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A collaborative approach to IT leadership (Part 3)

February 2, 2010

Originally posted 7/1/2008

In the last two posts, we looked at how a collaborative approach might contribute to the effectiveness of the first 90 days of a new head of technology’s tenure. In this post, we’ll focus on how such an approach can be leveraged beyond the first three months, with particular attention to the use of three kinds of teams (leadership, management, and operations) to structure IT activity.

The head of technology has a few basic things that must be accomplished to stay employed:

1. Keep the lights on (sometimes referred to as supply)
2. Deliver requests for work on time, in budget, and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders
3. Provide leadership to the organization about new ways to use technology to achieve business goals (sometimes referred to as demand)

Each of these requires a different mix of strategy and tactics, as well as attention to both operational and managerial dimensions. It’s therefore imperative to make sure that the collaborative model put in place encourages all of these to be considered (albeit in different proportions) when addressing each of the above three tasks.

Doing so helps ground the more visionary, leadership activities in the reality of how work is done in IT; it also helps align the day-to-day work of IT with departmental and organizational strategy. Both of these are critical if IT is to add value to the organization–and to be recognized for the value it adds by the larger organization.

The following are some ideas for how to construct these three teams in order to best leverage them to keep the lights on, deliver work successfully, and provide leadership to the wider organization.

Leadership Team
Members: The direct reports of the head of technology, the head of technology
Responsibilities: Meeting regularly to discuss the IT organization (strategy and tactics) in order to identify areas for improvement, whether by fixing something broken or introducing something new. Ideas can come from within the group or from suggestions collected from outside the leadership team.

Management Team
Members: IT managers selected by the leadership team; should not be based on seniority, but rather on their suitability for moving up in the organization (varying combinations of management skill, technical acumen, business domain knowledge, operations expertise, leadership qualities, communication skills, and ambition)
Responsibilities: Meeting regularly to discuss the IT organization (both management and operations) in order to identify areas for improvement, whether by fixing something broken or introducing something new. Ideas can come from within the group or from suggestions collected from outside the management team.

Operations Team
Members: IT non-managers (and possibly some IT managers) selected by the management team; should not be based on seniority, but rather on their suitability for moving up in the organization (varying combinations of technical acumen, business domain knowledge, operations expertise, leadership qualities, communication skills, management skills, and ambition).
Responsibilities: Meeting regularly to discuss operations in order to identify areas for improvement, whether by fixing something broken or introducing something new. Ideas can come from within the group or from suggestions collected from outside the operations team.

There are a variety of ways that these teams could function day-to-day, and much will depend on the particular local conditions in any given organization. But the following is an illustration of how the teams might function from a high level at an organization:

Operations team improvement process
1. Area for improvement identified.
2. Ops team develops idea and submits proposal to management team.
3. Management team vets idea; if approved, ops team is invited to present to management team; if approved pending changes, changes are made and then ops team is invited to present; if rejected, the process ends.
4. Ops team presents to management team; discussion and sharpening of idea.
5. Management team reworks presentation for the leadership team and submits.
6. Leadership team vets; if approved, management team is invited to present to leadership team (ops team involvement may be appropriate); if approved pending changes, changes are made and then management team is invited to present; if rejected, the process ends.
7. Management team presents to leadership team; discussion and sharpening of idea; may involve an iterative review cycle to get the idea fully developed.
8. Go/no go decision.

Management team improvement process
1. Area for improvement identified.
2. Management team develops idea (may involve consulting ops team where appropriate) and submits proposal to leadership team.
3. Leadership team vets; if approved, management team is invited to present to leadership team (ops team involvement may be appropriate); if approved pending changes, changes are made and then management team is invited to present; if rejected, the process ends.
4. Management team presents to leadership team; discussion and sharpening of idea; may involve an iterative review cycle to get the idea fully developed.
5. Go/no go decision.

Leadership team improvement process
1. Area for improvement identified.
2. Leadership team develops high-level discussion of idea and identifies a proposal team made up of members of the management and/or ops team to be tasked with developing it.
3. Proposal team develops idea and submits to leadership team.
3. Leadership team vets; if approved, project team is invited to present to leadership team; if approved pending changes, changes are made and then project team is invited to present; if rejected, the process ends.
4. Project team presents to leadership team; discussion and sharpening of idea; may involve an iterative review cycle to get the idea fully developed.
5. Go/no go decision.

This three-team structure could of course also be leveraged for the day-to-day running of an IT department in a number of ways, mostly depending on the local conditions in an organization. But hopefully the general framework I’ve described here gets you excited to start evaluating more collaborative approaches to the challenges you and your organization face.

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