Risk Management in IT

Sitting at a computer or in meetings doesn’t really sound like a risky job, does it? However, the job of an IT Leader is full of things that might go wrong: decisions that may backfire, projects that don’t work, or vendors that cause problems. Technology can fail, security can fail, backups can fail.

We don’t have infinite time or money to mitigate all these risks. We have to accept some.

How should IT leaders think about risk?

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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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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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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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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.

The Customer is Our Only Customer

invoices-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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