Managing the Managers
By Roy Troxel
The Systems Administrator must continually make IT's presence known to the management. If you're working for a large corporation or consulting for a small business, you must know that business: its management, its problems and its plans for the future. Scheduling regular interviews or presentations with members of management every few months is a good way to learn what management really requires of IT. After all, it's going to be the company's needs that determine what you're going to ask for when you draw up your budget.
Maybe you're a consultant for a number of small businesses. It makes a lot of sense to talk to them on a regular basis, not just to remind them of your presence, but also to find out what their needs are. That's why they're paying you, isn't it?
You may have the greatest ideas for assessment and communication of data in the world, but if you don't know how to keep management informed of this, you're out of the loop. Most management types don't have the time to keep up with IT developments in their own company, so that's what your job is about.
So the question is: how can you help them make a decision? How can you help them communicate their ideas to their employees as well as to their customers?
Let's keep this simple. There are only two basic ways that IT really assists management:
1. In the processing of quantifiable data, to assist in decision-making, and 2. In the communication of data to clients and employees.
There are certain things that IT can't help management with, of course, like employee performance evaluation, delegating responsibilities, hiring and firing, etc. But if management needs to make decisions based on quantified entities, this is where the IT department can shine, and you should continually make management aware of this. Things like budgets, sales statistics, timetables, projected goals - all of these can be quantified and ported to spreadsheets, databases, and Gantt charts.
First, "run the numbers" on such tasks as:
Developing the schedule Estimating Resource Requirements Tracking Progress and Maintaining Control Dealing with risk and uncertainty
Next, present the data to management in a format that they can understand. If they like slide presentations in the meeting room, go with that. If they prefer to see the hard numbers on a spreadsheet, go with that.
If necessary, you can even make management think that they thought up your ideas. Say things like, "This is what you had in mind, isn't it?"
How do you learn about what management is thinking? Don't just depend on office memos. Interview the managers and work with them to determine their needs and timetables. Preparing a checklist sheet is a good method for doing this. If the manager doesn't have time for an interview, you can leave the checklist with him. In any case, don't just sit in the server room and wait for orders.
Then there is the whole area of communications: intranets, extranets, email, web sites, VPNs, advertising and marketing brochures - yes, the general field of "communications" can cover many subjects.
Perhaps you're working for a project manager who needs communications to keep his team together which is scattered over five cities. The manager needs daily feedback regarding the progress of the project, including expenditures. He needs to meet weekly with all workers involved. Should he do this through email or video conferencing?
Or, perhaps if you're talking with the Vice President of Sales, you can say that you understand that sales is largely the art of persuasion; i.e., convincing your company or buyer that your product or service is the best for him. Volunteer to work with him or her to create effective slide presentations, with 3-D spreadsheets that compare your services with those offered by your rivals.
At this point, some of you might be thinking, "This sounds all well and good, but if you worked where I worked, and had to deal with some of the managers here..." You mean the people who are always too busy to deal with computer types, who aren't detail-oriented, and who have belligerent personalities?
If this is your situation, then present yourself as the person who is calm, rational and, therefore, can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Someone in your organization will recognize this in you, and soon people will look to you for answers.
Also, find a champion - an ally in management who understands what IT can do for the company's mission. (Since you don't have authority over the people who can affect your success, befriend someone who does.)
If your company is financially sound, the servers are purring, and the printers work fine, then you don't have any problems to solve. But if the company is expanding, they might want you to upgrade their servers, or set up a B2B program with their affiliate companies. Ask them questions like:
"We've set up a new office in Baltimore, and it might be a good time to look into building a WAN. Would you like me to research that?"
"Did you know that we can set up a secure VPN network with our suppliers? That could save a lot of paperwork and phone calls."
In any case, take the initiative and be pro-active. Ask yourself if your company's current problems could provide you with some valuable experience that you couldn't get elsewhere, like installing or configuring a Linux server. If your ideas are rejected, at least you've proven that you can think "out of the box."