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Effectively managing your IT team

Get valuable information and insight into becoming a better manager of your IT team. Keeping employees focused, improving team communication and setting priorities are just a few skills you'll learn.

Even with the advanced functionality available in today's hardware and software, it's still the human factor that's the biggest influence on how effectively technology is put to use in your environment. The members of your IT team are the ones who will select, implement, configure, monitor, and manage the technology in your corporation.

The technology products in your environment (generally) behave in a fairly predictable manner, but people often don't. Managing a staff is an art, not a science.

The importance of managing a team can't be understated:

  • Become a great manager and you've found a career path that will serve you well for the rest of your working life.
  • Fail to manage well, and you'll be back in the non-managerial ranks soon enough.
  • Become good at it, and it becomes your most valuable skill, and your staff becomes a critical component of the organization.
  • Without good staff management skills, you'll see your department's goals and objectives become an uphill battle.

Keeping your employees focused

IT Managers must set priorities clearly, explain the company and department mission, and communicate often with their team. Throughout this book excerpt, specific techniques are detailed to provide you with methods to accomplish these goals. In this article we'll discuss the reasons why these goals must be pursued.

Establish priorities

One of the most important -- but often unnoticed -- functions of an IT manager is to set priorities, such as allocating staffing and funding to various projects. Employees who spend months at a time working on a project often wonder what exactly it is that their manager does. In truth, the manager is doing one of the most important parts of his job by deciding which projects get worked on, when they need to start and finish, and what resources are assigned to them. A manager's real worth is in his ability to set goals and objectives and to set priorities and make decisions to achieve them.

Setting goals and priorities means managing your staff and your team so that their work reflects -- as close as possible -- your own priorities. A manager's merit is found in his staff's work. Of course, your decisions and priorities may be totally off base. Or they may be 100% on target. But if you fail to manage your staff well, the quality of your priorities will not matter: Your goals and objectives will never be realized anyway.

Communicate with your team

First and foremost, communicate your vision for the department to your staff. They should understand both where you want the department to go, and the plans you have for getting there. Both are important. You don't want to be the manager who makes the trains run on time, but doesn't know what to put in the freight cars. Similarly, you don't want to be the manager who goes on about the wonders of train travel but never gets the tracks laid.

The communication of your goals and priorities to your team is vital. The way you communicate with them will vary with a project's scope. A two-year project to implement an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application will require different communication than managing a weekend effort to upgrade the company's database servers.

Here are some guidelines when communicating with your team.

  • Make sure your team understands the overall objective and goals

    Explain it in practical terms; for example, "implementing a new accounts payable system might include eliminating all manual processes, thereby reducing turnaround time to 24 hours, and ensuring that no unauthorized payments are made."

  • Explain how you envision achieving your goal

    You don't have to offer too much detail, especially on a large project, but you should have some thoughts, visions, and ideas you can articulate as a type of road map. "Our first milestone is the end of February; by then we should have a prototype system for the users to look at. By mid-year we should have finalized all the details. We're looking to plan for parallel testing in the 4th quarter, with the final cut-over set for December 31st."

  • Always encourage questions and input from your staff

    There are several reasons why you should do this:

    • Asking for your staff's input (and taking it seriously) will make your team feel like a part of the decision-making process; they will work better and harder on a process they feel a part of and understand.
    • They are a lot closer to the work than you are. They'll be the first to recognize an opportunity, a potential landmine, or a dead end.
    • The group will usually have important insight to share.

    If the goal or plan is especially challenging, or perhaps it deviates somewhat from the norm, you'll have to be that much more motivating and excited when you communicate with the team.

    Ask questions of the team to ensure that they have an appropriate understanding of the project. For example: How do you think we should start? Where do you see danger zones? What are the key milestones? What kinds of resources do you think we will need?

  • Listen carefully to your staff

    Notice your staff's comments, tone, and body language. Use these as clues to determine if your team is behind you. Make sure everyone feels free to air any doubts or concerns. One technique is to go around the table at the end of each meeting and to ask each member to express any concerns they have, and then address them accordingly. Another is to encourage the staff to either email you or meet with you privately if they feel intimidated by speaking in front of a group.

  • Meet regularly

    Meeting frequencies might vary depending on the work at hand. Weekly and monthly meetings are common. During critical project times, it isn't uncommon to have daily meetings. You can have too many meetings or too few -- it depends on the project. Try to establish a rhythm that people can work with; if you establish a meeting time of every Friday morning, the team will work throughout the week with that in mind.

    Meetings don't have to always be project oriented. Regular department meetings, as well as individual meetings, with your direct reports can help foster a culture of open communication and sharing of information.

  • Project Meetings

    Project meetings are a separate type of meeting that have both additional benefits and potential problems.

Company mission

Another method of keeping your employees focused is to clearly outline the company's mission, vision, and values. Defining and articulating these shouldn't be your responsibility as an IT Manager; someone else should do that for you (and the rest of the company). But once your company has agreed upon a mission statement, communicate it with your staff. Make it clear how this mission, and the vision statement that details how you are going to achieve that mission, directly affects the actions of every employee.

Company values are the final means you should use to keep your employees on the right track. If your company hasn't made its values clear, ask your management to do so. Again, defining and communicating values isn't your job; you can participate if a company-wide committee is formed, but you should not have to come up with these on your own. "Company values" are defined by the entire company and can be useful guides in determining employee behavior.

In addition to communicating the company's mission, goals, and values to your team, it's also vital that you share with them the goals and values of the IT departmentt, objectives that should reflect both the company's mission and your own goals and values.


IT Manager's Handbook   Printed with permission from Morgan Kaufmann, a division of Elsevier. Copyright 2007. IT Managers Handbook: Getting your new job done, 2e by Bill Holtsnider and Brian Jaffe. For more information about this title and other similar books, please visit

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