Modern IT is fast-paced, and more businesses than ever are becoming increasingly reliant on technology and the teams that support them. I’ve seen and led a variety of IT functions and, in my opinion, there is no secret formula for success – just a set of guiding principles that ensure the function can respond robustly to its challenges.
Turning these principles into a set of clear actions is critical. The principles are summarised below together with several high-level recommendations for each of them.
Principle Actions IT should be an enabler and deliver value to the business · Ensure the team has strong relationships with all its customers (both internal and external). A useful method is to create personas (see process section below for more details) and allow them time to understand each by spending time “on the ground”. Having an appreciation of their challenges is critical.
· Create a list of key items and pain-points (both IT and business) through collaboration with all team members. This can then be used as an action plan with relevant prioritisation. Each item should have a tangible benefit.
There should be a clear strategy which outlines how IT delivers against the corporate objectives · Define a clear vision with multi-year priorities. This should link directly to the corporate objectives.
· Ensure that every single member of the team can relate their personal goals to the vision and priorities. Without this link people will lose the “why” and potentially become distracted or disenfranchised.
People, process and technology should each be considered, this is no different to other parts of an organisation · Complete a specific SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis for each element. This will help identify the initial areas of focus and prioritisation.
· Ensure the team is positioned effectively to be successful (see people section for more details).
· Ensure clear IT processes are documented (see process section for more details).
· Ensure a clear IT roadmap is created and documented. This could be in the form of an EUC (End User Computing) strategy that covers the relevant areas (see technology section for more information).
Getting the right people is critical to any team or business, irrespective of sector or size. However, for IT, it’s important to find people with the right attitude; those who will engage with stakeholders and seek the opportunities and linkages where IT can enable businesses to be more successful. If I had a pound for each time a customer or client said to me “IT just say no” or “I wish IT would be more helpful” I’d be rich!
The first step is to complete a review (sometimes referred to as a talent assessment) of the existing staff. I find taking the time to get to know each person in more detail is invaluable and you not only get to understand their drivers but also gather a comprehensive view of the areas that need improvement. Whether you are starting a team from scratch or looking to improve an established team this step needs to be completed.
Once you have an idea of the current state, the focus needs to be shifted to crafting the be-to state and the best place to start is with the leadership team. Establishing strong leaders who have the right approach and mindset will ensure the relevant values are cascaded to all levels of a department.
The team needs to include a strong focus on technical and personal development as any IT department that fails to stay abreast of new methodologies and technology will get left behind – in my experience this is a common issue.
Another big factor to success is how well the staff feel supported and empowered. I am a strong believer in learning from mistakes and, if you create a fear culture where people are afraid to fail, you are stifling creativity and risk-taking. Certain organisations are more risk adverse than others and, of course, there are some parts of IT where risks should not be taken (i.e. data protection or cyber security); however, some of the best solutions are born from an iterative, trial-and-error approach. Using the guiding principles through the lens of the staff helps create the right foundation.
There are many methodologies and frameworks within IT that can be adopted to provide a solid foundation (e.g. ITIL) for developing the IT processes. In my view, a critical element to getting value from the whole team is to ensure that:
- Best practice is identified for each core process as they are defined and documented.
- Metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are agreed and documented (sometimes referred to as Service Level Commitments or SLCs).
- All are documented in the form of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
Whilst completing the above, it’s highly recommended that you include input from your various internal customer groups. This will ensure that that the processes not only meet their needs but that clear expectations are established at the outset. An approach that I favour is to complete a series of “day in the life of” visits where dedicated time is spent with all customer types to clearly understand what they do. This helps as sometimes the customers of IT are not best placed to understand the full value the right technology and IT processes can deliver.
We recommend creating personas so that everyone in the team can relate to the numerous types of customer. Personas are fictional characters, which can be created based upon research to represent the different user types that might use a service, product, or brand in a similar way. Creating personas helps to understand a users’ needs, experiences, behaviours and goals.
There are various benefits of having clearly defined processes and KPIs. One of the main advantages is enabling people to establish clear and tangible goals. This allows them to clearly understand the boundaries of their role and for leadership to hold them to account. A tried and tested solution is to use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals which are clearly linked to organisational objectives. A simple example for a Helpdesk Engineer – rather than have a goal of “answer calls to meet customer expectations” – would be “answer 99% of calls within 30 seconds, with an average of 2 mins call handling”. In addition, you could add criteria around customer satisfaction scores that would further improve the tangibility.
For further insight into how process is key, we recommend reading Simon Quarmby’s paper on Business Process Management in an ERP context.
You might assume that considering and implementing the right technology would come naturally to all IT teams, however, the reality is that some struggle due to other organisational factors, complexities or constraints.
The second guiding principle – having a clear strategy to deliver against the corporate objectives – is very important as it allows the IT leadership teams to work towards common goals. For example, there is little value in providing software or solutions that require a desktop machine if the organisation has a goal to offer a more flexible, mobile and cloud-based working culture.
Once the vision, goals and objectives are understood, you need to ensure that the relevant people across the team are involved and collaborate in defining the IT roadmap. This should include people from leadership, architecture, operations/service delivery and projects.
For an IT organisation delivering services to the internal user base, it is recommended that you start with an EUC (End User Computing) strategy. If completed in a comprehensive manner this could cover up to 80% of the organisations needs and make the final 20% of bespoke requirements far easier to deliver.
Finally, assessing and monitoring progress against the roadmap is critical. The best way to do this is to agree the key milestones (as roadmaps are usually multi-year) and link these to individual goals (using the SMART technique introduced earlier). The deliverables will be implemented faster and of higher quality the more you can make staff personally bought-in and accountable.