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Effectiveness

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

IT Alignment is Simple, Part 1

Results of the latest SIM CIO Survey were announced at SIMposium 2008. Once again, “IT and Business Alignment” was number 1 on the list of top IT management concerns (it’s been number 1 for a lot of years). [Note: as of 2016 it's still number 1, and it's been number 1 for ten out of […] 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

3 Things Your CEO Wants to Know

A lot of people who move up through an IT organization are surprised to find that the higher in the IT organization they get, the less the job is about technology. At the very top of the IT organization in the CIO role, the focus isn’t on IT at all – it’s on doing the […] 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

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

How Do You Talk to a CIO?

Last week I was interviewed by a writer from a popular business magazine. He wanted my views on the question, “How do you talk to a CTO or CIO?” It’s an interesting question, and what makes it most interesting to me is that I’ve never heard anyone ask the question about any other senior executive […] 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

You’ve Got to Specialize

If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that being “well-rounded” is a sure path to mediocrity. You’re much more likely to achieve career success if you get really good in one area than if you achieve moderate mastery in a number of different areas. That’s true even for managers and executives. You may not think […] Read More

The Best IT Organization in the Country?

Recently a newsletter reader told me that his CEO asked the question, “Is our IT organization the best in the country?” The reader wanted to know how it’s possible to “benchmark yourself against other IT organizations so to be in a position to answer such a question.” First Answer I think there are two answers […] 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

10 Rules for IT Job Success

I got a call last month from a newsletter reader in India who wanted help in making a career decision. He was a bit vague about the details, but it seems that he impetuously quit his previous job over a difference of opinion with his manager. Now he wasn’t sure whether to try to patch […] 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

The Secrets of Convincing a CIO to Buy Your Products & Services What surprising hot buttons do CIO's have? What can I do to guarantee a meeting with a CIO? How do I ensure an initial sale to a CIO? How do I ensure add-on sales? You probably already know how difficult it is to […] 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

The Blind Men and Information Technology

A recent article in ComputerWorld by Curt Monash reminded me of the poem about the Blind Men and the Elephant. The Computerworld article talked about different points of view from leading technology vendors. According to the article, Oracle and IBM view IT as data-centric, Microsoft views IT as people-centric, and SAP views IT as business-process-centric. […] Read More

I don’t usually like to talk about stereotypes, but it occurred to me that the stereotype about men not asking for directions applies equally well to CIOs of both genders. So let me talk about why men don’t ask for directions, and I think we’ll find some lessons that will apply to senior executives as […] 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

Creating Wildly Successful Projects

I saw a shooting star the other day, a meteor streaking across the sky as it burned up in the atmosphere. A lot of IT projects are like that meteor: they briefly get a lot of attention, they brighten the lives of the people who observe them, but then they fade into oblivion when they’re […] 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

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

Don’t Get Stuck in a Learning Stage

I've heard that we go through a progression of stages as we learn a new topic. Before starting to learn a topic, we’re so oblivious to the subject matter that we’re not even aware of what it’s about. We’re in Stage 1: we don’t know what we don’t know. Gradually, we become aware of our […] 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

Hidden Consultants within your Organization

You’ve all heard the old joke about a consultant being someone who uses your watch to tell you the time, and then steals your watch. There’s some truth to the story: consultant recommendations are often the same things that your employees or customers have been telling you all along. But while you will listen to […] Read More

IT is Moving toward Property Management

Last month I had the unique opportunity to help a large university plan its future curricula for its undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer information systems. The university recognizes that Information Technology is changing, and wants to make sure that its students are being prepared for the real world. To this end the university has […] Read More

We live in a non-linear world but it’s funny how we keep forgetting that fact. Eating twice as much for dinner won’t make up for missing lunch. A runner who can do a 4 minute mile can’t do 10 miles in 40 minutes. If it takes two painters one day to paint a room, then […] Read More

Experience, Knowledge, Wisdom, and Better

I’m writing this on my birthday. Birthdays are a pretty arbitrary measure of aging—the earth has made some number of revolutions around the sun since I was born. Time passes, and our experience grows. But it’s not our experience that counts in life as much as what we do with it. Do we learn from […] Read More

I’ve got a speaking engagement in a month or so where I’m going to talk about "How to Reduce Risk in IT Projects." In thinking about what I want to say in that presentation, it occurred to me that "risk" is an interesting word. We define the word as the uncertainty of bad things happening, […] Read More

When to Outsource and When to Offshore

The subject of outsourcing is in the news a lot lately, particularly when the outsourcing is done to a location outside your country. Based on my experience, a company should consider outsourcing when one of the following criteria is met: The vendor can do the job better than your company, at a reasonable cost. The […] Read More

On Time at the Wrong Restaurant

A friend of mine struggled with bad weather and worse traffic to make his way across town, arriving just in time for a scheduled lunch meeting. Unfortunately, he had misunderstood his calendar, and he was at the wrong restaurant. When he told me about it the next day, it struck me how his predicament is […] Read More

3 Keys to Service Success

What do capability, motivation, and expectations have in common? All three are essential for a successful service organization, whether that organization is in Information Technology or in any other field. Capability Let’s use a help desk as an example. For such a service organization, capability includes the basic skills necessary to be able to answer […] Read More

Do you want? A more satisfied boss ... Less stress ... More successful projects ... Infrastructure savings ... Enhanced leadership ... Low risk solutions ... This two-page article gives you some proven approaches for reaching these goals, along with some comments about how you can achieve them. It's a check list for the kinds of […] Read More

Get Off the Train, and Join the Fleet

I remember the first time I was in a management role, more than 25 years ago at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). I was a bit anxious because I had been put in charge of people who had been my peers. Then I surprised my new direct reports by asking them questions no one in management […] Read More

Like many of you, I travel a lot. Some of the travel requires me to wear business suits, and I’ve had to learn how to pack a suit coat so that it’s wearable when I unpack it. Years ago I learned the secret, but it recently occurred to me that the secret of packing a […] Read More

IT Doesn’t Matter?

There is an article in the May, 2003 issue of Harvard Business Review with the disturbing title “IT Doesn’t Matter.” Yet despite its inflammatory title, the article is highly supportive of today’s information technology, comparing it to the likes of electricity, transportation and telecommunication in its importance to business, and declaring it "the backbone of […] Read More

In last month's newsletter, I said that Information Technology (IT) is about people and change, and that software and hardware are just a means to an end. However, some of you are operating under the impression that the IT organization itself is just a means to an end. To use an analogy, some of you […] Read More

How can you focus your use of information technology for increased business benefit? Initial implementations of information technology in business almost always focus on cost reduction; it's been that way ever since computers were first invented. But cost reduction is only one of seven different ways that IT can improve your business, and if you're […] Read More

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