7 venial sins of IT management

As a CIO you can get advice about how to be more effective from any number of sources, from what you get here in CIO Survival Guide (best practice), to other sources here at CIO.com, to, if you’re desperate, various punditries like Gartner, Forrester, and McKinsey.

Most of what you read lists what should be a CIO’s top priorities. They usually read like they were written by Captain Obvious, but that doesn’t make them wrong.

Just repetitious.

So in an attempt to provide advice you haven’t already received, here are seven venial sins of IT management, presented in no particular order, that you aren’t likely to get advice about from anywhere else.

No, don’t thank me …

1. Too much managing, not enough leading

Okay, I lied — a venial sin in and of itself. Far from being something you haven’t read before, managing-instead-of-leading is, if anything, something you’ve read far too much about.

There’s an old joke about a dog with no legs. Every morning its owner took it out for a drag.

Leadership is what makes the difference between dragging employees along and their moving in the right direction on their own.

2. Too much leading, not enough managing

You’re paid to get work out the door. That’s what managing is all about — making sure the work of the enterprise you’re responsible for gets done.

Leadership is a useful tool for making that happen (see “dog,” above). But it’s far from the only tool. Information technology is an obvious example; so are business process optimization initiatives — and with too much emphasis on leadership, managers can spend so much effort being inspiring that they lose track of what they’re paid for.

3. Arguing about chargebacks

Chargebacks fall into the Great Theory But bucket. The Great Theory part is that by charging cost-center managers for the IT resources they use, their decisions about what to ask IT for will be more prudent.

The But part happens when IT explains how much it’s charging. That’s because IT has two ways to compute its chargebacks. It can do it the simple way — allocate the IT budget to cost-center managers based on some easy-to-understand metric, like percent of the corporation’s total headcount, or the percent of the total corporate budget the cost-center manager controls.

Or, IT can get granular, computing unit costs for each type of IT resource, monitoring consumption of those resources, and multiplying consumption by unit costs.

Forget the simple approach. What makes it appealing — its simplicity — also makes it pointless: As there’s no way for a cost-center manager to reduce their chargeback costs by reducing their IT consumption, it violates the premise of the theory.

As for the granular, accurate approach, if you head down this path you can count on your entire time budget being eaten alive by arguments over whether what you’re charging is right or not.

Because this approach is complicated you can count on it being the result of numerous unprovable assumptions. And besides, no matter who wins the argument, the time lost by both parties, translated into the cost of their time, amounts to deciding which pocket the same money will come out of.

Give it up.

4. Trying to be a business person, not a technology person

You’ve read this advice, over and over and over again. It reached its epitome in companies that adopted the CTO title for the person running IT, resulting in the peculiar assertion that the top person with “technology” in their job title shouldn’t be a technology person.

So please. Consider that you’re being left off the hook. First of all, comparing the two, being a business person is easier. Second of all, unless you think the company’s CFO should be a business person, not a finance person, and that the chief marketing officer should be a business person and not a marketeer, the whole thing just isn’t worth your time and attention.

But since I have your attention anyway, here’s the bad news about the good news: CIOs who try to be business people instead of technology people are like the high school outcasts who are desperately trying to join the Cool Kids Club. They’ll still be excluded, only now they’ve added being pathetic to their coolness deficit.

5. Using ‘architect’ as a verb

Now this is just my opinion, mind you, but I don’t think architect-as-a-verb says anything more useful about what you’re going to do than substituting “engineer” as a verb. Often, when I hear “We have to architect a solution,” I see someone who, having failed to join the business Cool Kids Club, has decided to join the technology Cool Kids Club instead.

6. Employing ‘best practice’

Yes, it’s a losing battle. Frowning at someone who claims something is “best practice” when they mean it’s a good practice, a proven practice, or the minimum standard of basic professionalism is as lost a cause as griping because someone started a sentence with “hopefully” when they meant “I hope.”

Since it is a lost cause, we’ll move along to lucky number seven:

7. Shifting focus from project management to product management

Project management is how organizations make tomorrow different from yesterday in a planful, intentional way.

Product management is the business discipline of managing the evolution of one of a company’s products or product lines to maintain and enhance its marketplace appeal.

IT product management comes out of the agile world, and has at best a loose connection to business product management. Because while there is some limited point in enhancing the appeal of some chunk of a business’s technology or applications portfolio, that isn’t what IT product management is about.

What it’s about is establishing accountability and decision-making authority.

Is this different enough, not to mention enough better than project management to make it interesting?

Probably not. It’s more of a false dichotomy than a revelation.

The big finish

Now that you’ve absorbed this list of CIO venial sins, the next question is which ones you’ll try to fix first. The beauty part is that if you have time to focus on any of them, and certainly if you have time to focus on several, either you’re in pretty good shape as CIOs go, or else you’re so hopelessly delusional that it really doesn’t matter.

IT Leadership, IT Management, IT Strategy