When my friend Jack Speer asked me to share my thoughts on IT Leadership as an article I immediately agreed. Delta Associates has been such a fantastic partner and resource for me over the last few years and I welcomed the opportunity to give back to them in any way I could.
But then it hit me…with the volumes of wisdom that have been written on this subject, what is it that I could contribute that hasn’t been more eloquently stated before, a dozen times over. As I considered the massive amount of information and advice available, it occurred to me that perhaps there is value in simply providing a filter to suggest what I think are the most important foundational elements to success in IT today.
What is Most Important
In my career to date, I’ve had the good fortune to lead IT teams in a variety of situations. Whether it is a large, public company with hundreds of resources and sizable budgets; a late stage, pre-IPO start up where I could hold an all hands in a restaurant booth; or a mix of soldiers and contractors supporting secure combat operations, the top priorities requiring IT leadership focus are consistent.
- Alignment: IT leaders must create and maintain alignment with the business strategy (or mission, for my military friends) – Let’s face it, unless you are working in academia, the work you and your team are doing is a means to an end. In business, that end is to enable, secure, improve or create business value. Without alignment to the business strategy, no amount of technology wizardry will be considered successful. Of course the complexity of achieving alignment is heavily influenced by the complexity of your business strategy. But regardless of whether your company is laser-focused on doing one amazing thing or out to dominate the world on a dozen fronts, you can take a straight forward approach that starts with restating the business objective(s) and then clearly outlining the IT must haves.
- Focus: Clearly articulating those “must haves” above is the easy part. Now that you have those streams as a lens, you must use it to bring focus to both your organization and the inevitable backlog of key stakeholder requests. To quote Steve Jobs, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” If you are to retain your alignment with the business, you must create an environment where priority can be clearly mapped back to the business objectives. This cannot mean you turn your “IT” shop into the “No Department”. It does mean that you must educate your key stakeholders on how they can influence your prioritization though influencing business objectives, not arguing the inherent value of their standalone request. I once changed the entire name of the IT department to “Business Technology” just to emphasize this relationship dynamic that business leads technology.
- Speed: IT leaders must engineer for speed – The landscape of IT is changing at break-neck speed. Moore’s and Metcalfe’s Laws continue to hold true, fueling relentless advances in technology. The convergence of four disruptive movements in Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud (SMAC) are enough to keep IT leaders racing to answer the inevitable questions from their key stakeholders wanting to know “What are we doing about this?!” And perhaps the most challenging aspect is that with a growing number of Enterprise Class Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings available, it has never been easier for those stakeholders to act on their own if they feel their internal IT group isn’t moving fast enough.
So the bottom line is that to remain relevant and be considered a valuable asset to the company, IT leaders must proactively connect the dots between their strategy and that of the business for both their teams and the key stakeholders, while fostering an organization that is nimble and flexible enough to react to the rapidly changing business and technology landscape without flying apart in the process.
Easy enough, right? Well, maybe not easy but based on my experience, these priorities represent the foundation that you must lay before you move on to conquer the many other challenges ahead.
Rich is VP/CIO of SunPower Corporation and has a wide range of experiences in team effectiveness, from high tech companies to the US military. Follow Rich @richrobinson3