j.ello on IT Part 7: Who’s dealing with your s***?


Who da man? -

What does it matter that the top IT leaders of today are more and more akin to the Pointed-Haired Boss instead of the Pocket-Protectored Practitioners of the past? An IT department is just a commodity service provided by a collection of people needing to be supervised, so any MBA will do… right?

Well, interestingly enough, the US Dept. of Labor says that while other IT jobs evaporate, IT management continues to grow, and fast, up about 50% the last 6 years. The statistics are based on job description as opposed to title… so it’s not that there are more people carrying the manager title or above, but more people charged with – or as they may say “burdened with” - direct decision making authority within their organizations.

How is that happeing? -

There are several perspectives on why this is: Increased integration of IT within specific business units of an organization requiring management of smaller, more nimble IT groups. Increased variety and complexity of software, hardware and services requiring specialized individuals to make business decisions independently from the larger IT group. Even the effects of outsourcing resulting in an increased need to manage the outsourced relationships.

I agree that all these have impact, but if organizations recognized these roles as “Management”, and were actively delegating such authority, or had any idea that decisions being made at lower levels actually do have significant strategic impact, then the number of management titles would be increasing at the same rate, which is not what’s happening.

“…there’s a natural progression toward hiring the most qualified ineffective IT leadership money can buy.”

Leading from within -

Here’s where the last article fits in. With IT leadership becoming more and more disconnected from the collective IT knowledge base, critical decision making has to occur at lower levels, where the technical knowledge still exists. So, ultimately, it’s not that technologists are being “asked” to make the critical business decisions one would expect IT leadership to make, nor are they expected, as a result of job title, to do so. They simply find themselves in a situation where taking matters into their own hands is favorable to training the supervisor to a sufficient level to get a valid decision on the problem.

Don’t think it doesn’t happen.  Good technologists have no problem making an executive decision when they are faced with an IT supervisor who isn’t technically knowledgeable.

The appropriate Ghostbusters quote is “I guess I’m just saying that shit happens
and somebody has to deal with it.”

“I’ve got a Treo, of course I know technology…” -

I think we can all agree that ideal IT leaders should be technically minded, creative, posses management skills and business savvy. But the fact is that there are far, FAR fewer people possessing all these traits than there are jobs requiring them. No matter what, an organization has to sacrifice some degree of one or all of these skill sets in order to hire a candidate for the top job. I think it’s also fair enough to say that it’s easier to “appear” technically knowledgeable than it is to show leadership qualities when it comes to interviewing with non-IT organizational leaders like CEO’s, CFO’s, COO’s… who are more sensitive to such qualities.  So logically, there’s a natural progression toward hiring the most qualified ineffective IT leadership money can buy.

This isn’t intentional, and again, we’re talking about smart people being lead to a “less optimal” result by applying perfectly valid wisdom that works in other areas of their businesses.  The Peter Priciple brings incompetence up from the bottom, and there is a yet to be named principle that, with the best of intentions, pushes incompetence down from the top. Up until the 80′s, there was a clear favoring of technical prowess at the expense of managerial credential, and while the smallest of today’s organizations still tend toward this persuasion out of necessity, the rest almost exclusively go in the opposite direction.

Intuitively, this seems smart. The simple truth is that if you’re the leader, you have to have leadership skills, no question there. All the bad behaviors indicative poor management apply, and it’s hard enough to find good managers independent of technical competence. 

Foreshadowing -

But as I’ve said before and will say again, computing is art… and in fact, today, within our own IT departments, there’s far more existing technical capability than there is creativity, and therefore leadership, to use it… and that’s a management problem that costs big bucks.

What do I mean by that?  Check in next time to find out. 

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