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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Response to CIO’s “7 Lies” Article published an article called “7 Lies IT Leaders should never tell” and I have thoughts. Many thoughts…

Overall, the author (John Edwards) has written a good article that covers some good points. Worth the read by IT leaders. Bonus of some tasty quotes from IT leaders.

#1: “IT always knows what’s best for business” Yup, this is not, never has been, and never will be true. But I think it is possible to reach the “IT often knows” stage as long as you do three simple things: ask, listen, and verify. Continually verifying your understanding will help prevent your knowledge from going stale. Business moves fast and because we are busy with keeping up in our own space, we may hold on to some no-longer-true information. Regular meetings with business leaders will keep your finger on the pulse of the organization.

#2 “Everybody is replaceable” The title here is actually true, not a lie. Everyone leaves their job at some point either for a different job, retirement, or death. However, the main point in the words behind this title are excellent and would have been better titled “Don’t Be A Jerk”. An important reason for this is that, when people leave, there is a cost. We are all familiar with the technical, organizational, and process knowledge that walks out the door when someone leaves. There is also the loss of understanding of why things were done. Why is there an exception for Wednesdays in this code? Absent knowing why, we keep it in, even if it is no longer valid. Or yank it and screw up some customers because there was a good why for it. Employee retention matters for IT, perhaps more than other departments (although I’ll deny typing that if the finance leader asks me about it).

#5 “The hybrid work model is just another fad” (don’t worry, I’ll come back to #3 and #4) Everything is a fad. Every technology, process, model, etc. Fad implies a very short time horizon, but that doesn’t mean that things that aren’t a fad stick around. Sure, some things last longer than others (faxes anyone?), but for internal business activities, even short-lived ones need attention. Even if hybrid goes away in a few years, companies still MUST invest in supporting it today.

#6 “I’m always available” Oh my, I hope not. Family, self-care, and urgent bathroom breaks are all higher priority than the vast majority of communications and tasks that come to you. If you are managing your time correctly, you are checking email a few times a day, not constantly (and especially not in the bathroom). As an IT leader, you need to block off time on your calendar to sink deep into a problem or strategy. Give your team skills and the freedom to deal with emergencies so they don’t require you before taking step one. And make damn sure that your employees don’t have to get permission from you before heading home to take care of a family emergency—a quick text informing you is always sufficient.

Ok, I told you I would get back to #3 and #4 and since #7 gets the same response, here we go (click to the article see the ones I am referring to). Who actually says things like these? Really, who says this? Words like “failure-proof”, “impervious”, and “total” will only get you in trouble. Stating them as goals is great. Never use them when describing the current, or even a future, state.

The title of the article was well click-baited, but the article has some good points. (Yes, I just verbed that but since you know exactly what I am talking about, I communicated it successfully. Smile.)

Tomorrow’s Problems: An Opportunity

Another good post from Seth Godin.

The post talks about short term vs long term problems and how it is easier to focus on the immediate problems.

This is true for all of us, including the IT department. We see today’s problems with much more clarity than tomorrow’s or next year’s.

How do you balance the immediacy of today’s problems and the importance of tomorrow’s?

A classic example is balancing working on help desk tickets vs eliminating future tickets. Sure, everyone agrees that eliminating future tickets is the right thing, but how many help desks actually behave that way?

I would suggest that if you prioritized all the active tickets, some of them are lower priority than preventing future tickets.

Let’s look at an example. Imagine a help desk that gets 50-75 tickets/day. Imagine they also have identified a good candidate for ticket elimination; that is some work that, if performed, will eliminate some number of future tickets. Let’s say it will take 20 hours of work.

If you approach the 50-75 tickets/day as a single block of work, AFTER which you work on the ticket elimination, you will never make progress.

However, if you look at those tickets, there are very likely tickets that are not urgent. They have a workaround; they are questions; they can wait until later. Those tickets should be prioritized LOWER than the ticket elimination work. You fit the 20 hours in before handling the lower priority tickets. Perhaps not in a single stretch but some each day.

Because if you can eliminate future tickets, you are giving the gift of time to both your team and the users. If you can eliminate ten tickets a week, that is time your team will have for other things, like doing more ticket elimination. A virtuous cycle.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It requires discipline, a focus on the future, and permission for help desk personnel to ignore some tickets for a day or two. Also, if you have a hard focus on metrics, this can trip you up.

Make sure you encourage and reward ticket elimination, or any future problem resolution. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

First Days: Learn The Finances

compass on financial newspaper

Starting a new IT leadership position requires you to learn a huge amount. Make sure you don’t overlook finances.

Internally, you will have a budget to manage the IT spending. You will need to work with your team to stay within that budget. Externally, the IT budget fits into the larger organization’s financial picture.

Let’s look at some ways to come up to speed quickly on financials.

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

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First Days: Learn The IT Department

people sitting in audience

It is your first day in your new IT Leadership position. You have all the HR admin stuff out of the way. You may have met with a few people, maybe even had a group meeting with the IT Team.

Now what?

Learning about the people in the IT department is an important part of coming up to speed in your new job. Let’s talk about how to do this.

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

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First Days: Information from Data

person pointing numeric print

As an IT Leader, you will be awash in data. Data swirls all around. From your systems. From the business. From your team. That data is full of information that you need to manage the department.

Learn how to harness it.

First, you need to understand what you have. In your position, you have access to more structured and unstructured data than anyone in the company. That’s a bold statement, but I believe it is true.

You (with help from your team, of course) have access to virtually all the data in all your systems. Finance and Human Resources may limit access to confidential data. But, generally, you have access to most of the data in the company.

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

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First Days: Your 3 Month Tsunami

sea landscape beach water

The “3 Month Tsunami” is a phenomenon that every new hire goes through. When you start a new IT Leadership position, it can be even worse.

Ok, it is your first day on a new job. You go through some HR orientation with a bunch of paperwork and processes that are each worthy of several hours of study, but you just take the defaults or bring it home to study.

The first week, you meet people on your team, start learning the job requirements, and maybe a bit about the larger organization.

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

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First Days: Interconnectedness of History

Coming up to speed as a new IT leader requires that you take in a wider variety of information than ever before.

One of the things you will discover is that everything is connected. As Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) wrote in his book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, we are dealing with “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.”

One of the places where this interconnectedness pops up is in the history of the organization. Depending on that history, this can be an important part of understanding the organization or it can be a small part.

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

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