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Management

Irreconcilable Differences and Runaway Projects

A runaway project is like a married couple on the brink of divorce.  There are two opposing points of view, both sides are usually angry, each side blames the other, legal action is imminent, and a lot of time and money is being wasted. So why do projects go into a runaway mode? It’s usually […] Read More

You’re trying to get a new project approved, and you’re having trouble. Or you’re trying to get an employee to do things your way, and the employee keeps fighting you. Both these situations are disagreements, and the process to deal with them is similar. Why Do We Disagree? Let’s start with individual disagreements. When two […] Read More

I Believe … The best businesses are honest with their customers and their employees. The best companies have a win-win relationship with their customers and with their employees. Management is about focusing the work of the employees by assigning tasks which best align the company’s interests with the employees’ interests. Executive management is about focusing […] Read More

I’ve promoted scores of people into first-time manager positions. Some did well and some didn’t. Here are a few of their stories, with names changed and a few relevant facts altered to protect the individuals involved. Fred This was early in my career, and I didn’t have any experience in promoting people into management. But […] Read More

The word “scalable” has been used in IT for over forty years. IBM used the word when they first talked about their 360 series of mainframe computers in the 1960’s. Since that time scalability has been a consideration in every aspect of computing: mainframes, minis, personal computers, servers, networks, proprietary systems, open systems, even smartphones. […] Read More

A lot of companies routinely use ROI (Return on Investment) to compare multiple projects competing for limited investment resource. But what do these same companies use during a bad economy when they’re trying to figure out where to make cuts? How do you compare multiple opportunities for cost cutting? Recently I moderated a group discussion […] Read More

In a recent article I wrote about why you might want to be a manager. If that’s what you want, here’s my list of the 13 skills you’ll need: 1. Communication There’s a lot of communication when you’re a manager. You have to communicate with each of your employees. You have to communicate “sideways” with […] Read More

How to Justify Security Investment

In March of 2009 I was the speaker at a SIM Meeting in Dallas. In the Q&A at the end, a young security manager asked me a question. He said that he has succeeded in making his company’s infrastructure good enough that they have no problems with security breaches, data leaks, viruses, or any of […] Read More

Why Do You Want to Be a Manager?

There are a lot of bad stereotypes associated with management — the TV show “The Office” illustrates many of the stereotypes on a weekly basis. But there are advantages to being in management, so I thought I would write a bit about management for those of you who are still in individual contributor roles. And […] Read More

Words and Phrases I’m Sick Of

I see and hear these words and phrases all the time, but it has gotten to the point where they’ve lost their meaning for me — maybe for you as well. Let’s start with some oldies but goodies then work up to something more current. Synergy This used to be the consultant’s ultimate goal. Synergy […] Read More

We all have a tendency to define ourselves by the roles we play. The first part of almost every new conversation between strangers is asking the question, “What do you do?” We then use the answer to that question to apply a stereotype to the person. If the person answers, “I’m a doctor,” then we […] Read More

I went to my grandson’s piano recital last weekend.  He’s just seven (almost eight) and he’s really good for his age.  His part of the recital was only a few minutes, but the entire recital lasted two hours so we listened to a lot of other kids before and after my grandson. What struck me […] Read More

Have you ever played Jenga, a game marketed by Hasbro? In the game you have 54 wood blocks and you start by stacking them in rows of three at alternating right angles to build an 18-level tower (for more details and illustrations, click here) . Then you take turns removing a block from a lower […] Read More

How to Buy an IT Product

Suppose your IT organization is in the market for a new IT product (or service, but I’ll use the word “product” here to simplify the discussion). It could be a computer, network device or other hardware item, or it could be a software package or SaaS (software as a service). Regardless of what you’re looking […] Read More

Turn Left at the Last Traffic Light

It happened a while ago – before GPS devices, and before Google Maps or Mapquest. I was trying to drive to an address in a small town and I did what reasonable people did back then: I asked someone at a gas station for directions. One detail from the directions stands out in my memory: […] Read More

No Programmer Left Behind?

1. Tests I’ve always been pretty good at taking tests; I guess you could say I have a gift for “quizmanship.” But on a 1 – 10 scale, I would probably rate myself a 6 or 7 on the geek-o-meter. I’m not up there with some of the kids I once went to school with, […] Read More

How Does Outsourcing Affect Span of Control?

Two months ago I did an article on span of control, pointing out some of the variables that make an IT manager’s span of control so unlikely to conform to any consultant-recommended norm. I received a number of positive emails about the article, but one email in particular asked about a different kind of span […] Read More

9 Ways to Reduce Business IT Expense

Last month I got a lot of positive feedback about the timeliness of my newsletter topic, “The Right Span of Control Isn’t a Number,” so this month I’ve written another newsletter article dealing with today’s problems. In our current economy there is a high likelihood that you’ve been asked to “tighten your belt” and cut […] Read More

The Right Span of Control Isn’t a Number

In my June, 2007 newsletter article I talked about how to organize IT, but I didn’t address one of the questions that keeps coming up during a bad economic climate: how do we deal with executives who want to cut the number of IT managers by increasing the span of control for each manager? Span of […] Read More

One of my newsletter readers sent me an interesting question: “I was wondering if you have insights on the attitude of managers on the business side towards the re-alignment of IT. I can imagine that managers at the business side tend to resist giving up (overly) customized IT, since the short-term performance of their individual […] Read More

How to Help Your Help Desk

Almost all IT organizations have a Help Desk, and yet it always amazes me how many of those organizations think that the Help Desk has only one purpose: to help system users with problems. In fact the Help Desk also serves a second critical purpose: to tell you what your problems are so that you […] Read More

Last month I did some work for a company that has manufacturing plants in a number of rural locations. The IT managers who work in those locations complained about how difficult it is to hire IT people, partly because of the locations and partly because of the image of manufacturing being a dirty industry. Here […] Read More

How to Stop a Runaway Project

What do you think when you hear the phrase “runaway project”? When I hear the phrase, it reminds me of movies I’ve watched where there’s a runaway car hurtling down a steep mountain road with no brakes, barely hanging on around each curve. Or maybe you think of a runaway train, flying down the track […] Read More

Thrasher’s Hierarchy of Business IT Needs

I recently attended an IT panel discussion where one of the attendees asked the panel what IT initiatives are strategic to the business. There was a brief debate about what “strategic” means, and I came to the conclusion that it’s impossible to tell whether or not a specific IT initiative is strategic to a particular […] Read More

In 2004 I wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called “Harwell’s Unfortunate Laws of Human Organizational Behavior.” I put it on my web site, but I just sent the link to a few close friends. Frankly, I thought the content of the essay was too different from my normal, more up-beat type of article. But I was […] Read More

How to Organize IT

I’m frequently asked the question, “how should IT be organized?” Let me start by saying there is no right answer, at least no answer that’s right for all situations. There are a lot of different aspects of the IT organization issue, and I address some of them in this article. Where should IT report? Where IT reports […] Read More

A few weeks ago BusinessWeek had an interesting article on firing people, pointing out the legal risks associated with terminating employees. Here are the things you need to know about firing that BusinessWeek didn’t mention. 5 Kinds of Firings Let’s start at the beginning. In my experience, there are five kinds of firings: Firing someone […] Read More

8 Attributes of an Ideal Boss

The first part of January is time for the annual introspection exercise known as resolution making. Many of us will take a hard look at ourselves and try to focus on ways in which we can improve our lives. Some of us will take a particularly hard look at our jobs: Are we happy in […] Read More

The Politics of Information Technology

I’m writing this on November 7, 2006. That’s election day in the United States. During the last few months we’ve been besieged with television and radio advertising for candidates, and even recorded messages sent to our telephones. Now it’s time for all of the campaigning to end as we go to the polls to vote. […] Read More

IT Lessons from a Manufacturing Shop Floor

When there’s too much work to do, most people try to multitask and get it all done simultaneously. But the reality is that multitasking often hurts your productivity, and it drastically increases your stress level. Let me tell you about a parallel situation in manufacturing that illustrates my point. I once worked with a manufacturing […] Read More

Achievement is Not the Absence of Failure

There are some jobs where achievement is the absence – or maybe the avoidance – of failure. Driving a bus is one of those jobs; if you make it through the day without an accident, without hurting or annoying anyone, and without falling behind your schedule, then you’re successful. There are other jobs where carrying […] Read More

5 Reasons Why IT People Love Lists

Ok, admit it. You’re reading this because you want to know the 5 reasons. That means that you’re probably like most IT people and you love lists yourself. Of course it’s not just IT people who love lists; it’s almost anyone who falls into the Myers-Briggs category called “Judging” which describes people who need structure […] Read More

Heroes Don’t Scale

“Hero” is one of those positive words that gives us mental images of rescuing children from burning buildings or saving troops from certain death. We admire, praise and imitate heroes; they set the standard for bravery and going “beyond the call of duty.” But despite the personal admiration associated with heroism, there’s a dark side […] Read More

When I was a child I learned a funny nonsense rhyme: I eat my peas with honey. I’ve done so all my life. It makes the peas taste funny But it keeps them on the knife. The logic of the rhyme argues that: I eat peas with a knife. But when I try to eat […] Read More

You Don’t Have to Measure It to Lead It

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of people telling me, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” I blame this aphorism for a lot of the wasted measurement effort spent by today’s organizations. The problem with this statement is the use of the word “manage.” People see the word and assume […] Read More

I don’t do job interviews well, at least not as an interviewee. But I do a great job when I’m on the interviewer side of the desk. And it’s partly because I’ve learned from my mistakes as an interviewee. What a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that interviewee performance is not at […] Read More

More than half of the subscribers who receive this newsletter won’t even open the email. I can understand why: you’ve only got a limited amount of time, and you have to be selective about how you use it. But let’s be honest; are you really being selective? Or are you just randomly reading some things […] Read More

Preparing for your own Hurricane Katrina

Disaster struck the southern United States last month as Hurricane Katrina did major damage to New Orleans and southern parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. We don’t yet understand the full impact of the storm in terms of lives lost, families disrupted, and the impact on the American and global economies. But we know that […] Read More

Hiring like a Jigsaw Puzzle

There are two basic approaches to hiring: Hiring like a jigsaw puzzle, and Hiring like an assembly line. Hiring like an assembly line is more common. When you work on an assembly line you have very little variation in what you do. One particular task might be to put a bolt into a hole and […] Read More

IT Lessons from a Waitress

I went out to dinner last night to a place I’ve gone hundreds of times, and I ordered a salad that I’ve ordered many times before. The salad wasn’t as good as it’s been in the past: the lettuce was old, and the dressing was watery. When the waitress asked her usual question, “How is […] Read More

The Information Technology Merry-Go-Round

The world is full of cycles. There are stock market highs and lows, periods of good weather and bad weather, even apparent cycles of good luck and bad luck. Many of the people-related cycles are caused by basic human nature. The bad part of a cycle starts when we hear bad things about a particular […] Read More

A few weeks ago there was an article in an Atlanta newspaper about George Kelling, the author of the book, Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order and Reducing Crime in Our Communities. Dr. Kelling has been called “the man who helped Rudy Giuliani turn around New York City” by refocusing some of the city’s priorities. As […] Read More

User Training is Like a Joke

Shifts in frame of reference are the root of most humor. We all tell jokes, but we seldom recognize that most jokes are funny because they lead our thinking in one direction and then abruptly cause us to shift our thinking to a different direction. Jokes essentially accomplish mental sleight-of-hand by using the most basic […] Read More

If You’re Stuck, Get a Jiggler

In Stephen Covey’s latest book, The Eighth Habit: from Effectiveness to Greatness, he includes the following Q&A: Q: “In your experience, what is the best question to ask people when you hire them?” A: “In my experience, the best question is to say ‘Starting with your earliest memory, what did you really like doing and […] Read More

Logic isn’t always the Logical Choice

When we come into this world as babies, we believe that the earth revolves around us, and from the way that most parents treat their newborns, I guess that’s true to some extent. As we grow out of babyhood, we gradually become aware of other people, and our concept of existence evolves into a view […] Read More

Why Middle Managers are Important

Middle managers don’t get much respect. All of the glory goes to the CEOs and senior executives, who in turn focus their own occasional reward programs on the “worker bees.” Middle managers play a vital role in most organizations, but it’s a shame that many middle managers don’t understand their role, or see their jobs […] Read More

Use Their Terminology — Not Yours

A few months ago I was a speaker in front of a group of CIOs, discussing some of the issues facing IT organizations. One of the CIOs asked me what he could do to better communicate his problems to his business users, who seemed to have trouble understanding the difficulties associated with making changes to […] Read More

Julia Roberts, Training Wheels, and Bureaucracy

What do the three things in the title of this article have in common? Julia Roberts In the movie Mona Lisa Smile, there’s a scene in which a Wellesley instructor played by Julia Roberts shows the class a painting, and asks them whether or not it’s any good. Up until this point all of the […] Read More

If you haven’t been involved in an acquisition, then wait a few months; it eventually happens to all of us. In preparation for that event, it’s useful to get an understanding of why companies do acquisitions, so that you can anticipate the effect that an acquisition will have on you. I’ve been lucky enough to […] Read More

In my previous newsletter I explained why ROI isn’t working in most businesses. Based on comments I received from readers, I want to quickly point out that I don’t believe that the “game players” I mentioned are bad people, in spite of my use of the word “crime” in the article. I believe that everyone […] Read More

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