By Toby Malbec, Managing Director, ConStrata Technology Consulting
Last week, the first five in a series of ten conflicts that can make it easy for executives to be skeptical of IT managers was revealed by Toby Malbec, Managing Director of ConStrata Technology Consulting. Malbec draws on his 30+ years of experience in restaurant IT, including time spent as the director of POS for IPC/SUBWAY, to provide a first-hand—and often humorous — look at some of the most common reasons executives don’t trust IT managers, and along the way provides some guidance for course correcting. This week Malbec shares the final five issues that can sometimes stand in the way of true synergy between IT and upper management.
5. It will always take longer than you say it will
Few IT managers willfully deceive their bosses by deflating the timeline; it is simply that the number of variables associated with many of these projects create so much randomness and chaos that reasonable estimates are very difficult to make. In some cases management is asking for a timeline when so little is really understood about the scale of the project, the resources that will be available, or even how the new product or feature will be evaluated. Sadly the reality is that they are asked to predict the most when they know the least.
As a result, IT managers will often fall into severe analysis paralysis, taking three months to evaluate a project and then proudly announcing to executive management that the work will take two weeks! Somehow management and IT need to create an unholy alliance; I won’t hold you to a date if you don’t try and sand-bag me. Perhaps over time the trust will grow.
4. It always costs more than you said it would
The second of the ugly little lies; with longer timeframes and more unknowns comes greater expense. Who could have predicted that after looking at the new enhancement to the guest loyalty system that the group needed to hire a contractor from Sweden who is the only known person alive who has ever successfully written an interface to the Glippensplatt system, which is written in some proprietary code using a now-extinct operating system? Absurd as it sounds this craziness happens every day. One could contend that the most valuable tool an IT manager could possess is a crystal ball to evaluate before a project starts whether it will have the intended business value predicted, how much time it will take, and ultimately whether the business impact will warrant the cost. This post-mortem is critically important and one of the reasons that mature IT organizations insist on some form of business justification before expending significant time and money on a project. If executive management has a hard time saying no or prioritizing IT projects with the IT management team, the organization needs to prepare for low productivity, high turnover, and high consumption of Red Bull and Zantac.
3. IT is too often reactive instead of proactive
Most organizations look at IT as a regrettable evil; somebody needs to make sure that the new intern in shipping isn’t downloading a 500 terabyte video of her weekend’s exploits to her Facebook account. We turn to the IT department to be the law, and to police business behavior sometimes to an extreme. Nobody even considers the challenges of this task until the purchasing manager gets heated up because his search for chicken breasts gets flagged as inappropriate. Rarely is IT called on to be a value-add, and to implement business-enhancing applications that generate real revenue or return significant cost savings. This is a challenge; IT managers need to be empowered to be business people. To play this role the IT manager can’t be in a satellite office in a corn field (no deference to corn fields).
2. You don’t even know what we do…
Touché. The role of an IT Manager should be more about managing and less about IT. And what should they be managing? People, sure, but what about the business? IT organizations will sometimes slip into a trance where they forget (or neglect to remember) who their customers really are and what their role is in the organization. If an operations department cowers in fear when they need to ask IT for assistance then the IT department is in need of an attitude readjustment. IT Management should be visible to the business, out in the operations, and meeting with its customers and thanking them for their very existence! As a developer once stated, “bugs are job security –“ Without a demand there was no need for supply. Effective IT management is connected to the business, attends operations meetings, and seeks to understand how to add value beyond setting up passwords, replacing printer cartridges, and whitelisting a website here or there. What better way to provide value than to seek to understand the challenges of each area of the operation and look for ways to have technology ease the pain?
- Keep it simple
IT managers tend to be tone-deaf to executive management in terms of understanding what they want/need to know, and what is, in their minds, irrelevant. The disconnect that occurs here is that the IT manager wants to show off his techno-mojo, extolling how amazing getting that thing to actually communicate real time to that other thing and that it was only possible to do because they were able to virtualize this stuff over to that other stuff.
The real story is what value it brings to the business! Complicated, straightforward, impossible, or ridiculously simple, the point is delivering the message concisely and describing the business challenge, the approach, and how the business will now benefit based on the progress made. Trust me, if they want to know whether that was done through an adept use of visualization, they’ll ask.
Toby W. Malbec is the Managing Director of ConStrata Technology Consulting based in suburban Washington DC. The company provides technology guidance to the hospitality, retail, and foodservice industries, focusing on the operational aspects of the business. His experience in these industries spans three decades having worked as an operator, a supplier, and now as a consultant. He can be reached at Toby.Malbec@constratatech.com.