Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How Do You Manage a CIO?

I was listening to a pair of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) discuss the unusual problems they faced on a daily basis and how these difficult issues limited their future career options. From their perspective, they could not satisfy the myriad conflicting client demands on their limited IT resource pool without forcing them to always be the bad guy/girl in someone's eyes.

What I found most interesting about this and other conversations with CIOs was not the complexity of the job. Everyone knows it's a tough one. The shiny gem of truth was that the CIO job is not the end game plan for most people in the role. In retrospect, I realize I have yet to meet a CIO who sees their current job as the top rung in their ladder of career aspirations. Which makes managing a CIO an interesting challenge. If you were a CIO's boss, how would you manage her or him?

Standard HR doctrines aside, there are some unique aspects to the role and the CIO's future ambitions may influence their current behaviour. For example, IT organizations deliver tools to improve the business. Sometimes they build them from scratch, often they integrate vendor products, and sometimes they simply manage the vendor contract. But where does the CIO see her or his personal future? Building from scratch means a larger internal department; some CIOs find that approach appealing because it can translate into more power and influence inside their organizations.

Other CIOs see their next role in the vendor world. Maybe they want to go work for that exciting world-wide software company that makes your ERP system. Or perhaps they are pining for the new wave excitement of Google. Either way, the business choices they make in their current role may be tainted by their aspirations for a future role. IT procurement decisions may be biased towards the vendor organization where the CIO sees their next job.

The CIO who wants to stay within the organization but move to a line-of-business role may have other biases. They might be focusing an inordinate and inappropriate amount of time and effort on a user department to the detriment of other departments. Unbalanced emphasis of IT support to a favoured line-of-business can easily lead the strategic IT mission astray.

So imagine yourself as the CIO's boss. How do create filters to detect these biases and behaviours? You can't win an argument about the technical aspects of a decision, because that's the CIO's realm of subject matter expertise. But you can test for bias before you hire any CIO. As part of the selection process, ask CIO candidates pointed questions about their future ambitions. Ascertain their goals beyond the CIO job. Do they see themselves eventually joining a vendor or moving to an IT client role? How long does the candidate see himself or herself remaining as a CIO?

Another solution lies in building a stewardship (governance) model for IT. An effective stewardship model ensures the IT decision-making lies in the hands of the business and the CIO's role is to facilitate the process. Biases are easy to spot when the business wants to go one way and the CIO is going elsewhere. If business leaders prioritize projects, CIO preferences must be justified by facts or they will fail.

You can't be sure the stewardship model eliminates all biases. But a robust benefits realization process is another key checkpoint. Have you built a project management process that ensures benefits are tracked and measured against promises made in the original business case? Benefits realization forces the CIO to ensure project commitments match results. If not, there is a failure appreciation moment - an opportunity to learn from mistakes. Is the strategic mission of the organization aligned with the CIO’s personal mission?

The best way to ensure a CIO’s heart and mind are in line with the organizational vision is ask the CIO to craft an IT strategy through collaboration and consensus with business partners. Don’t let IT write the strategy in splendid isolation. Set clear expectations requiring broad-based contributions. Assess the CIO’s ability to work together with all IT stakeholders. Once the plan is published, measure the IT department's performance against the strategic business goals - not the technology goals.

CIOs may always complain about how hard their job is. But I think the person with the much harder job is the CIO's boss. Their challenge is to give him/her a hope for the future. What is the personal end game plan for the CIO and does it match the organization’s needs? Successful CIOs need a glimmer of career opportunity leading to the next step of the ladder within your organization. Groom the CIO to become the VP of Administration, or COO, or CEO. Without internal opportunity, the CIO will create their future elsewhere.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Any IT Organization Structure Is Ephemeral

In the process of introducing a new organization change a few years ago. One of my staff took me aside and said she understood why I had to make the changes, but she didn't really like the affect it had on her. I told her not to worry, because no IT organization structure is permanent. If she didn't like our current organization, I asked her to be patient and wait for the new one. I was already thinking about the next organization change before I had completed the latest one.

Organization structure exists to solve a problem. Once that problem is solved, it is probably time to change the organization again because there are new problems and new opportunities. The shelf life of any major effective IT organization structure is two years. Anything beyond a couple of years means IT has stagnated. External changes in the form of new technologies, or internal changes driven by new problems have arisen and the IT organization structure has to change to survive.

Think about implementing an ERP system. The sheer scope of the project typically consumes the full attention of everyone in the IT organization. The wise CIO creates an organization structure dedicated to ensuring the success of the project. The ERP becomes priority #1 by virtue of the size and impact of the implementation.

But once the ERP is implemented, the IT organization's attention has to shift. Expectations of IT change from the implementation of one big project to a plethora of follow-on projects. The organization's emphasis shifts from the management of a big bang strategic project to the management of a portfolio of tactical projects. To succeed with the new emphasis, the perceptive CIO creates a new organization structure.

This constant change approach can be difficult for some external groups to understand. For example, HR never likes organization changes. Not because it means more work for them, but because it means turmoil in the institution. Their job is to promote stability and constant IT change does not fit the typical HR model. Across the organization, most departments are not compelled to change nearly as rapidly as the IT department. External and internal change vectors are less common in departments like accounting or procurement.

But the fundamental rules of IT change constantly. Working in IT is like working in an accounting world where the generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) change every year. If GAAP changed every couple of years in the real world, then the accounting department would have to re-organize much more often. That is what makes IT organization changes so special. Our rules change almost daily. We can't afford to wait. The world of technology passes us by if we don't have the right people focusing on the right things. We get stale, old, and unwanted pretty quickly if we aren't structured to take advantage of the latest and greatest technologies.

Value generation from new systems-based processes or market-grabbing technology-driven innovation can only come from nimble IT organizations. Agility in IT comes from a simple willingness to change everything, especially the organization structure. Organizations get value from information systems organization that can turn on a dime.

The external IT environment has already changed from the time you started reading this article. Have you thought about what that means to your IT department's structure? If you aren't already thinking about your next IT organization change you should be thinking about your next job ... maybe in accounting?