Hit the Ground Running as an IT Manager
You got the promotion to IT manager—now what? Where are the rules? Where’s the playbook? Unfortunately, in most organizations you’re lucky if you get some network documentation along with the keys to the server room. They hired you for your resourcefulness and quick learning curve, right? Well, take a deep breath and get ready. In this month’s column we’ll help you set your strategic plan for the first 30, 60 and 90 days as an IT manager. These first 90 days will influence what your team members and your own manager will expect from you, so you want to make sure you start off on the right foot.
Avoiding the Pitfalls
The biggest mistake that most new IT managers make when they first take over the position is forgetting that they are no longer individual contributors but are now a part of a team—the head of the team, actually. As an IT manager, your role shifts from techie to resource planner. Your new job is to figure out how to identify and apply the right technical resources, rather than fix actual problems. This is a huge mind-shift for most new managers, who may be used to being the heroes for figuring out the hard problems.
Needless to say, the first task for any new IT manager is to make this jump. This typically means two things: making the shift mentally and brushing up on team-building skills. One way to help facilitate this shift is to think of a past manager you admired and worked well with. Now consider the following questions:
- What were the traits about him that you admired?
- What was her immediate reaction when you brought a problem to her attention?
- What techniques did he use to get to the cause of a problem?
- How did she involve her teams in organizing a plan on how to resolve the situation?
- Who ultimately got credit for resolving the situation?
Using these questions, you should be able to identify important traits that you may want to develop in yourself on your path to successful IT management. We learn best by emulating the successful behavior of others, so try on those traits and see how you do. Give yourself a few weeks, at least for the full effect. Even if they feel foreign, they may be working effectively with your team.
In order to truly manage, you must get out of handling every day-to-day incident. That’s where you’re team-building skills come in. To brush up on these, check out the December 2002 “Tech Careers” column on team-building (www.certmag.com/issues/dec02/dept_techcareers.cfm). This adjustment is not something that will happen overnight. The more time you allow yourself to make the shift the better, particularly if you will now be managing your former peers.
Juggling Management Responsibilities
Now let’s consider what all those new management responsibilities actually encompass. Consider the many areas that all IT managers are responsible for: people, servers, applications, network infrastructure, customer support, budget, service level agreements, security, disaster recovery, vendors, the boss and servicing other departments.
That’s a lot of management, so where do you begin?
First 30 Days
Consider your first 30 days the honeymoon period. You can take full advantage of this time to understand how things work and what people expect from you as the new IT manager.
Let’s begin with understanding how the department functions, including its technology and processes. Some of the things you’ll want to become familiar with are:
- Infrastructure: Data center, hardware systems, networks and desktops.
- Business applications: Accounting and finance, help desk software and Web applications.
- IT staffing: Other groups within IT, your own team members.
- IT processes: Change management, escalation, disaster recovery, development process and budget.
You may need to turn to your boss, your peer managers and your new team to fill in the blanks.
Next comes understanding senior management’s perspective on the most pressing IT issues. That can mean getting a perspective on company priorities surrounding IT as well as getting an understanding of what senior management believes is working and not working in IT. Their perspective will help you prioritize your activities for the next 90 days.
Team-building should also be an important focus for your first 30 days. It begins with meeting individually with your new direct reports and meeting later as a group to determine department priorities by identifying what’s working and what’s not. For most managers it takes at least 60 days for their new teams to “gel,” but a key factor in their success is the groundwork that’s laid down in the first 30 days. To facilitate the right interaction between team members, you’ll also want to put your own management practices into place, like scheduling regular staff meetings. Staff meetings offer structure and are a way of setting expectations on how to communicate and resolve issues going forward.
First 60 Days
By the 31-day mark, you should have a better idea of the work that’s cut out for you. It is at this point that you should sit down to write your 90-day plan. The 90-day plan should include the following:
- The mission and purpose of your team.
- The top three to five projects that your team will embark on to meet organizational needs.
- Your plan to address top customer service issues, including a desired service level agreement on issue resolution.
- Your plan to address skills gaps within your department and its individuals.
- A map of the organization with roles and responsibilities identified.
Here are a few pointers as you publish your plan. Make sure your plan is in line with senior management priorities and direction for the entire IT department. As a part of developing your plan, you will undoubtedly run into the need for resources—time, money or people resources. Successfully negotiating for resources comes as a result of getting buy-in on your priorities. That’s why proactively developing a plan is so important when you first start, regardless of whether your manager asks for one or not. It shows commitment and understanding of the job and ensures that your priorities are in alignment with the rest of the organization.
First 90 Days
The first 90 days is when you really get to put your management skills in action by managing to the plan you’ve developed. Your team will embrace having a plan in place because it adds further structure, setting clear expectations for performance. I believe that everyone truly wants succeed, but some are distracted by unclear objectives and not knowing how to achieve. By providing guidelines on what’s expected, you are helping your team succeed professionally and personally.
The first 90 days are also an opportunity to fine-tune your organizational skills. For an IT manager, productivity comes from having a system. This can include how to manage your calendar, which meetings you choose to attend versus sending one of your direct reports, what reports you analyze on a daily or weekly basis or when you meet with senior management to review how your plan is going. It is also an opportunity to get to know the rest of the organization, which is extremely important if you want to support them better.
Final Words of Advice
Communication is going to be your key to success. Communication is important because it helps everyone understand priorities, helps set expectations and is a way of providing feedback on what’s working and what’s not within a group. It is critical, as is the skill of listening. As a new IT manager, you’ll want to spend 80 percent of your time listening to senior management and your team.
Finally, some great tools to further you a