Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The bread and butter of any methodology. This is NOT unique to Information Technology regardless of how many articles and geek speakers you have been informed by. This is as old as time. The Romans whom were the architects of modern, yes modern project management, knew the inter-relationship of People, Process and Tools (Technology).

Whether you are building a home or just implementing a function in a program your balanced approach needs to be considered.

When this triangle is out of balance to the needs of the organization then problems arise. All elements of the Information Technology value chain (Network, Technology, applications and business drivers) must be audited to ensure the organizational goal are met.

People are the cornerstone to any successful approach. People must have the proper training, desire, capacity and spirit to succeed. You as the leader have to let your people do their job. Give them the environment to succeed and at times fail. All too often we want to step in to fix the situation and this can cause longer term issues for the team. Team members must have the confidence to proceed as they see fit within the larger context and in a respectful way.

I have worked many sides of the Information Technology arena. Generally speaking infrastructure groups gravitate to processes and development groups gravitate to the creative open ended side. I have found the best developers are those that explore their creative side and the best infrastructure people adhere to defined processes and are focused trouble shooters. This latter group are your bush wise survivors and the former tend to be the tortured artists. Embrace both and provide an environment that is conducive to their unique styles.

Some of the key areas that fall within the people element are;
  • Training -- This should not be a reward or vacation but an investment for the organization and the individual.
  • Administrative support -- Do your paper work on time and with pride
  • Mentoring -- Educate as you communicate
  • Performance reviews -- This is critical to all parties
  • Supervision -- Who is running the mad house
  • Discipline and corrective action -- Be firm but fair. Focus on the message to those watching
  • Motivation -- Let them know when they are doing a great job, support them in dark times and provide a vision for their efforts

If you are ones of those recently promoted from within the ranks or from within the craft it can be very difficult to make the adjustment to management. One of my first realizations after knowing I was now paid for what I was able to get done was that the members of my team were now a tool within my larger kit bag. This is by no way meant to convey arrogance or maltreatment but rather the opposite. It was a very humbling realization. You now have the responsibility of this new tool and you have to effectively use it without breaking or damaging it. This new tool which you have no previous knowledge or comprehension of is not the inanimate tools (hardware and software) you used in learning your craft. This tool also did not come with any user manual and has a tendency, at times, not to work as expected. For this the axiom, people tend to do what is inspected and not expected.

You as their leader are now faced with much more responsibilities then just what happens at the job site. Your team will look to you for guidance, direction and to set the baseline. I encourage new managers to imprint their mark on their teams. This is not a simple task in this craft we call Information Technology. Most of us, were attracted to the purity of the technology and our ability to manipulate it impersonally. Now as a wielder of this human tool, our caviler attitude or iterative approach to tool learning will work against us. We must take a much more pragmatic and exterior view of the group and how they inter-relate.

Some sound advice in this arena given to me when I became an infantry officer from my grandfather who was a highly decorated Sargent in the Canadian Army during the second world war was this. Lead from the front, be the last to bed, last to eat and first to rise...... Take care of the men behind you and they will protect you from the enemy in front of you. Very sound advice to anyone who has a team under their care.

There are several other factors in the people element that I try to remember when working at my craft. Most of us, will be technology dealers with humans at the other end. Either as users or consumers of the craft. Be respectful. Would you want to use your technology every day. Does it take into account the normal dealings of your intended and sometimes unintended users. Put yourself on the other side of the screen or interface before you roll out your solutions. When users and some times abusers call us for help remember regardless of what mood they are in or for that matter what mood you are in, help was asked for...... How about providing some without the drama. As a manager you need to be respectful to the group of individuals you report to. Are you meeting their needs with your what your team is responsible for? Do you understand the vision? Are you moving the overall agenda forward? Are you part of the solution or the problem? These are the questions you need to reflect on when your team engages.

Process is for some, me included, one of the coolest elements of the approach triangle. When I am in an engaged business meeting discussing business challenges I become hyper sensitive to the processes being discussed. Established, effective process allows the machine to run smoothly. A simple effective process for time and attendance reporting has way more "acceptance" value to your team then an overburdened software development life cycle process. Again, remember it is people who use processes and that a good solid process take the human element into account and is people centric.

All the process you come into contact with both as a user and as a developer must be thoroughly considered for its relevance to your organization. There are now very mature Information Technology processes for you to draw on. But anything else in this craft, you must learn to harness it and apply it with proper care and use. You must assess the capacity maturity level of your team and organization before you delve too deep into a process. I find it best to walk before you run. I have also implemented processes that I call transitional processes. That is I introduce the base elements of a mature process to educate the team or organization before going after the larger more complex implementations. A good example of this is a ticketing system for work requests. If your organization has no formal method of asking for work to be completed then you need to implement a simple trouble ticketing systems before you go after a full service desk implementation of an ITIL best practices approach.

This blog will endeavour with future posts to explain and elaborate on formal Information Technology processes. Below is a list of processes that I believe are essential to leading in an Information Technology profession.

Each of these has many books and reference points and I encourage anyone looking to hone their skills to read and understand these processes and their effective implementations.

The Tools element of the approach triangle is where I get my most enjoyment. I am such a tool junkie that at times I embarrass myself. This is when the true inner geek in me lets go. I do not care if this is a new wood working tool in my vast collection or a some wicked free network monitoring tool. I get all goose pimply and child like. When I get caught in the gaze of one of these tools I become 5 years old again. What fun......

However, in our chosen profession we have way too many tools now at our disposal. My grey hair is a constant reminder of the best of times was when we built our own tools to achieve our end goals. The older I get the better I was. One of the main poignant reasons for this, in my belief, is that to make a tool, the crafts person needs to understand the "why" a tool is being made. A tool user is only fixated on the "how" it works. A very important difference. I find a great deal of my colleagues have become so obsessed with tools that they forget why the tool was needed in the first case.

Network monitoring tools for me is one area that causes me the greatest concern with younger shops. The tools today are so rich and powerful that the user of the tool becomes an observer and not the crafts person. Times like this the saying "a fool with a tool is still a fool". It may seem harsh but we have all been witness to it. We also see this in our user community when we come across a super user from the Excel warrior camp who can dazzle the bosses with great ease. Only to find out that his tool of choice is using stale data and is out of sync with the full body of knowledge. But it is impressive to watch even in a sick sinister way.

Be careful when your team is constantly coming to you to buy or implement a tool to better their lives when they have not convinced you it will help the overall team and/or organization. This is usually a sign of lack of team focus or lack of confidence in themselves. Make sure the tools being acquired are being used and that value is being returned back to the organization.

Visual tools are very powerful, whether they be in the development arena or the monitoring arena. All users of these visual tools must be reminded of the underlining work that is being performed by these tools. Failure to do so, makes you the leader of the fools with all the cool tools.

One of my favourite tools in my leadership possession is the employee evaluation. I choose to use this tool to educate my team on what is expected and more important to reward efforts and behaviours. I was born with the greatest tools of all and that is two eyes, two ears and one mouth and I attempt to use them wisely and in the correct order.

In conclusion, when your approach is balanced with engaged people, relevant processes and effective tools then you can be assured your team will have what it takes to be successful. When you feel or witness stress in the team, ensure all elements of this approach are in balance.

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