Musings on the mysteriously disappearing IT management

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In the first article of a series in which I ponder on the real world of IT, I alighted on the problem of project initiation; I now want to explore this further. In particular, I want to look at the role of management.

I have recently been involved in helping a major UK business (an extremely well known household name) to set about tackling the issue of how they manage configuration management. To simplify the issue it was decided to tackle the aspect of hardware configuration first and to then look at the more volatile issue of software configuration management. After several weeks of gathering views it became obvious that there were as many views as there were people, so it was agreed that the only way to progress the project would be to hold a workshop, sponsored by the IT Director. Even with the IT Director’s backing, including his agreement to come along to set the scene and address any pressing issues, on the day, out of 31 members that had agreed to participate there were a number of notable absentees. Most notable amongst those absenting themselves were the senior management of the Infrastructure and Operations group, who own the hardware and therefore can be said to own the very problem the workshop was set to address. To compound things, having not attended, those same managers then felt that they had a right to question all of the decisions made in their absence.

These guys are not alone in finding that they are too busy and cannot attend meetings that are deemed to be of the utmost importance. Everywhere I go I find management do nothing but tell me how busy they are. Many will go on to show you diaries that prove that they have back-to-back meetings for days, if not weeks, on end. I always ask them how they find the time to actually “do” anything; the response is usually a quizzical look, and a reply that they are busy going to meetings because that’s what they do! Having been a consultant for a great deal of my working life, I know (more so than many others attending the meeting) that there is no real value in merely attending meetings—try charging someone over a thousand pounds a day just to attend a meeting and produce nothing as a consequence. When was the last time you saw any document actually produced by many of those managers who spend their life in meetings?

Such meetings are often only documented by a PA drafted in to note the actions, but who does not understand many of the nuances of what is discussed. During the meeting the managers themselves spend the time verbalising and rarely actually commit to paper the totality of what is being talked about. As a consequence most of what is decided is high-level and all too often lacks rigour. But the action will often be to commit IT to a project.

Which brings me back to the problem I discussed last time about poor initiation. When management act in this way the results are, all too often, projects doomed to failure before they even begin because there is a lack of rigour in the thinking that underpins them.

It is remarkable how ideas that seem great when you just talk about them seem to be flawed, ambiguous and questionable once you try and write down a charter to explain the goals, identify the assumptions and constraints, and articulate in black and white the expected outcomes and the justification for them.

It is the role of management to make difficult decisions; as such they need to adopt rigorous modes of thinking and they need to make those decisions before asking IT to deliver. When I talk to IT teams and get told that they are unaware of what their management actually does, I expect to find managers swamped by meetings. These managers think they are busy; but to my mind they are busy doing disorganised stuff, and guilty of failing to produce. They need to focus on doing the right things and doing them well, and showing everyone some rigorous thinking and effective decision making.