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Objectives

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

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

To Succeed in Corporate IT, Play Hard to Get

According to popular fiction, “playing hard to get” is a strategy sometimes used by women to snare a man. It makes the assumption that men want something more when they can’t have it, so if a woman acts like she’s not interested in a man, it makes the man more interested in her. I have […] Read More

How to Fail as a CIO

Success in any job is measured by the alignment of expectations and performance. If the company expects “X” and you deliver “Y” then you fail, no matter whether or not “X” is achievable and no matter whether or not “Y” is actually better for the company. If it’s impossible to deliver “X” in the desired […] Read More

5 Approaches to Software Strategy

I recently visited a potential client company who wants help in setting strategy for its licensed software products. In the last few years I’ve mostly helped companies with IT strategy, so I had to think back to my product development days and consider the differences between IT strategy and software product strategy. And in doing […] 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 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

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

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

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

How to Become a CIO

I’m a bit concerned that aspiring CIOs are looking for a “silver bullet,” a magic solution that they can easily apply and thereby instantly qualify to be a highly paid CIO. The real world isn’t like that. Many years ago I had an employee who wanted to be promoted to a higher level position, and […] 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

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

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

Why ROI Isn’t Working

ROI (Return on Investment) is the most common and popular method for project ranking, both in IT and elsewhere. But ROI isn’t working in most companies, and as a result, businesses are making bad project decisions. In this article I'll explain why ROI isn't working. Then in next month's newsletter I'll tell you how you […] 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

IT is a lot like Gift Giving

It’s that time of the year when many of us are thinking about finding appropriate holiday gifts for loved ones. The other day it struck me that there are similarities between the gift giving process and the profession of Information Technology (IT). Here are my thoughts about the philosophy of gift-giving as it relates to […] 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

Web services aren’t the answer, but you should use them anyway. I’ll tell you why. Let me start with a quick definition of web services. When you use web services, you allow software applications to communicate with each other using three technologies: HTTP, XML, and SOAP. HTTP is the primary protocol used for data transmission […] 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

According to a recent study by the Standish Group, only 29% of Information Technology (IT) projects are completed on time and within budget. I believe that a large number of the remaining 71% of projects get in trouble because they don't adequately consider the human side of the projects. Good CIOs recognize that Information Technology […] Read More

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