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Management Blog

Discussion on a variety of general IT management topics.


The CIO should kick the tires...

I suspect that, in general, motorists rarely think about their tires. But it is sensible to check them regularly to ensure that they are in good condition. A car's handling or its music system may be more interesting but a nail or a cut could put you off the road for good.

A CIO may be more interested in IT led business change or innovative uses of technology or even the budget but every so often they should kick the tires - visit the data center...

The following pictures were taken some years ago at the data center of a $10bn organization...

Picture60.jpg  Picture61.jpg

Picture62.jpg  Picture64.jpg

When data center discipline goes a major IT failure becomes a probability rather than a distance possibility. If the basic disciplines are not there then recovery will be slow and the ongoing service prone to further failure. When the board calls for an independent external review the evidence will be clear, the CIO has lost sight of the basics ...


Effective IT Conference

Recently I attended the Effective IT Conference near Cardiff run by Information Age.  As with all Information Age events, it was very well organised, the speakers were excellent, the facilities great, and the opportunities for networking were useful.

The conference launches the Effective IT Report each year which includes a broader selection of key strategies that senior IT managers have identified as successful. It's well worth taking a look at the presentations for some down to earth practical advice and some future gazing. 


Outsourcing Advice

I recently discovered a report on the Deloitte web site called
Calling a Change in the Outsourcing Market - The Realities for the World’s Largest Organizations

Its findings were that very often the deals failed to meet their objectives:

  • 70% cited cost savings as a key driver for outsourcing, but 38% said they ended up paying hidden or added costs they thought were included in their contracts.
  • 57% cited quality and innovation, but 31% said vendors became complacent once contracts were in place.
  • 35% cited flexibility and capacity, but comments revealed that contracts are binding and vendors, often rigid, are refusing to accommodate last-minute changes.
  • 22% cited access to high-caliber labor, but one in five experienced greater employee turnover and realized the intellectual capital they had paid for was fleeting.
  • 22% cited transfer of risk to vendors, but they said vendors were unable to fully absorb the costs of business losses, leaving the company on the hook for paying the bill.
  • 16% said they outsourced because they lacked the in-house expertise, but 44% found their vendors couldn't deliver on the quality and cost savings and they decided to bring the operations back in-house.

These findings were backed by reports from Dun & Bradstreet and DiamondCluster International. The report received a lot of attention at the time which can be found by searching so I don’t want to go over that. I want to make another related point…

If you are engaged in outsourcing, then it is very likely that you will use an outsourcing consultancy. The selling point of these consultancies is that their consultants have “been there and done it”. This means that they were probably responsible for some of the catalogue of failed outsource deals highlighted in the various reports. Do you really want to be listening to these guys? Do you want “common practice” or “best practice”?


Why Blog?

I always wanted to write a book. I thought of writing a business book but I realised that "The Art of War" said it all. I started a project management book with a friend but the publisher didn't want originality. A novel ... No ideas.

I posted a couple blogs on the internet to let off steam at the pointless nonsense that management gurus have conned our largest corporations to waste their time and money on. This made me realise that my major contribution to the management arts was not a great insight, though I'm sure I have had many, but the rant.

Most managers seem to be able to put up with the rubbish that their bosses spout. They don't just tolerate it, they act on it, without anyone noticing the irony, they demonstrate the utter stupidity of their bosses notions. They don't laugh when the inevitable failure occurs, no they collude in the cover up. Despite the obvious they continue to proclaim the beauty of the emperor's new clothes.

What do I do? I point out of the emperor's nudity. I point out the emperor's hairy back. I rant.

It came to me, the rant is my great contribution to management. In fact, it is the foundation of my talent as a leader. I rant to demonstrate that you don't have to put up with it. You can do what common-sense tells you. You don't have to acquiesce. You don't have to be a sycophant. You can be your own person, but there will be a price ...

Is the blog the rant? No, the rant happens in real life. The blog records and explains the rant. In the heat of the rant, there may not be much logic apparent. The rant is caused by a clash of rationalities - my rationality and corporate logic. The blog is my post rationalisation.


Leadership Principles

Manager’s are often under pressure to compromise and deviate from what they feel is right. A manager, project manager, or any other leader needs a baseline of principle from which to base his actions. Managers need to know when to stand firm.
The Principles
These principles of leadership are based on my understanding of "Tough Minded Leadership" by Joe D Batten. The "traditional" approach to management is based around a steady state with well defined projects to make incremental changes. It concentrates on budgets, objectives, and timescales. This approach fails dismally in times of rapid change. It fails the individual and the organization generally due to its attention to the invalid goals of budget, schedule and objectives. A far more dynamic approach to management is required. It is more challenging. It recognizes that budget, timescale and objectives are in flux. The principles ensure meaningful deliverables and keep managers sane.
So what are they principles?
Create Expectation
Create a common understanding of project, corporate and personal goals. Develop plans cooperatively as a team to achieve progress on personal goals through achieving project and corporate goals. Create expectations of each person fulfilling their role. Create personal moral contracts between team members to help each other achieve personal goals.
Expectation := Results
Open honest supportive expectation become results. You create a moral obligation that is far stronger than threat or authority because this is personal.
Don't order, direct, instruct or tell team members what to do or how to perform. This is hard to achieve. The corollary, which is more difficult, is to get those above you in the management to act in the same way.
"... what's on my lung is on my tongue. I will always stand up for myself and I won't toe the line. I won’ t play the game if it's not an honest game and an honourable game. There are a lot of people who don't make waves and don't speak up. I can't be like that." - Alan Sugar
If you don't know, then say so. If a schedule is slipping then say so. If quality is low then say so. If you screw up then say so.
Always be open, honest and vulnerable. If someone takes advantage of that vulnerability then that's life! Integrity is more important than a job. It is important to accept that the truth is often risky in the short term. However, messing with the truth is more risky, especially in the long term.
If you're dealing with suppliers, then be honest and open. You may say, "What about negotiation?" I would reply, "What about partnership?" A good negotiator can reach a fair deal by being honest and open. If you reach an unfair deal then you open yourself for the same treatment later. In technology, you must accept that the supplier has some aces because technology is not a commodity.
Expect the Highest Standards of Yourself
Give 100%. Don't be above the team. Don't be a hypocrite. Encourage and accept criticism from the team - but make sure you can handle it. Make sure you know enough about the jobs that others are doing to know what they are facing. Also to gain their respect, to contribute to their work, and to understand their progress or otherwise
Guts and determination are an essential expectation.
It’s that can do, positive thinking thing. Most objectives are near impossible when they are served up by management. You have to be positive to be able to work out how to achieve something useful. There will be plenty of negative people in the team ready to accept failure from the start. Your enthusiasm and ability to find solutions will win them over so they can make a constructive contribution. There will be plenty of people outside the team ready to pull you down. You're determination will prove them wrong.
See the Positive in Everyone
You need to see the positive in everyone, particularly in the team when often you have no choice over the members. Everyone has strengths that can be used to support the work and others in the team. Sometimes they hide them well - maybe that's their strength!
People are People
Try to understand why people act as they do. It is often down to their conditioning, their background, and the environment that they are or were working in. The only way you will understand how people think is to get to know them. If you think badly of them then they probably think the same way of you. Is that how to do a good job? Give them a chance. They might give you a chance when you screw up!
Tell The Truth
"I have only two eyes and ears: there are other eyes and ears on the pitch and I am always prepared to listen." - Lawrence Dallaglio
Tell your boss the truth. He can't make sensible decisions without good information. Managers are idiots because no one tells them the truth!
Don't wait until you have the full facts, it might be too late. Give your boss the pieces of the jigsaw that you have. Between you might be able to see the full picture.
Please, Thank You and Help!
It is simple courtesy to say please and thank you but how many managers say it? It's also important to act on it. In an appraisal, a good rating or a pay rise says you meant it.
Asking for help is a great compliment to someone and rarely an imposition. It also recognises that you are not perfect.
No job is worth it if there is no fun. The fun should be during the work as well as socially. Don't do stupid hours.
Some managers and users won't like to see your team enjoying themselves. You need to protect the team from the "Victorian" work ethic, it’s destructive. Why should anyone work for you if it isn't fun?
If the personal contracts are in place then the team control themselves. Communication within the team is established to deliver the contracts. Reporting is automatic. Exceptions are reported as potential failure to honour a contract. Regular reporting is automatic to help you fulfil your role.
Be Bold
"Its not what you predict but what your imagination inspires. It is aspiration that creates the future." - Zurich Group advertisement.
Work is about realizing a vision. That vision must be communicated and understood by the team. A bold plan is an honest plan. It doesn't say more than is known - you can't commit to a date until you're on top of it. The management or client won't like it but you have to tough that one out.
When you have information, create a plan that uses it. Don't ignore the facts because they don't fit.
Live the Plan
You have to believe in the plan for others to take it seriously. If others are to take it seriously then it must be credible and your belief in it must be credible.
The principles are simple but effective -
  • Create expectation
  • Integrity
  • Expect the highest standards of yourself
  • Enthusiasm
  • See the positive in everyone
  • People are people
  • Tell the truth
  • Fun
  • Control
  • Be bold
  • Live the plan