Ask the IT Director: Finding Time To Improve IT Processes

Dear IT Director,
Help! We are running around with our hair on fire, working on too many business projects. Our IT processes need help, but we don’t have any time to improve them.
Overwhelmed in Omaha

Dear Overwhelmed,
I feel your pain. The list of changes the business needs is long and you want to get it done faster. At the same time, you and your team know how to improve your processes to become more efficient. But there is no time. How do you stop working on the business tasks to improve IT?

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Focus & Finish: The Challenges and Solutions

In a previous article on Focus & Finish, I covered The Myth of Multitasking. This article goes into some detail on how to make Focus & finish a reality.

When I first proposed to the team that we needed to only have 1-3 active Change Requests at a time, we all struggled to make it happen. We kept getting clogged up with too many active tasks.

After looking closer at the problem, I identified some challenges and solutions. Here are a few.

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Ask The IT Director: Cantujust Dilemma

Dear IT Director,
People seem to think that IT has an “easy button”. That we can just make simple changes and slap it into production quickly. How can I respond to this nonsense?
Frustrated in Fresno

Dear Frustrated,

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Focus & Finish: The Myth of Multitasking

black and gray lantern

I stared at the list of requests the team was working on. Seven people, ninety-three active requests. Over ten active requests for each person. The team was working hard, but it felt like we weren’t making progress. Requests were not getting completed, and it felt like we were the bottleneck.

The IT department’s to-do list is always longer than its capacity to complete those tasks. This is intentional. A properly managed company will not have excess capacity in its service groups like Finance, HR, or IT. I have yet to discover a company that does not have an IT backlog.

Getting that work done is a challenge. There is always pressure to do more. Those with requests in the backlog will keep pushing to get their requests completed. We complicate this by having too many projects or tasks active at the same time. We are always multitasking, trying to keep all the juggling balls up in the air.

All too often, we fail.

The answer is to have fewer tasks active at a time and make sure that they get completed before starting something new. Let’s start with the real problem: multi-tasking.

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Technical Debt

The concept of Technical Debt has been around for decades. Originating in the software development area, Technical Debt describes the accumulation of “we should probably fix that” places in the code. However, Technical Debt does not just apply to software, it applies to the entire IT world. Hardware, software, infrastructure, security, and applications all have their technical debt.

Technical Debt is a little like Schrodinger’s Cat, as it may or may not be there. Some technical debt is never a problem. Some of it blows up spectacularly. Some assumptions we make are fine. Others aren’t.

Here are some well-known examples:

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Now For Sale! The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook

IT Leaders Handbook front cover

The paperback & Ebook versions of The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook is now for sale on Amazon (US, UK, Canada, etc), Barnes & Noble, and fine bookstores everywhere.

Whether you are a current IT leader or hope to lead an IT organization in the future, this book will be useful to you. This book is a collection of the scars and skills that I have earned over the years.

From The Introduction:

Organizations structure themselves, in part, to manage people (HR), money (Finance), and technology (IT). These departments understand the details of their areas and how their work contributes to the success of the organization. The Information Technology (IT) department lives at the intersection of the organization and the technological world.

It is often a thankless job. The criticisms are many. IT is too slow to roll out changes. IT is too rigid with its rules and processes. IT is too expensive. IT has a huge backlog. IT is working on the wrong things.

Or so the organization believes.

As leaders of the IT department, it is our responsibility to run the department to meet the needs of the organization. Unfortunately, even with the best of efforts, the perception of the organization never matches our own. Even worse, sometimes the perception is correct.

There are a lot of books, magazines, websites, and individual postings aimed at the IT professional. But few of them address the larger problems organizations care about. There is significant information about specific technologies, but not much on how to lead an IT department.

Since I couldn’t find such a book, I wrote it.

Monkeys Everywhere!

Be careful about taking tasks accidentally…

In the classic Harvard Business Review article Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?, William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass present the idea that tasks can be considered as monkeys sitting out our shoulder. We have to feed them and take care of them. The more tasks we have, the more monkeys on our shoulders. As leaders, we need to be very aware of our team’s monkeys and make sure they don’t jump to our shoulder.

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The Customer is Our Only Customer


Ever since there have been internal departments like IT (and HR and Finance) there has been a drive for those groups to call the rest of the business “customers.” I believe this is a bad idea and hurts the organization. Let’s start with the sentiment:

  • “We need to take care of our (internal) customers.”
  • “We need to treat the rest of the company like customers to have the proper service attitude.”
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Advice to IT Interns

One spring a few years back, I was looking through a stack of intern resumes. Wanda (not her real name) was not selected and received an email notification. She then, to her credit, reached out and asked for feedback on her resume. Awesome move on her part. This drive to improve will take her far in her career. Here is my response to her.

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Ask The IT Director: Confusing Metrics

Spanish Car dashboard. Photo Credit: Joyce Bredesen

Dear IT Director,

I know metrics are a good thing. But metrics need goals, right? I have some metrics that don’t make any sense to have goals for. Like number of Help Desk tickets coming in. If I set a goal, it will make me and my team take the wrong kind of actions.

Waffling in Wauwatosa

Dear Waffling,

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