Harvard Business Schoolâ€™s CIO delivered an engaging keynote address at the Campus Technology 2010 Conference. It included this set of recommended practices that all IT shops should strive to incorporate.
For this week's postÂ I'm taking off my Ed Tech hat, and swapping it for myÂ “IT Manager” hat. While I am undeniably an Education Technology enthusiast and advocate (alright, I'm a tech geek), professionally I am first and foremost an IT Manager. Mr. Laster's presentationÂ was inspiring, and it addressedÂ many ideas that I feelÂ strongly about as a technology manager, so I'mÂ sharingÂ some of them here in the hopes that others can benefit from them.
Hopefully this post finds it's way to other managers, and aspiring managers, andÂ reminds them of some of the thingsÂ that can really impact the valueÂ we canÂ deliver to the organizations we work for. If you are reading this and you are not a technology manager, there is still plenty to be gained by understanding these notions (and by passing this on to other managers that you work with!).
Below I list the 8 factors discussed by Laster -Â the explanatory language following each of these is mostly my own. I hope that my interpretations and suggestions doÂ Stephen's “factors”Â justice – he did a great job of backing these up with specific points that that he elaborated on. I also find it easy to speak to these ideas sinceÂ most of themÂ are conceptsÂ I also espouse, and those that haven't been part of my lexicon previously certainly are now because theyÂ justÂ makeÂ sense.
1. Hire and mentor a great team. You're only as good as your people. Hire people with a greatÂ attitude and the ability to learn. In addition to taking the time and effort to hire great people, be sure to bring them along with mentoring and professional development.
2. Run the shop as a business. In many ways, the IT shop is a “business within the business” (or within the “organization”, if the ‘b' word makes you uncomfortable). Much of what we doÂ canÂ be outsourced or insourced – you should strive toÂ differentiateÂ which servicesÂ your team canÂ do better (more cost effectively,Â more efficiently) thanÂ outside vendors, and which they can't. Communicate the business case that demonstratesÂ what you do better to your executive team!Â Â Then work to “get out of those businesses you shouldn't be in”. Just be sure toÂ plan forÂ the time and resources you'll need to manage those relationships tightly – outsourcing doesn't mean there isn't still work to do.
3. Leverage planning and governance. Work closely with peers and senior executives to plan and prioritize – get them involved, consider a formalÂ approach such asÂ a Technology Steering Committee or similar platform. Also be sure to employ project management methodologies if you don't alreadyÂ (it's kind of scary how many small, andÂ even some mid-sized shops, don't). Also, learn a little about governance methodologies such asÂ ITIL or COBIT and consider their use.
4. Take smart risks. Are you looking beyond the fundamental requirements and needs of your constituents and trying to innovate new solutions? It can be challenging, but it is critical that some time be set aside for innovation. Sort throughÂ new ideas and select a few to pilot. No one knows your environment like you and your staff do, and the creative, uniqueÂ solutionsÂ that you canÂ provideÂ will really demonstrate your value.
5. Actively measure. Meaningful metrics are essential toÂ identifying strengths and weaknesses, and enabling continuous improvement. They also play a fundamental role in communicating value added by your team.Â What is your uptime for critical systems? How effectively do you meet project deadlines and deliverables? What trends doÂ yourÂ Help Desk ticket volumes identify? I'm also a firm believer in Time Tracking – this enables you to know your capacity for projects, and provides a lot ofÂ additionalÂ very useful information.Â Measure internal staff satisfaction too.
6. Capture the customer. It is so important to have an informed sense ofÂ the customer's perspective, andÂ not to work fromÂ unproven assumptions about their experiences and perspectives. Spend time with the customers. Survey them. Do focus groups. Understand what they need from you to help them do their jobs. LimitÂ tech-speak in your interactions with them,Â speak their language not yours (save thatÂ for communicatingÂ with fellow IT staffers).
7. Communicate, communicate, communicate. You may be doing all sorts of great things, but if no one knows about it, then, well, no one knows about it. One of the key roles of the top tier of IT management is to communicate withÂ the organization – marketÂ your plans, showcase theÂ shop'sÂ progress, seek out constructive feedback. Establish a regularÂ process forÂ communicating with theÂ executive team, and market your team and your successes to the organization as a whole.
8. Leverage trusted advisers. We would all do well toÂ have a number of advisers to bounce ideas off of, and to learn from. Network – in person and via the ‘net,Â find people whose opinions you can trust, and establish a meansÂ of communication with them. Vendors can be anotherÂ source of advice. I'mÂ surprised by the reluctance some IT practitioners display in seekingÂ outside advice. A lot of vendors will share a good amount of insight for free in initial consultations, so don't hesitate to bring them in when you're considering a new initiative. Chances are that every now and then you'll find some vendor contacts that offer excellent advice and don't charge you just to pick up the phone and talk – those kinds of contactsÂ can help you, your organization,Â and your career.
So there you have it -Â aÂ robustÂ set of fundamental factors that can facilitate the success of any IT organization. ConsiderÂ these ideas and think about steps you can take to better leverage them (and then revisit this planÂ from to time to time).
Thanks again to Stephen Laster for sharing these ideas, and for giving me permission to share them with you.