Lessons Learned: Effective Practices In IT Management

This article was first published on the NTEN Blog in May of 2007.

Peter Campbell, TechCafeteria.com

I’ve spent more than 20 years in the sometimes maddening, sometimes wonderful, world of IT management. Along the way I’ve worked under a variety of CEOs with very diverse styles, and I’ve developed, deployed and maintained ambitious technology platforms. In order to survive, I put together three basic tenets to live by.

1. Management is 360 degrees: managing your superiors and peers is a bigger challenge than managing your staff.

2. To say anything effectively in an organization, you have to say it at least three times in three different media.

3. Follow Fidonet’s basic social guideline, “Do not be excessively annoying and do not become excessively annoyed.”

At a high level:

  • Work for the mission. Even in for-profit environments, I’ve managed to the organizational goals, not the individual personalities. You will avoid more political damage and navigate your way around the politics far more easily if you do the same. Don’t be scared of board or boss, and don’t cave in easily. This doesn’t mean that you countermand direct orders, but it does mean that you speak up if they don’t make sense to you. If you are in a political environment where, at the top, personality and ego trump mission in setting organizational priorities, then get out.
  • Make your priorities well known. Don’t ever assume that people are reading your business plans and proposals, and know for a fact that they haven’t read your emails. The key to successful project planning is communication, and that means face to face discussions with all parties with a stake in the project, especially those that you don’t particularly mesh with. Avoiding people who factor in your ability to succeed is a sure way to fail.
  • Take every opportunity to educate. Successful deployment of technology depends on joint ownership between the technology users and purveyors. Staff won’t own the technology if they don’t know what it does for them. In order to successfully manage technology, you need to constantly inform all parties at to what it can do for them.

Some other handy practices:

  • Run the IT Department as a lab – give your staff ample voice, diverse projects, and credit when they succeed. IT people, particularly in non-profits, are far more motivated by learning and accomplishing things than they are by money.
  • Value people skills, especially among your staff. Ability and comfort to communicate can be a more valuable talent than the ability to configure a Cisco 1750 blindfolded.
  • Marketing is not a dirty word! Sell your initiatives with PowerPoint, Project, and whatever else wows the suits.
  • Design for your users, not yourself. Stay aware that techies do not use the technology the way that everyone else does, and there is nothing wrong with everyone else – they just aren’t techies. So make sure that the software is configured to their needs and desires, not yours.
  • Consultants Rock! (and I’m not just saying that because I’m now a consultant). If you are doing your job well, a consultant can help you build resources and improve your status with management. Simple fact: The CEO will always listen to the consultant say exactly what you’ve been saying for years.
  • Be opportunistic. Apply for grants – you don’t have to wait for the grant writer to do it. Call different people at that vendor that you’re seeking a charitable discount from, not just the ones who think it will lower their commission. And then, back to marketing – let the CEO know every time you succeed.

Peter Campbell is a Business Technology Consultant focused on assisting members of the nonprofit/social services community with revenue-generating projects and promoting organizational self-sufficiency.

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