“Communication breakdown, It’s always the same,
I’m having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane!”
— Communication Breakdown, Led Zeppelin, 1969
CIOs, CTOs and other senior I.T. managers are an interesting breed. I have witnessed this group of usually bright people make the same mistakes over and over. Many of these mistakes have nothing to do with technical expertise and everything to do with how they communicate with those they serve. Further, while dealing with an overflowing project request bucket, they aren’t taking the necessary steps to help themselves get the message across about limited resources. Today we’ll explore some ways to improve communication and provide awesome service.
Non-I.T. managers are just as interesting. They recognize in their own areas there are limited resources to complete desired efforts, yet they turn around and assume the opposite for technology. They scream when their efforts are incomplete or not at the top of the list, yet continue to shift priorities and add additional projects to the list without removing anything or funding additional technology resources. We’ll talk about business leaders stepping up too, making informed decisions on priorities and providing I.T. with the ability to execute on them successfully.
Do the issues above sound familiar? You’re not alone. I hear these issues all the time, and as a former CIO I made some of these mistakes and worked with managers that had the same tendencies. I struggled with communication (mine and theirs). I had a project list a mile long and more projects were coming on than moving off the list. One of my front-line systems was experiencing significant performance issues.
Suffice it to say, during those tough times I wasn’t satisfied with where we were as an I.T. group, and managers weren’t satisfied they were getting enough attention. So, we improved our communication style and what we were communicating. Service to the business improved, the business tightened up their focus to that which was truly important, and satisfaction with I.T. improved dramatically—win, win, win!
Pop quiz time! I’m not asking you to assess process using a maturity model that takes days to understand, just looking for a gut response on where you fit into the ratings. There are two sides to each answer—both I.T. and the broader management team can contribute to issues and are parts of the solution.
1. What kind of response does I.T. provide when service issues occur?
Multi-tiered architecture means problem identification and resolution are more complex than in the old mainframe world. A host of factors could be at issue, including what is installed on the user’s desktop, the network, middleware, and the application itself, so I.T. has to have a solid diagnostic process and communicate well internally. It must also ensure users are in the loop on the status and resolution of service issues.
Now I don’t suppose there are many on the I.T. team who put themselves in the Loserville ranking, but there may be some folks on the other side of the equation who would. So, just in case, listen up, I.T. “The network is up” is not an acceptable response to a service issue and is an absolute confidence destroyer. Business and support units, you also need to take some responsibility here and be committed to utilizing the standard channels for help desk and escalation so I.T. can resolve issues. Users should not have to accept poor service as SOP.
2. How does I.T. work with the business on project requests?
Huzzah for the organization that can rate itself a Partnership from the perspective of both the I.T. and business units. Those falling into the Typical category are getting by, but frequently deal with the “oh by the way” items that come up after projects start (“What do you mean we need to buy another server?”). But there are steps you can take toward a more harmonious relationship that don’t involve group hugs or singing kumbaya.
It’s one thing for a steering committee to say “no”; for the CIO to say it is quite another, as it can do irreparable harm to the relationship between business units and I.T. Managers will intentionally work around I.T. and establish their own islands of technology that don’t integrate well with other technology and that pose risk. Notice I said “serve” earlier in the article—CIOs need to understand there is no benefit to being in the business of unilateral project filtering, they want to be in the business of service, providing options for the business to get to “yes.” Business leaders must understand the benefits of a standard architecture and risk management and be open to alternative solutions that will also meet their needs.
3. How much knowledge do business and support units have about I.T.’s project portfolio?
Kudos to organizations with transparent I.T. portfolios! Satisfaction will never be optimal when project portfolio reporting is nonexistent or inconsistently presented. Further, if dates are mere suggestions and allowed to continue to extend with no explanation and accountability, confidence in I.T.’s ability to execute wanes regardless of who is responsible for the extensions. I.T. or a separate project office with I.T. input should report status regularly and clearly, identifying changes to projects and dates and the reasons for the changes. Business leaders must understand their prioritization can impact progress against the project list, too.
4. How much knowledge do business and support units have about I.T. resource availability?
We salute the Gonzo I.T. managers who routinely let the institution’s business areas know the status of available resources. This helps everyone set realistic expectations for having their demands met. If I.T. does not effectively communicate internal resource hours available to complete projects, an effective prioritization discussion is not likely to occur and everything winds up in the project list, with many efforts in “active” status at the same time, even though many are barely moving. The management team must buy into the concept of limited resources, particularly the former large bank managers that had dedicated I.T. resources available to them. Without external resource augmentation, only a certain number of things can be accomplished, and I.T. should make that an option when possible to enable speed-to-market where there is substantial benefit.
Sadly, business and support managers generally don’t interact with I.T. to tell them how great things are—they interact because they have a service issue or a project question. The response managers get from I.T. is critical in maintaining credibility and functioning as a highly valued and trusted service provider. Proactively sharing information and being transparent about issues, projects and resources goes a long way toward solidifying the relationship between I.T. and business units.Does this stuff really work? Thanks to some organizational development activities, I was able to identify and make improvements in my personal communication style and could coach managers on theirs. Through developing and championing a cross-functional, transparent governance process that took into consideration resource availability, the project list got more focused. And through ensuring the front-line not only perceived we were empathetic to their service issue but acting day-in and day-out to resolve it and communicating on its status, we broke through to the other side. Communication and transparency aren’t easy, but the benefits more than outweigh the effort.
As technology grows in both complexity and regulatory importance, organizations may find themselves lacking in the structure and tools necessary to effectively establish, manage and enforce their I.T. policies, resources and architecture.
Enter Cornerstone Advisors. Cornerstone’s Technology Services will help you more effectively leverage your investment in technology and bring your organization’s overall technology management to best practice levels. We work with you to design an I.T. governance structure that establishes a shared vision of how information technology can add value to the organization.