Harvard Business School’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 post I'm taking off my Ed Tech hat, and swapping it for my “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 presentation was inspiring, and it addressed many ideas that I feel strongly about as a technology manager, so I'm sharing 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, and reminds them of some of the things that can really impact the value we can 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 – the explanatory language following each of these is mostly my own. I hope that my interpretations and suggestions do Stephen's “factors” 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 since most of them are concepts I also espouse, and those that haven't been part of my lexicon previously certainly are now because they just make sense.
1. Hire and mentor a great team. You're only as good as your people. Hire people with a great 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 do can be outsourced or insourced – you should strive to differentiate which services your team can do better (more cost effectively, more efficiently) than outside vendors, and which they can't. Communicate the business case that demonstrates what you do better to your executive team! Then work to “get out of those businesses you shouldn't be in”. Just be sure to plan for 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 formal approach such as a Technology Steering Committee or similar platform. Also be sure to employ project management methodologies if you don't already (it's kind of scary how many small, and even some mid-sized shops, don't). Also, learn a little about governance methodologies such as 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 through new ideas and select a few to pilot. No one knows your environment like you and your staff do, and the creative, unique solutions that you can provide will really demonstrate your value.
5. Actively measure. Meaningful metrics are essential to identifying strengths and weaknesses, and enabling continuous improvement. They also play a fundamental role in communicating value added by your team. What is your uptime for critical systems? How effectively do you meet project deadlines and deliverables? What trends do your 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 of additional very useful information. Measure internal staff satisfaction too.
6. Capture the customer. It is so important to have an informed sense of the customer's perspective, and not to work from 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. Limit tech-speak in your interactions with them, speak their language not yours (save that for communicating 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 with the organization – market your plans, showcase the shop's progress, seek out constructive feedback. Establish a regular process for communicating with the executive team, and market your team and your successes to the organization as a whole.
8. Leverage trusted advisers. We would all do well to have a number of advisers to bounce ideas off of, and to learn from. Network – in person and via the ‘net, find people whose opinions you can trust, and establish a means of communication with them. Vendors can be another source of advice. I'm surprised by the reluctance some IT practitioners display in seeking 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 contacts can help you, your organization, and your career.
So there you have it – a robust set of fundamental factors that can facilitate the success of any IT organization. Consider these ideas and think about steps you can take to better leverage them (and then revisit this plan from to time to time).
Thanks again to Stephen Laster for sharing these ideas, and for giving me permission to share them with you.