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Top 5

Five Things to Think About if You Lead an IT Organization

by David Cousin

If you have a career in information technology (IT), you were probably first attracted to the logic of the IT world. Perhaps your natural intelligence and analytical skills drew you to the discipline. Or, perhaps, what Fred Brooks calls in The Mythical Man Month, “the fascination of fashioning complex puzzle-like objects of interlocking moving parts and watching them work in subtle cycles, playing out the consequences of principles built in from the beginning” proved irresistible to you.

Top 5But IT leadership skills do not necessarily translate from the day-to-day workings of IT. ISG observes what leaders in IT actually do and has found these Top 5 principles to be common elements of successful practice.

1Improve communication skills at all levels of your organization. Ensure all IT staff display good communication in every interaction with every client. Senior managers, account managers, the service desk, and even those IT people normally hidden away in darkened rooms whose knowledge really make IT work must commit to this approach.

2Develop the skills and careers of your IT staff. Resist the temptation to cut costs by reducing the training budget for staff, even in tough economic times. Use workplace challenges to enhance the career development of individuals. Even if your organization is seen as a place to gain an education that can then be taken elsewhere, remember that if you think education is expensive, a short trial of ignorance as the alternative will prove that it’s not.

3Align the IT strategy with the business strategy. Develop strategy parallel with that of the business units served, and communicate it frequently to IT staff and to the business units. The IT staff can then make decisions in their day-to-day work that are clearly aligned with corporate and IT strategy, avoiding persistent escalation upwards and, more importantly, allowing the entire organization to move forward in concert. Invite the business to take an active part in the ongoing IT strategic governance activities, particularly in information systems and information management.

4Go to the theater. See Shakespeare’s Henry V and reflect afterwards on the fact that leadership in IT, as elsewhere, is ultimately a lonely profession. As Lao Tzu said, “But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, ‘we did this ourselves.’”

5Think task > team > individual. The three circles model (by John Adair) is a simple way to remind leaders that their responsibilities should be balanced across the development of the team, the care of each individual’s needs and the achievement of the task. Strong business process and strategy can support the transformation you desire, for all of the participants; metrics that emerge from these operational best practices are essential for continuing to develop your people and environment.

ISG has been helping IT organizations achieve operational excellence for more than three decades. Contact David Cousin for information on the ISG services that can help you achieve your IT management objectives.

About the author

As a principal consultant David leads engagements with client organisations in the areas of IT performance improvement, IT strategy, outsourcing and performance measurement.