6 keys to a high-performing IT department

ProductivityDo you want to hear a shocking statistic? According to Forrester Research, 70% of the companies listed on the Fortune 1,000 list ten years ago have now vanished. The reason: an inability to adapt to change.

As modern technology evolves, we’re seeing a shift in the business world. In the age of the web, business agility trumps size. More and more, the ability to adapt to change is critical to a company’s success.

From a technology perspective, this means that IT departments must evolve. Keeping the lights on is no longer good enough. These days, IT must innovate. They must move quickly. They must drive business forward.

However, this is impossible with slow or inefficient IT departments. The question is…how can IT departments become more efficient? What’s needed to create a high-performance IT department that actually pushes the business forward?

We posed those questions to a few successful IT leaders, who delivered some great advice that you can find below. If you want to create a high-performing IT department, you must:

1. Get on the same page

As mentioned in this article on IT/business alignment stumbling blocks, communication lies at the foundation of many business problems. If the business and IT department aren’t on the same page, or don’t communicate constantly, IT cannot possibly drive business.

“To ensure the IT department runs as efficiently as possible, they must be in lockstep with the business’s goals and needs,” says Jed Pillion, Managing Director of IT at The Execu|Search Group. “If the department is not educated on the firm’s strategy it will be impossible for them to efficiently deliver solutions.”

How can IT and business get on the same page? While improving communication and alignment isn’t a simple fix, JJ DiGeronimo, a Technology Executive, Author, Entrepreneur & STEM Advocate, shares a great tip that’s sure to help: Create working groups outside of IT.

“Create working groups that include key teams outside of IT – such as legal, finance, procurement and marketing,” she says. “This often streamlines project completion and buy-in.”

2. Adopt a startup mentality

“Approach everything with a startup mentality,” says J Wolfgang Goerlich, VP of Consulting Services for VioPoint. “By that, I mean, seek to answer the following two questions: what drives value and what keeps the light on. I suggest adopting a minimum viable strategy for keeping the lights on. By satisfying the requirements without spending too much time, you make space to deliver value. Spend most of your time and effort on what really matters, what really drives value, what really makes a difference. In doing so, you can deliver outstanding results to your manager, your stakeholders, and your organization.”

The right mindset is absolutely essential for high-performing IT departments. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day routine, and lose sight of the value-driving tasks. It’s good practice to regularly stop and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this task?” If the answer is, “because that’s what we’ve always done,” it’s time to re-evaluate.

3. Keep your focus on the right place (Minimize the cool factor)

“Minimize the cool factor–many IT people want to invest in cool new tech,” explains DiGeronimo. “Be sure to buy technology that aligns your company’s needs and skills.”

In the technology field, it’s easy to get caught up with the latest and greatest device or software. Unfortunately, this often leads to backwards problem-solving. We discover some shiny new technology and look for problems it can address. This approach often leads to failure. Instead, start with the company’s most pressing problems, and seek out technology to fix them. While this approach may not always include the latest and greatest tech, it will vastly improve your chances of success.

4. Keep learning

photo credit: eflon via photopin cc

photo credit: eflon via photopin cc

“We are seeing more and more of our subscribers broaden their scope of study beyond their own specialties,” says Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight. “For instance, those who used to stick to traditional IT courses are now delving into tangential topics such as app development, project management and cloud-based tech. The modern technology professional can’t afford to live in a silo and needs to not only understand numerous technologies, but how to apply them to the business needs.”

It’s almost become a requirement for working in IT: You must constantly learn new skills. If your skills (or your IT staff’s skills) are stuck in the past, how can you possibly push the business forward? How can you innovate when your own skills are stagnating? Short answer: You can’t.

5. Treat your staff well

“Simply put, the success of your IT department depends on the commitment of your crew,” explains Joe Latrell, a former IT Leader and current President of Photos to Space. “You get great commitment by treating your staff like gold. When they needed time off, I gave it to them (within reason) because I knew we were going to be pulling some late nights getting servers moved or upgraded. There were times when we worked 24 hours straight to get problems resolved so the businesses could stay in business.”

This reminds me of a great quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.” It’s an important point that often gets lost in the shuffle. Some leaders take an “I’m in charge, so you’ll do as I say” approach. While it might deliver short-term results, it doesn’t foster long-term motivation…and certainly doesn’t create a high-performing staff.

6. Put the right tools in place

“The demands upon IT organizations to become agile innovation centers is being driven by a combination of technology shifts like cloud computing, SDNs, and mobile apps, among others,” says Jonathan Crane, CCO of IPSoft. “And yet, most enterprise IT departments are shackled to legacy system management by budgetary and personnel constraints. Looking at CIOs’ priorities, topping the chart is their need to dedicate more resources to funding new research and development projects in support of their business units. By moving resources and human engineers away from mundane, automatable tasks through the use of autonomics, legacy system management constraints can be greatly reduced freeing up human capital and budget dollars to invest in adopting innovative and strategic technologies to underpin new business initiatives.”

He’s absolutely right. In many companies, existing legacy systems and inefficient tools keep the IT department from successfully supporting the business. When they spend most of their time keeping their outdated system up and running, there’s little time to move forward.

Tyler Wassell, Software Development Manager at mrc seconds this point: “More often than not, IT groups are not able to allocate resources to support new business initiatives,” he says. “Most IT resources are used to maintain and support existing legacy systems. If the IT group is truly going to push the business forward, they must put the tools in place that speed up development and application delivery to business units.”

So, what do you think? Would you add anything to this list? Are there any other keys to creating a high-performing IT department? If so, I’d love to hear them in the comments.

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3 thoughts on “6 keys to a high-performing IT department

  1. I really like this article, there are a couple of others id add from my experience.

    1. How do you know your in-efficient if you cant measure it
    I find a lot of IT departments who have issues dont really understand where there issues lie and then when they make improvement initiatives they find they still have problems. There are two things here. Firstly you need a way to measure where you are now so that when you improve you can measure or demonstrate the improvement. There are a lot of times where improvements are made but no one really feels like things are different there are the same problems or different ones but generally we just still feel the same.

    Dean Robertson my friend from Mexia in australia came up with a great like which was “If you cant measure it, you cant improve it”.

    In our area around integration this lead us to come up with something called the BizTalk Maturity Assessment (http://biztalkmaturity.com) where we tried to allow customers who were struggling with BizTalk and Integration to properly measure their capability to deliver and maintain solutions and then show improvement over time.

    2. Stop making out like your going to do it and just do it
    In IT one of the things I find most frustrating is the theatre that often goes alongside many IT initiatives. Sometimes there is a culture that its more important to be seen to be doing something even if your not really, than it is to actually do it. One of the big things in this area is for senior IT management to get out of their office and get involved in what happens on the ground. Ive seen a number of cases where Senior IT Managers were blamed for project failures because they made decisions based on the information moving up the heir achy. In reality developing relationships regularly with staff numerous levels down the food chain in an informal and open way will give you insights into the way your IT department is really performing

    3. Continuous Improvement Mentality
    Ive always adopted an approach to encourage people to challenge how we work and to bring in new ideas. We should always be looking to get slicker at how we do things and this should be encouraged.

    4. Know your Key people
    Everyone who is a football fan will know that great teams are build around a core of great players. Why would IT departments be any different? To have a high performing IT department you need a strong technical core team. It always amazes me how many IT departments struggle to know what to do with the career paths for their best people other than pull them out of the role they do best and move them into management. A football team would never take their star players at the peak of their careers and move them to a role that takes away their biggest asset just so they can pay them more money. It also amazes me how often IT departments dont know who their key people are.

    In this area I think every IT department should know who their key people are and make sure they are invested in.

    Wonder what anyone else thinks

    Cheers
    Mike

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