are not your old manager, the author of the book, or the instructor of the class.  You are you and you alone. All that said, combine a little of bit of your old manager, [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:05:47+00:00 October 5th, 2020|

A fish rots from the head down

If you are an IT Manager, to your team, you are the head of the fish. Giving credit where it’s due, the expression “A fish rots from the head down” is an old proverb of unknown origin, but claimed by various countries and cultures.  Also, my limited research into the biological accuracy of the expression leads me to believe that it’s the fish’s inner organs, rather than its head, that actually rot first.  All that said, this is neither a history lesson nor a biology class so let’s get to the management implications of this great proverb. If your department is having issues related to poor morale, low productivity, low quality, high attrition, or other similar and undesirable predicaments, a good place to begin your analysis is with some personal soul searching.  Note that, by this statement, I am by no means saying you are the problem, I’m just saying that you may be the problem or you are potentially contributing to the problem. The reason I’m asking you to consider the possibility that you may be the cause or a contributing factor to your team’s difficulty is for the following reasons: As a manager, or just as a human being, self circumspection can help you learn more about yourself, which can help you grow as a person and as a professional. Knowing is the first step toward correcting. That is to say, that if after personal analysis you conclude that you are the cause of your team’s distress, you can begin [...]

By | 2020-09-22T02:05:58+00:00 September 28th, 2020|

Learn management by talking to strangers

When I was little my mother told me it was dangerous to talk to strangers. When you are a small child, this is great advice that will help keep you safe and out of harm’s way.  As an IT Manager, however, not talking to strangers can dramatically Reduce your ability to network professional Minimize the chance of finding new potential opportunities Lessen your chances of expanding your professional contacts Decrease the likelihood of widening your professional horizons though chance discussions with interesting people Before I continue, I would like to clarify what I mean by talking to strangers and say, that even as adults, we have to be somewhat on guard and cognizant of our environment.  By talking to strangers, I mean Meeting new fellow employees in your company’s cafeteria Discussing general business topics with the person sitting next to you on a airplane Striking up conversations with people at professional association meetings Getting to know the fellow participants at a professional seminar or class In addition to face-to-face interactions with other like-minded professionals, you can also asynchronously have conversations with new people via professional discussion boards and blog posts. All of the above activities can help you grow as a professional, grow as a person, and related to this column, grow as a manager. Having discussions with people working outside of your professional area, company, industry, and/or country can help broaden your thinking by helping you understand the priorities, needs, and concerns of People of different ages (baby boomers, Gen Xers, [...]

By | 2020-09-22T00:17:49+00:00 September 22nd, 2020|
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