We tend to think of old school as applying to technology. However, management (and its cousin, leadership) are also technologies — just a different kind — and equally subject to being new school and old school.
Probably the biggest old school technique being used today is to be the strong leader, the king-pin, the decision-maker.
That’s not to say that making decisions is bad. Better a decision made than one deferred again and again until its time has past.
But the IT base in an enterprise is a complex entity. It has often been compared to a Gordian knot: try to untie and replace a bit here, and it gets snagged up over there.
What that means in real life is that we often need support in many places to undertake anything meaningful.
For Chief Information Officers, what’s needed more than anything else is to have the rest of the enterprise’s groups at the table deciding on priorities. These are enterprise decisions: they involve risk mitigation, value generation, removal of deficiencies, new opportunities. There is never — nor will there ever — be enough to go around.
What’s more, the existing asset portfolio of systems and platforms typically is a Gordian knot of multi-function, multi-department, multi-budget services. Some are owned by “no one in particular” (regardless of whether a fictional “owner” has been assigned”): email, shared drives, content managers come to mind. Others are multi-departmental and deeply pervasive: your ERP for finance, HR, supply chain, customer care, etc. comes to mind.
CIOs need the business leadership deciding priorities: the price tag of being “the decider” is to make enemies who will eventually topple you. (Yet to not decide leads to the same place.) For long-term change to take place, CIO longevity becomes a key part. Decisions, therefore, must be housed where the CIO is one voice, not the voice.
That’s the role of the Governance Board, a means of having the enterprise govern key IT moves via principles under the lead of the CIO (but not the CIO deciding).
Down in the ranks of IT management, there’s another old school factor in play. It comes from your enterprise human resource practices.
Our pay evaluation systems tend to require deep specification of jobs. It’s not uncommon to find twenty points, each worth a few percentage points of time, in a position description, along with ever-increasing educational and credential requirements to “get the right pay grade”.
Those twenty-odd job description points, in turn, turn into objectives for the year — and performance evaluations.
When was the last time a year really could be so deeply micro-managed? What this leads to in practice is people doing make-work to “achieve minor objectives” — and doing far less than is required to achieve the big goals.
We need to manage people better (starting with shifting from managing by taking attendance and ticking off points to managing by developing free actors and demanding achievement of big goals). We need to invest the time in ensuring the productive parts get the energy, and the wasteful ones — including the “illusion of work” caused by teams whose projects aren’t funded or released yet “keeping the lights on” with meetings and studies — get turned off in favour of doing things that pay back to the enterprise.
Two big old school bits that have outlived their usefulness: queueing up for the decider to decide (and run the risk), and managing by many objectives. Fix those and watch your IT accomplishments blossom!