Trying to manage the pace and practice of change is one of the hardest activities any enterprise needs to undertake. Within the Information Technology sector, we have seen the pace of these changes firsthand. No enterprise can be competitive if it doesn't leverage server virtualization, cloud computing, and mobile web applications. Commercial off the shelf (COTS) software has replaced most if not all custom software applications because it is cheaper, has a faster time to market, is easier to support, and is usually more responsive to changing business needs.
When I was in university, a one minute telephone call across the country cost 99¢. Today, a call to most places in the world is about 5¢ a minute or less. Taking inflation into account, that means a long distance phone call costs about 1/60 of its price some 30 years ago.
In the science of quantum physics, Werner Heisenberg postulated that the more precisely we can measure the location of a particle, the less precisely we can measure its momentum--and vice versa. This principle, first formulated in 1927 is known as "Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle."
Within management sciences, it seems to have a variant: "The more precisely we try to report on what we've done, the less effective we are at productively satisfying our mandate." Managers love reports. They want to know everything about anything as if reports, pie charts, and trend lines will make them feel more in control of a large department where they can't possibly expect to follow every detail as it transpires--but wish they could.
We've all been there: a consultant arrives at the workplace and one of the executive tells us that we need to embark on organizational change so that we can be more effective/productive/efficient/agile/competitive/_______ (fill in blank with chosen alternate adjective). In the ensuing weeks, rumours abound: "How many people will be laid off?" "What is this really about?" "Who will they fire?" "Haven't we had enough change?"
I wrote about maxims a few weeks ago. As a refresher, "maxims are a series of short statements expressing the shared future focus of a business in actionable business terms." Actionality is the key concept here. It's not enough to say, "Our business will be cost effective and profitable." How will it achieve this? A full maxim might be, "Our business will be cost effective and profitable by hiring workers with the minimum required skills and passing lower labour costs to our customers."
In the summer of 2001, I was a lowly System Administrator managing a farm of IBM AIX servers running a payment gateway for a major MasterCard franchise. My network was segregated from the rest of the organization using dedicated firewalls. Firewall logs were in a very raw format: Source IP#, Source Port #, Destination IP#, Destination Port # and a timestamp. I had repeatedly asked for some networking and monitoring intelligence tools to help parse the firewall logs and turn them into more human understandable data but was turned down. I even offered to write some PERL scripts to do some of this work myself if I could have a company supplied cell phone to send any alerts to. Nada.
When the "Code Red" worm was released, my manager freaked. "I want you to read every line of those firewall logs and make sure nothing is getting through!" he said. I responded that Code Red only affected Windows servers running IIS. He didn't care. "Read them!" he insisted. I countered that there were about 500,000 lines of digits a day coming through the logs; his task was impossible.
Why is it that within the Information Technology industry, people generally complain about a dearth of management and leadership skills? What is the difference between management and leadership? And is there anything we can do as an industry to grow these qualities in our IT practitioners?
A sub-discipline of IT called "Enterprise Architecture" (EA) exists to ensure that IT strategy is aligned with that of the business it serves. It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Get the business to share its strategy with you, and you can make sure that you have the necessary IT infrastructure, chose the appropriate applications and engineer the best environment to support this strategy. There are a number of challenges to consider before most EA engagements can even get off the ground.
Yesterday, I got a "cease and desist letter" in an email from a lawyer:
"By way of follow-up, please be advised that it is not acceptable under any circumstances for an agreement or document to be executed by the [organization] (or accepted by the [organization]) through an email acknowledgment exchange.
I trust this practice will cease immediately."
Yes, the irony of a lawyer sending me an email to tell me to stop using emails was not lost on me.
But it got me thinking, "What is the legal standing of an email sign-off?" After all, we use email to convey agreement or disagreement all the time. As a project manager, my client is not always physically available and if I send them an RFP response, a project management plan or a change request, do I really need to go through the trouble of printing it out, sending it to them by courier and then wait up to a week to receive it back again?
"Great leaders make the minimum number of decisions that...they have to.... If the vested interests of the organization is not at stake, don't make the decision; let someone else make the decision.... Leaders [should] try to limit the number of decisions that they are making to critical or strategic decisions and not believe that you have to make them all because you're the leader....