Strategy: Start with the end in mind


Making-strategy-stickA few of us may have had the good fortune to step into the role as manager in an IT environment where everything is working smoothly, thanks to the long-term strategies and efforts of those who were in that same position before you. Software development projects are completed on-time and with no or perhaps a few minor production fixes to make. Expenses are in check, your vendors are performing as expected, and there have been no major network or system failures as far back as you can remember.

And now back to the real world of IT management where project timelines are always slipping, unchecked expenses are hammering at your budget, employee turnover is high, systems fail on a regular basis, the network is “slow”, and it seems like it’s always a Monday. You’ve inherited a mess and you ask yourself, “What am I doing here?

Baschab and Piot provide us with these suggestions to get the situation under control. “It is critical for the manager to aggressively address the issues, or the chaos created by the environment will be a tar pit from which neither successful projects nor the manager’s career will escape.”

  • Change the status-quo of the culture of the IT group
  • Improve communication between business and IT
  • Gain support from the business, educate them about value that IT can add to the firm
  • Address these challenges quickly, don’t let them fester

“If the cultural and process hindrances cannot be overcome after significant effort, at least the manager will quickly understand that and be able to move on to greener pastures,” according to Baschab and Piot.

Did you ever inherit a “Highly Heterogeneous Environment?” What actions did you take to gain control and begin to implement your strategic vision and build success for your department? Or did you leave for “greener pastures?”

Thanks for reading.

“If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.” – Will Rogers

 

 

Chaos: What if?


cat herding

There are times when things at work appear to be spinning completely out of control. Projects get reassigned, requirements seem to be continually changing, timelines get pushed back, and on it goes. Chaos can be defined as behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions, complete disorder and confusion. I think that describes how many of you might describe your work condition.

A contributing cause for chaos, discussed by Dörner (1996), is the cognitive limitation of human decision-making. He characterizes complex situations as follows. First, the question is about complexity, the existence of many interrelated variables. Second, we have to deal with dynamic systems. It is not enough to manage the system a single moment, but over time. Third, the system is to some extent intransparent; we cannot see all we want to see. Fourth, ignorance and mistaken hypotheses prevail. We usually do not know all relationships between the variables. Dörner (1996) goes on to explain the generic causes of mistakes people make when dealing with complex systems:

  • slowness of thinking
  • small amount of information that can be processed at any one time
  • limited inflow capacity of the memory
  • tendency to protect the sense of competence
  • tendency to focus on the immediately pressing problems.

Managing chaos and reducing risk in your environment is a skill that good leaders learn. Know the unknown, manage the unmanageable – it’s like herding cats.

Thanks for reading.

“Chaos is a friend of mine.” – Bob Dylan

 

 

References:

Avoiding and Managing Chaos in Projects

Dörner, D. (1996). The Logic of Failure, Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA. 222 p. (Excellent book!)

 

CIO: Career Is Over


kill-your-voice-over-careerThe position of Chief Information Officer is arguably one of the most complicated and most visible at a company. It spans the management of utility functions (email, meeting scheduling) to the applications that run business processes (proprietary operational software, financial/accounting packages) and software to expand the business (CRM, and customer facing documents). The CIO sets the strategic direction for IT and he must be able to communicate with each of the different business and functional units at their own levels of understanding. His responsibility spans the entire company and is the most significant contributor to the success or failure of the IT department. No wonder the average turnover rate for CIOs is 33% and 50% annually.

CIOs rarely get promoted and only 7% of Fortune 500 companies place CIO’s in their group of top-five highest paid officers. So why would anyone want this job? This situation was coined the “Groucho Marx Problem” that originated from a quote by (you guessed it) Groucho Marx, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.” Which means that anyone that is disposed to accept a CIO position is probably the wrong person for the job.

Businesses need to understand the importance of finding and keeping a good CIO and the value that he adds to the company. And conversely, parting ways with ineffective ones. No other single factor determines if your IT management will be effective and if your IT department will add value to the company or be perceived as an unending sink-hole for financial resources.

So Mr. CIO, how are you keeping it all together? Please comment and share your winning strategies with us.

Thanks for reading.

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” –Abraham Lincoln

 

Sharing: “Friends share all things.” – Pythagoras


sharing

I’ve got a little problem at work. Maybe you can help me out?

You see, we have twenty-plus developers mostly working on individual one-person projects that last an average of about two months from beginning to end. During a project’s lifecycle, there are specifications and developer notes that are written-up and archived onto a project server folder. When the project comes to an end, the new version of software gets loaded and the project team goes on to their next big thing.

Flash forward a few months…

To a hypothetical situation.

Let’s say a request for a new awesome feature gets suggested and your boss asks you those two, five-word phrases that developers loathe to hear, “how hard would it be?” Followed shortly after with “how long will it take?” You have no idea what will be involved, the developer who originally worked on the project got a new job with a different company, the project manager has gone on vacation and won’t be returning for another week, and no one else has the technical knowledge to provide you with any information. Hypothetically of course.

How can we share those nuggets of information that are buried somewhere in the deep recesses of a Windows directory (or in some programmer’s head)? What could the original developer have done to better share his subject matter knowledge? How can we become better at sharing knowledge and breakdown the walls to the silos of information, and connect to these islands of data within an organization?

Is email the answer?

Emails, according to the Radicati Group, the average corporate user will send and receive 125 emails per day by 2015. That would be more than 32,000 emails per year if only accounting for traditional work weeks, but with the continued rise of smartphone usage, this number is sure to exceed 40,000.

  • 144 billion –Total email traffic per day worldwide. With the entire population of the Earth at 7 billion, that’s more than 20 emails per day – per person – on the planet!
  • 8% – Percentage of all email traffic that was spam.
  • 76% – Percentage of all spam that was about pharmaceuticals, the top category of all spam.

That’s a lot of unwanted email “noise” competing with the valuable data-carrying signal we want. People will simply start to ignore all of it.

So, what steps do you take at your business to reduce the risk of information walking out the door with the developer or being buried away deep in a system archive? What is the most effective way to share your company’s ever-growing repository of technical knowledge? Is it through a Wiki model, or maybe a Twitterish type strategy? Or is the only true answer to be found in the return of leaving sticky notes on people’s screens?

Thanks for reading.

 “Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.” – Dalai Lama

 

Follow up, see the BI article, “Businesses Must Fight A Relentless Battle Against Bureaucracy”

Framework for a Successful Man


wireman

 

Faith

Mister Webster defines faith as, “complete trust – or a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength – in someone or something.” What do you have faith in? Who do you completely trust? Your spouse, parents, siblings, a friend, God? Who or what can you say is reliable – that is, behaves or performs in a manner that is predictable and expected? Faith is not just a “hope” or a wish for something. Faith runs deeper, to the heart of a person’s being. A well placed faith is built on a reputation of honesty, integrity, steadfastness.

Faith can see you through life’s tough times, uplift you when you are worn out, and be an encouragement in moments of self-doubt.

There is a story about a great high wire artist in 1940 who was putting on a performance over Niagara Falls. A cable had been stretched from Canada to the US. He started from the Canadian side and was crossing to America. In front he was pushing a wheelbarrow. One foot at a time he crossed the wire, below millions of tons of water were crashing over the falls.

The artist with nerves of steel pushed his wheelbarrow across. As he reached the American side wild cheers were sent up, drowning out the roar of the great falls. He stood alone on the platform, hands raised high, and yelled to the crowd below. “Do you believe I can do it again?” The crowd went into a frenzied roar. He yelled again, “Do I have a volunteer to ride in the wheelbarrow?” All you could hear was the roar from the falls, the crowd was silent.

Real faith is lived out.

Family

What’s your history, your genealogy, your ancestry, your bloodline? Why should you care about any of “that stuff”? Because it’s who you are, a little bit of all of them is in you. Your history gives you a foundation, a framework from which to better understand yourself, and who doesn’t need to know themselves better?!?– what makes you tick, act the way that you act?

Your breeding can contribute to your personality (dominant or docile), “confirmation” or your physical attributes, like strong bones, height, color of skin, hair, and eyes. And the environment in your home where you were nurtured also helped to further shape your character, speech, and behaviors.

Who your parents are is one of the few things in life that you have absolutely no control over. You might love them, resent them, or be somewhere in between. But, at some point in your adult life you will utter the phrase, “Oh, my gosh, I sound just like my mother/father!”

“In every conceivable manner, the family is a link to our past, bridge to our future.” – Alex Haley

Friends

You can tell a lot about a person by who their friends are, those that are the closest them. Most people have only a handful of really close friends. These are the ones you can share anything with – without fear of being judged or criticized. But, true friendship also has within it the expectation and permission to hold each other accountable for each other’s actions. These are the people that you can call in the middle of the night to come get you when your car is broken-down, in the rain, 50 miles away, on a holiday. Or someone who is comfortable with you crashing for the night on their couch.

Friendship is all about relationships with others, being vulnerable, and being honest – which is a small price to pay for the joy you can receive in return. Choose your friends and associates carefully.

“Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.” – Hugh Mackay

Forgiveness

For me, this is one of the most (if not the most) difficult human qualities to put into practice, especially when the other person is unremorseful. Holding on to anger and bitterness when someone else does you wrong will only eat away at you. Unforgiveness has been compared to trying to get even with someone by drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die. It only harms you, the other person might not even be aware of the fact that they have offended you, which makes the weight of your suffering even more absurd. They could be completely oblivious (especially if they are of the male gender). Forgiveness is a process, a daily acknowledgement that I have given up my “right” to get even with another individual. Forgiveness seems to be contrary to my human nature. I want equity and justice when there has been an offence done.

“I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.” – Henry Ward Beecher

So much more could be written about this topic but, I went on too long as it is. I’ve listed just a few attributes in these 900 or so words that I view as being important contributors to becoming a success as a man and leader. I hope my son reads this.

Leave a comment if you dare.

As always, thanks for reading!

“He has achieved success who has worked well, laughed often, and loved much.” – Elbert Hubbard

 

See also, “How to Become a Huge Success” by Michael Schein

IT Budgets: Big Yawn


woman yawning

I know, I know – budgeting and boring both begin with the same letter. Proper budgeting is not a spellbinding topic of discussion, and yet misspending or poorly managing costs is another symptom of an ineffective IT department. So, just like your mother used to tell you, ‘eat your vegetables’ and read on, it will be good for you!

Spending too much or spending too little – overdoing it either way – can be harmful to the IT group and to the company. Baschab and Piot have found that IT managers do not have the same keen awareness of the “cost of costs” that most other managers seem to have and often do not show the same sensitivity to the effect of cost on the bottom line. Business unit managers are aware of the effects spending a dollar and the amount of sales that are required to cover the expense – given a profit margin of 10%, it would take $10 in confirmed sales to cover the $1 spent.

Baschab and Piot illustrate this point with the story about a “manager over a 15-person IT shop [that] had submitted a requisition for a server that cost more than $20,000. Although it was clear that a less robust, less powerful model would suit just as well, her response to the notion of a downgrade was ‘Look, it’s only $20,000; we have over $100 million in revenues.’ This unfortunately, is often the perspective from IT. We reminded the manager that to ‘cover’ the cost of the server would require a sales team to sell more than $200,000 in products and services.”

The flip-side of the IT budget coin is under-spending. While not as common, underinvestment in IT infrastructure can go undetected and unnoticed (like decay inside a tree) until it is too late and services become disrupted, security becomes porous, and customers complain.

Underinvesting can be caused by timid IT managers who do not get behind their department’s needs and push their agendas through. Another cause of this corrosive behavior are managers of other business units who do not recognize the benefits and value that technology provides. Investments in technology have accounted for more than two-thirds of the productivity growth in the past fifty years. “Companies who consistently underinvest in technology are at risk for higher than necessary cost structures, missed opportunities in new markets, and erosion of share in existing markets by aggressive competitors who find ways to serve their customer better with technology.”

Some symptoms of these behaviors are:

  • Spending more than per group companies on IT, as a percentage of revenue
  • Large quarter to quarter expansion of IT spending without corresponding growth in revenues
  • High levels of outside purchasing – services, consulting, contracting
  • Continuous flow of ‘emergency’ requisitions from IT for headcount, services, equipment, or software
  • Ongoing large budget variances

Have you found the proper spending balance for your IT organization? What aspects of predicting the future do you find challenging?

Thanks for reading!

“The best way to predict the future is to make it.” – Peter Drucker

Ineffectiveness: “I can’t get no satisfaction” – The Rolling Stones


Mick Jagger

One of the best indicators of successful performance for an IT department are satisfied business managers. The most effective organizations have management that has a clear understanding of how IT can assist them and improve efficiencies, reduce costs, increase revenues, and add value. This KPI comes with the assumption that senior management is fulfilling their responsibilities of running their businesses efficiently, with the best interests of the shareholders in mind.

When business and IT are in-tune with each other and IT has aligned itself with the goals of the business, the business will be recognize when IT is not living up to those goals.

However, the situation is more commonly one of an enormous disconnect between management and IT. What typically follows are: unsatisfied users, unmet service level agreements, distrust between IT and business managers, and increased frustration and tension.

Are you seeing any of these symptoms of ineffectiveness in your workplace?

  • Business managers lack confidence in IT when it commits to a deadline or business managers discount the probability of completion.
  • Users are frustrated by their lack of control over IT, they perceive that IT “doesn’t listen.”
  • Business doesn’t believe that IT has the same goals as their overall business, most easily evidenced in the perception that IT “doesn’t care about helping the business succeed.”
  • Business users either don’t know of or don’t understand priorities in the IT department.
  • Business units create and implement systems without input or help from IT.
  • IT department insulates itself from the rest of the organization and does not communicate or socialize with business units or other functional areas.

What is the prescription for success and satisfaction?

According to Baschab and Piot, the treatment would include:

  • Implementing a steering committee to provide advice and leadership to the IT director and help to quickly resolve issues between business and IT
  • Upgrade management talent in the IT department by hiring the right director
  • Establish a well-documented master list of projects and determine their priority using object measurements such as, ROI
  • Determine the intrinsic capacity of the number of projects IT can accomplish and limit the number of open projects to that capacity
  • Add basic project management disciplines

Those are just a few of the remedies mentioned in “The Executives Guide to Information Technology.

How satisfied are you? Have you experienced other symptoms of dysfunctional relationships between IT and business? How did you improve the situation?

Thanks for reading.

“The keystone of successful business is cooperation. Friction retards progress.” – James Cash Penney