IT Leaders: The Most Important Part of Our Job

As the leader of the IT department, we lead a team with lots of connections with the rest of the business. We lead a team that supports the technology and process needs of the entire business. We will make priority decisions and resource allocation decisions that impact the rest of the business. How can we do these things if we don’t understand the business?

We can’t.

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Where IT and Business Meet

The point of the IT department is to help the organization succeed. To do this, we need to understand that organization and the world it operates in. In addition, we must understand technology products, services, and trends enough to know how to apply them to our organization. We must understand the overlap between business and technology. That is where the IT department lives.

While this concept applies to any staff group in an organization, including HR, Finance, etc., let’s look at what this means for IT.

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Ask the IT Director: Upgrades Get Blamed For Everything

Dear IT Director,
We upgraded one of our major systems last year. We had some glitches, but overall it went fairly well. Here we are a year later, and people still blame the upgrade when they have problems. Very frustrating!

Upgraded in Upton

Dear Upgraded,
Hahaha! HAHAHA! C’mon, laugh with me. LOLOLOL! The only other option is to cry. There are a few things we can do to reduce this problem, but we can’t eliminate this completely because, well, people are people. And, in part, we did this to ourselves. Let me explain.

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Proactivity Is Overrated

We need to always think about the future. Everything we do today affects us, our team, and the company in the future.

We know that being proactive is better than being reactive. Anticipating the future and taking actions to deal with future events is the right approach. Reacting to events can make us appear slow. Being proactive and not reactive has been excellent advice for many years.

But being proactivity is no longer enough.

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Build On Strengths

photo of golden cogwheel on black background

I believe that a core component of leading people is to understand and leverage their strengths. Everyone has parts of their job they are good at and parts they aren’t. Knowing the parts they are good at and figuring out how to use that strength is important. Let me give an example.

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Ask The IT Director: Vendor Screwed Up

Dear IT Director,
One of my long-term vendors messed up last week, and we are dealing with the fallout. They know my company really well and I don’t want to look for a different vendor.
Angry in Akron

Dear Angry,
I feel your pain. Anyone that uses vendors has dealt with this problem. One of their people makes a mistake that causes extra work for your team. They push a problem into production that impacts your users. They build something that requires rework that blows your budget and schedule. They supply a person who just isn’t up to the normal skill level.

There are a few things we can do when this happens, and, yes, one of those options is finding a new vendor. Let’s walk through them.

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Shadow IT: Orphans

white wooden boat adrift at shore under grey cloudy sky

IT folks all know the drill. Someone calls the Help Desk to report that some spreadsheet or program isn’t working. The Help Desk can’t solve the problem and escalates it. After much conversation, we realize that we have discovered another Shadow IT orphan. The creator of the complex spreadsheet or, worse, a VB6 program, is long gone. The users have been using it for years, not knowing it is a time bomb.

The expectations on IT at that point are to become the adopting parents. Sometimes we can get lucky and foist a spreadsheet off on Finance to have them try to figure it out, but that doesn’t work very often. But the programs? Sigh, those we have to deal with.


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Making Decisions

Decide on a Path

As IT Leaders, we are continually making a wide range of decisions. There are all the normal people & business decisions that leaders need to make. Then there are the technology decisions that need to be made faster and faster. Throw in all the changes in consumer technology changes that are making their way into the business world. IT Leaders makes many decisions each day.

Big decisions, little decisions, simple decisions, complex decisions.

How can we stay on top of them all?

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Ask the IT Director: The Late Pile

Shoreline Stones

Dear IT Director,
My company is growing, and we got behind on orders. We have been doing a lot of work to catch up, but it is hard to tell if we are making any headway. My boss asked me if I have any ideas.
Confused in Cincinnati

Dear Confused,
Increasing late orders is a tough situation to be in, especially if revenue is growing. We have to deal with more orders than we have ever seen, and we need to catch up on late orders. If you focus on one of those, the other gets worse. Customers get cranky. When you hear about businesses not surviving their own success, this may be part of the cause.

I suggest the concept of Late-Days. This provides a single, trackable number that quantifies the size and age of the late pile. For each order, add up the number of days late. If you have variety in the size of your orders, you can tweak this by multiplying by the dollars or quantity of the order. As a bonus, we can use this concept for other late things besides sales, hint – how is your IT to-do list?

Before we get to an example, why is Late-Days useful? In my experience, not all overdue is created equally. Since there is never one silver bullet to fix overdue, we need to approach each situation differently. Ten orders that are weeks late differs from fifty orders that are days late. The solutions you try will be different in each case. Late-Days quantifies that for us in a way that helps us understand if we are making a difference.

While the number of late orders is the primary metric, it doesn’t really tell much of a story about what those lines are like. Days-Late gives a little more information.

First, the math. The simplest way is to add up the days late for each late order.

OrderDays Late

As I mentioned before, you can add a dollar or quantity multiplier if those vary in your situation. I’ll also remind you that no single metric holds all the answers. Late-Days is a simple metric to add to your mix of metrics.

How can we use Late-Days to monitor our progress?

Let’s look at the scenario I mentioned above: ten orders that are weeks overdue and fifty orders that are days overdue. We might have a Late-Days of 357 for the first and 128 for the second. By themselves, these numbers are not helpful. But when you track this metric over time, you will see changes. And that tells you if you are winning or losing.

Track Late-Days every day and work to make the number lower. The goal, of course, is zero.

The hard part is figuring out how to ship all those late orders, AND to ship all new orders on time. Late-Days provides a useful number to know if you are making progress.

Good Luck Confused,
The IT Director

IT Leaders: Managing Ourselves

judgement scale and gavel in judge office

Managing ourselves can be harder than managing others. In related news, doctors and nurses make terrible patients. I’m married to a nurse, so I know this to be true. It is easy to wave it off, convinced that we are in good shape and don’t need any help.

Improving as a leader is a lifelong journey. As a leader, we are never as good as we think we are. But take heart, because we probably aren’t as bad as we think we are.

There are four things that are necessary to be a good IT leader. There are other important leadership skills, of course, but these are ones I believe are specifically helpful for IT leaders. Here is a brief explanation of the four.

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