Being a Project, Program or I.T. Manager first requires basic management discipline. Knowing how to be a good manager comes before knowledge of management models and frameworks like PMBOK, ITSM, and others. Every manager requires a basic set of competencies that makes him or her a manager. To be a pilot requires knowledge, skills and experience specific to the act of flying a plane. What then constitutes the knowledge, skills and experience of a manager?
In I.T. we are often so busy with the periphery of management like the tools, the processes, the structures, that we neglect the core principles of being a good manager. This has dire consequences for our industry and for our clients.
I have made the point before in this Blog that management plays its fundamental role in value creation through organization. It is through organization of aspects such as people, processes and tools or technology, that value is inherently created in the information technology business. This is equally valid if you are a services or product company, or an internal department responsible for the delivery of I.T. services. Managers are therefore in the ultimate control of the outcome of the business.
Let us have a brief look at what others had to say about management and being a good manager:
Mary Parker Follett (1868–1933), who wrote on the topic in the early twentieth century, defined management as "the art of getting things done through people".
“To manage well, requires that you recognize the subtle, but important, differences between people and that you know how to put those differences to work for your organization. Great managers thrive on helping people experience incremental growth. The dynamic creativity of figuring out how to move from the player to the plays is the real genius of a great manager.” (Marcus Buckingham)
“Management comprises directing and controlling a group of one or more people or entities for the purpose of coordinating and harmonizing that group towards accomplishing a goal.”
The question that I endeavor to answer in this Blog is: What are the typical characteristics or competencies that forms the basis for being a good I.T., Project, or Program Manager? What are the knowledge, skill and experience required to be recognized as a manager in todays I.T. services business?
As Manager, one has three key responsibilities to satisfy to be classed a manager.
These are the standard responsibilities that lay the foundation for effective execution under one’s management. Management competence determines how effective the manager is in securing these three foundations.
The first foundation a manager needs to facilitate is effective organization.
During this effective organization the people, process and tools are structured in an appropriate and optimal configuration, given the availability and constraints of these resources. It is structured in line with the strategic and tactical goals and objectives, that the manager and his or her organization is tasked to achieve.
In simple terms: The manager is constructing and implementing the “machine” that will deliver the desired outcomes.
The organization needs to be tailored to meet the requirements of the business. Jay Galbraith’s Star Model for Organization Design is one framework amongst many that can assist in effectively constructing this delivery “machine” and its respective elements.
In I.T. solution implementation frameworks such as RUP, ITIL and others all go a long way to provide some perspectives on particular elements like process, people or tools to assist the manager on the best approach to effect this organization for delivery.
For the project manager, this is when the project is initiated, planned and executed.
Once the organization is in place, the manager’s second responsibility focusses on handling exceptions for which the organization was not designed, or as a result of deficiencies in the design.
Overall the organization with its resources, processes and tools should deal effectively with all applicable eventualities. However, due to constraints and limitations, there may be a requirement for the manager to intervene once the system is stretched beyond its design, or when a particular component in the design fails.
For example: The Manager may be required to intervene when the hand-off between processes fails. This intervention requires the manager to either do the hand-off him or herself, or for the manager (with help) to come up with a better design where the hand-off between processes does work, as required. The same goes for occurrences of inferior quality, inefficient resource utilization or poor tool support.
In all cases, the manager is required to identify the problem and to address it (with help) so that the organization improves in achieving its intended goals and objectives.
A good indication of the quality and efficiency of organization a manager has succeeded in crafting is the number of exceptions that the manager has to handle, and the degree of disruption as a result. Needless to say, once an exception is raised, managers are rarely the best and most efficient person to be resolving it. Managers delay output. They add unnecessary cost, and ultimately risks the outcomes of the organization by not focussing on the right things. The focus should be on effective organization, and not on dealing hands-on with system defects.
For the project manager, this exception handling relates to the typical processes of risk and change management on a project.
The third foundation of effective management is the manager facilitating effective cooperation and innovation in the organization.
Every machine requires an amount of maintenance and upkeep, and in this role the manager applies measurements, monitoring and controls to know how well the organization is doing, and where there can be improvements.
By facilitating cooperation and collaboration, the manager has the potential to implement the one process whereby all other processes can be improved. This one process of structured innovation is the only process where the manager finds himself in the organization.
The objective of this role is to incrementally improve the organization, and equip the organization to be better at delivering business outcomes as required.
The manager becomes the facilitator for improved work practices. He or she provides the data and tools for innovation. With this data and tools the organization can evolve and learn to be even better at reaching its objectives.
Competence is a standardized requirement for an individual to properly perform a specific job. It encompasses a combination of knowledge, skills and behavior utilized to improve performance. More generally, competence is the state or quality of being adequately or well qualified, having the ability to perform a specific role.
The following are key competencies that form the basis for being a good manager (courtesy of Profile-IT).
- Team Sourcing, Composition and Motivation: The manager is required to be highly capable of identifying the right person for the right job, using the person in the right role, and motivating him or her for outstanding and top performance.
- Systems Perspective: The manager is required to be highly capable of identifying, owning and being responsible for key processes and tasks under his management, knowing clearly what his team requires to succeed, and what his team must provide for others in the organization to meet their objectives.
- Persuasion and Motivation: The manager is required to be highly capable of persuading and motivating staff under his management to continuously increase their performance and output, and can similarly persuade and motivate his colleagues and customers towards a common and beneficial set of improvement goals and objectives.
- Structured Innovation, and Continuous Learning: The manager is required to be adept in SixSigma, TurboSigma or equivalent approaches to organizational and personal learning that include both continuous improvement of existing approaches and significant change leading to new goals and approaches that are to manifest in his daily work at personal, work unit and organizational levels and that addresses problems at their root causes.
- Service and Product Delivery Outcomes Focus: Every member of his team and he, himself are highly knowledgeable of the key elements contained within the service or product of his team, and the elements' required performance as to influence customer's and user's views and decisions relative to future purchases, use and continued relationships, and is highly capable in aligning these elements with customer expectations.
- Financial Control: The manager is required to be highly capable of setting, controlling and optimizing the application of financial resources entrusted to his and his team, in relation to his operational responsibilities and key target service or product outcomes.
- I.T. Operations Knowledge: The manager is required to be highly knowledgeable of industry accepted, and commonly used solutions delivery life-cycle (SDLC) and service management approaches like ITIL, and the required underlying processes, principles and supporting organizational structures and roles.
- People Management: The manager is required to be highly capable of facilitating the clear definition of responsibilities and outcomes of his staff, and can encourage the personal development, and give recognition to each individually for using their personal strengths in meeting and / or exceeding their objectives.
- Agility: The manager is required to be highly adept in producing major improvements in response times and driving innovation cycle time.
- Management by Fact: The manager is required to be highly capable of identifying measurements from business needs and strategy that will provide the critical data and information about key process, outputs and results to effectively manage performance excellence.
“Most of what we call ‘management’ consist of making it difficult for people to get their jobs done.” (Peter Drucker)
If we don’t lift our game as managers, then the above statement is certainly and disappointingly true.
I am a person that keenly follows the evolution of a business and the people that makes a business possible. Recently I have come to the realization that we all too readily presupposing that the above competencies and understandings are present in the people we deal with as our managers.
The truth is rather that these persons we interact with daily, are on a journey of learning, self discovery, and growth towards this understanding. Therefore, with this knowledge of their deficiency we are obliged to be kind to people of management.
It is one job that makes the herding of cats look like child’s play. Please support your manager today.
Your opinion and comments are welcome.
Hendrik van Wyk.