Managing IT people

Any time one manages people, one must deal with agendas, egos and eccentricities. This is especially true when managing creative and intelligent information technology professionals.

I credit Paul Glen for articulating the framework for managing the high-end IT professional or “geeks” as he calls them. In 2003, he published a book called Leading Geeks which helped me understand what I had been doing with varying degrees of success for the past decade or so.

Motivation: The IT manager has the primary responsibility for motivating their team. The methods for motivation are much different for technology employees than other types. The typical 800 pound gorilla of motivation is the money factor, which is a powerful tool for most occupations. Not so in with high-level technology professionals; except in extreme cases where an IT employee is very underpaid, money is just not a motivator. It’s usually only a de-motivator. If anyone remembers Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from management class, IT people generally operate at the self-actualization level.

The manager cannot really motivate them; at best, he can create conditions that nurture self-motivation.

External representation: The IT manager is the interface between his team or department with the rest of the organization. The IT manager must discern the broader goals of the organization, communicate them to the team, and integrate them into the team goals. Conversely, the IT manager must sell his team’s goals to the rest of the organization. They also must look out for the team’s best interests, communicate their successes, and perform damage control on the team’s failures.

Internal facilitation and coordination:  The IT manager provides facilitation and coordination within their team. The manager must ensure work gets done to the specified spec with minimal rework, on time, and efficiently. This responsibility intersects with project and process management.

Managing ambiguity: This is arguably the most critical responsibility for an IT manager. IT is ambiguous. Figuring out what to do is a large and imperative part of the job. It is the manager’s job to figure out what needs to be done, put it into a context, and build a structure for his team to work in. The technologists on the team are much more qualified to determine the details, but the manager must frame the high-level and establish context. Establing a set of operating principles for the team is the first step in establishing context.