Why eschew management training

It’s long struck me how ill prepared IT specialists are for management responsibilities.

As long ago as 1992 when we first began to offer the ITIL “Managers” course we were surprised at how poorly developed were the presentation skills of the course attendees. Our students were often tongue-tied and seemed incapable of marshalling their thoughts to convey the simplest of ideas. They also struggled with any aspect of financial management – even simple budgeting techniques were totally alien to them.

As we delved further into the management skills that were required to transform highly competent technical specialists into team leaders it also became apparent that motivational and performance management skills were also absent.

I have been at the Learning & Skills / Learning Technologies exhibitions this week. During the two days I was there, I spoke to many HR managers from a whole range of organisations – public and private, large and small. A common theme of our conversations was the under-development of general management skills within IT specialists.

Perversely, it seems, training to support these skills are readily available. Sysop, for example, has a range of management development courses specifically designed for IT specialists.

The shocking revelation, from the HR people I spoke to, was that IT specialists are incredibly reluctant to undertake this training. When it is identified as a logical career development step, they view it as some sort of punishment detail.

So, why do we IT guys shy away from developing our management skills? What is it about our psyche that makes us view them as a chore rather than an essential and enjoyable career development step?

I confess, I don’t know. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Stuart Sawle

The Business as “A Customer” – a Challenge for the Future

Service management best practice positions “the business” to which services are provided as “the customer”. This is a point of view that is particularly emphasised when attempting to instil a service culture into IT technical teams. We all know that IT technical staff will tend to focus on their technical specialism and believe, for the most part, that this can continue no matter what the business need is or the activities are.

We overcome this by describing our business users as customers. We talk about providing service. We remind our technical teams that without the business operating effectively, making profit, the demand for IT services, and their job, might be abruptly curtailed.

Our strategy works. Once the service culture becomes the norm: IT services improve; effectiveness increases; costs reduce; and the virtuous circle of continual service improvement becomes well established. Job done – we may think; but hold on!
Why have we created “a Them” and “Us”? Why do other specialist groups within the organisation see themselves as part of the business – not some-how external to it? We don’t hear of HR specialists or facilities management staff talking about customer service and “the business” as some discrete entity.

This conundrum highlights where IT service management has to go next. The” business as a customer” analogy works well in the initial stages of IT service management implementation but we must recognise it as flawed. Our IT Director will not see him/herself as just a service provider. Indeed IT Directors need to and do provide valuable input to the corporate decision making process. They take responsibility for the advice they give and accept their share of the corporate objectives.

The challenge, in years to come, will be to complete the integration of the entire IT specialism -encouraging them to continue to pride best of breed service but from within not as a semi-detached group somehow grafted onto the side of the business operation.
Your comments on how this might be achieved are awaited with interest.

Stuart Sawle

Change Management – Managing Change

Within the disciplines of IT service management we tend to think we’re pretty adept at managing change – after all a big chunk of our responsibility is about making sure that the changes are implemented for the business reliably, safely and accurately and in a controlled and disciplined manner. However that’s Change Management in ITIL speak. I’m talking here about managing those changes that affect you and / or your teams.

I think it’s a hugely ironic that IT specialists at the forefront of implementing change for the business are, as a group, most resistant to change themselves. That makes it very difficult to develop a culture of continual service improvement and to implement a framework like ITIL®.

It is widely accepted that the top three barriers to service improvement are:
• Plan, Do, Stop
• Saying Yes and meaning No
• Lack of Commitment from senior management.
Planning and acting to overcome these three obstacles is a crucial element in any programme of change.

Resistance is good. Winning people over helps validate that Yes really means Yes and that the improvement programme will continue even when the initial focus is switched elsewhere.

Management commitment is more difficult but goes to what I said in an earlier blog about speaking truth to power. All too often I see projects effectively killed off because senior managers display an attitude characterised by “You have my full commitment – just so long as you don’t need my time, effort, budget or involvement”.

Project Management – Speaking Truth to Power

Many years ago, in a heated discussion about missed project deadline, a colleague rather sneeringly said to me: “It’s alright for you Stuart, you always allow yourself enough time to complete your projects!”

This remark hurt at the time and that’s probably why I remember it so vividly. But shouldn’t I have taken it as a compliment? After all the essence of sound project management is to plan for and demand sufficient resource to meet the project criteria.

Some years later, I was engaged on an assignment to deliver a project that had a deadline that just could not be moved (the clue is: it was the 5th April).  Given that end date is fixed, the only other variable is the level of manpower available – more bodies for a shorter time or, in our case, more hours in longer days.

That’s when I fully understood the perspective of my colleague.  He was Applications Development Manager driven very much by business imperatives, I was Technical Manager – relatively free to set and manage my own deadlines.

Nevertheless, of course, project management is just that – the sound management of a project. There is no merit in taking on a project that has either unrealistic timescales or inadequate resources to enable it to be delivered to the required quality.

That’s why in our PRINCE2 ® training courses we take a very practical and pragmatic approach to the real-life challenges that face project managers. Our course takes a workshop approach based on the principles of accelerated and practical learning. We know that people learn more effectively where learning events are activity-centred and that they can better relate the theory to the real world. Sadly, the dynamics of modern business do not always fit the theoretical model.

Project managers need to be flexible and prepared to stand up for their project. If the planning reveals that there is insufficient time, budget or resource to deliver reliably – the project manager has not only a right but a duty to escalate to the project board. Senior management need to know and acknowledge risk. The ability to speak truth to power is an essential quality that project managers must have – backed by sound planning and an international accepted framework – the true value of PRINCE2 ®.