Dashboards: over and under used

gray airplane control panel

I did a search for IT dashboards to see what is currently going on and limited the search to this past month. There are an amazing number of complex dashboards, with dozens of little graphs and charts.

I can’t see how they are useful over a long period of time. Too much time is spent maintaining the automated tools to gather the metrics or manually gathering the data compared to the value we get. When personnel change, they often bring other ideas for metrics.

In an operating room, there is a lot of equipment, all with displays, warning bells and lights, and numbers available at a glance. Individuals in the operating room are responsible for their equipment. There is no central dashboard for the surgeon because it takes focus away from the main goal of surgery on the patient.

Airplane cockpits are very complex. There are many dials, knobs, levels, switches, and displays available to the pilot. Lots of effort has gone into identifying what the pilot needs and when they need it. The goal is flying the plane, and that drives how the cockpit is designed.

IT needs to take some hints from these two scenarios. Too often, metrics are gathered onto a dashboard because it is easy to create the metric. After it is created, people figure out how to use it. It should be the other way around. Don’t create the metric unless you know how to use it to manage the department.

The internal metrics for our IT departments should be driven from the external metrics we share with the rest of the organization.

We need to keep our eye on the primary task of managing the department and only make our team create metrics that will drive decisions and behavior changes.

IT Leaders: How long will it take?

silhouette of men in construction site during sunset

“How long will it take?” A question full of risk, yet, one that gets asked of IT leaders frequently. IT leaders also ask it of their team, so it can be a double-edged sword. How can we deal with these requests for estimates?

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Two Articles in Golem.de, a German Magazine for IT professionals

A German magazine for IT professionals, Golem,de, published two articles related to my IT books.

First Days: Decision Making

compass on hand

As an IT leader, you make decisions that impact other people, often significantly. The decisions you make will affect the organization everywhere on the continuum, from tactical to strategic.

Some decisions require lots of thought and analysis. Some require less. How do you know?

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Are you who you say you are?

grayscale photo of gas mask

How do I know you are who you say you are? How do you know I am who I say I am?

I think that verification of online presences will become more important over the next few years. This includes all the social media. It also includes anywhere that an employee representing an organization is present online.

We will need to strike a balance for the need to have anonymous accounts and the need to know specifically who are scam calling the elderly. Most systems we have in place are too far in one direction or the other, usually towards anonymous accounts. We need a better balance.

We need the ability to prove who we are if we so chose. We need the ability to be anonymous if we want. And we need a way to limit contact with those that may not be who they say they are.

I don’t have good answers, and there are those smarter than me that are thinking about this stuff.

However, if you lead an IT department, you need to make sure that your identity management actually works and that your social media policies cover identity.

CIO.com: War for Talent article: decent ideas, terrible title

people forming round by shoes

Recently, CIO.com published an article titled “IT’s ‘war for talent’ is a losing battle“.

Let me get one thing out of the way first. The title sucks. It is clearly clickbait, like all titles that use this phrase. Very few in IT actually think it is a war. Same for HR. Competition? Yes. Tough competition? Absolutely! War? Don’t be stupid. Go tell the Ukrainians that your search for talent is analogous to their war. I’ve been involved in organizations with other IT leaders for years and no one ever talked about employee relations as a war. I’m sure there are a few out there, but they are a clear minority, in my opinion.

The article itself is decent. There are two points that are particularly strong.

  1. Remote work is here to stay. We can argue about what percentage of employees need to be in the office how many days of the week but that doesn’t change the point. Personally, I think the pendulum will swing back to more in-office in a few years, when both employees and employers realize that new employee connections to the company are weaker in remote situations. But I also believe that IT leaders must offer, support, and enable remote work as a permanent change. Provide the tools, HR policies, and management techniques to support remote workers as full members of the team.
  2. Build a pipeline. Intern programs with local post-high-school education entities are an excellent way to see a handful of upcoming graduates. Get involved in local technical groups to spot talent that becomes available. Find out the local IT certificate programs to find the diamonds in the rough without a college degree. Even smaller IT departments with a dozen or two employees can benefit from these techniques.

As always, remember that retention is more important than any of this. The position that doesn’t come open is the easiest to fill.

Who Should Be Fast?

bottom view of plane with contrail

We are all familiar with the saying that speed matters in business. Similarly, if everything else is the same, faster is better in business.

What we don’t talk about often enough is who needs to be faster.

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First Days: Manage Your Task List

postit scrabble to do todo

(The following is an excerpt from my book: The I.T. Leader’s First Days, a book to give a jump start to new IT leaders.)

As you enter leadership, you enter a world where you are primarily responsible for identifying and prioritizing your day-to-day task list. You won’t be working on a project list. You won’t be working from an agile sprint board. You won’t be working on the list of help desk tickets. You will set most of your tasks, not someone else.

These tasks will be large and small. Some will depend others and some will be only you. Some will be out in the organization and some will be with your team. Some will repeat and some will be unique. 

You will need to maintain a sense of priority among things that are very short term (return a phone call) or very long term (set strategy for all IT systems). 

Managing this wildly varying list is hard. Simple time management techniques struggle with the variety. It is also a very personal thing. Everyone has to find their own technique. 

Your task management technique will change over time. Constantly improving it will pay big dividends.

Where are you putting your decision effort?

Nice post about big and little decisions.


The I.T. Leader’s First Days: Learn The Infrastructure

software engineer standing beside server racks

In American football, the athletes who are in the offensive line positions rarely get the glory. There are rarely positive highlight reels on the game recaps. Often, they only get attention when something goes wrong. However, as many coaches will tell you, as goes the offensive line, so goes the offense.  

Infrastructure is IT’s offensive line. As goes the infrastructure, so goes the organization. Infrastructure is highly technical. The people and the technology need speed and flexibility. It requires a good plan in place and the ability to react to changing needs and threats. 

Unfortunately, like the offensive line, there are rarely any positive highlight reels. You don’t see the articles on how an organization has a great infrastructure. Others in the organization rarely appreciate a solid infrastructure unless they realize that they never have any problems.

Now your job includes overseeing the infrastructure.

Portions of this article are excerpted from my book, The I.T. Leader’s First Days, available from bookstores everywhere.

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