tanstaafl: An Introduction to IT Portfolio Management

I’ve already written about how the most important task of management is the proper allocation of resources.

By that, I don’t just mean figuring out that Joe and Bob need to work on Project X this week. At a higher, macro level, the issue of resource assignment deals with how the company, as a whole, plans and spawns its suite of projects.

Much of what I’ll have to say in this post will perhaps seem to be intuitive, even obvious. Yet once again, for all its obviousness, it has been astonishingly controversial at many companies. Better said, these concepts seem to be intellectually understood and accepted, yet then resisted, perhaps due to the old adage of “everyone wants to get into heaven, but no one wants to do what it’ll take to get there.”

What does it take to get there, then? You need to plan and schedule projects holistically, not one by one. This approach is commonly known as Project Portfolio Management (PPM), although that term often is used more to describe the aspect of selecting and prioritizing IT Projects based upon corporate strategic and tactical objectives, and then optimizing the whole set to ensure maximum utility. All of that is both valid and critical, of course. I’ll have more to say about project selection criteria later, and in the meantime would point you to some of the references contained in my Lagniappe section.

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‘Rithmetic: quantitative approaches necessary in the CIO/CTO role

We’ve established the importance of targeted reading and writing for the senior information technology executive. I’d like to turn my attention now to the third R, ‘Rithmetic. Even though the “soft skills” of management are probably most crucial to a successful executive, IT is one area where quantitative skills are a regular (and, sadly, often ignored) part of the job.

I’ll have a lot more to say on each of these subjects in future posts, but for now, let’s outline the seven major arenas in IT where quantitative measurements and analysis need to be part of your arsenal. Some or even all of these will seem obvious and maybe even unavoidable; yet, some, astonishingly, have rarely (or even never!) been touched or attempted in more than one company I’ve seen. In fact, sometimes it seems that even established companies go out of their way not to be quantitative in several of these areas, running instead by “seat of the pants” and gut feel.

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Guest appearance on E-commerce Consulting blog

Sally McKenzie, with whom I worked when I was CTO at Classmates Online, writes a fine e-commerce-oriented blog that I read regularly. So I was especially pleased when Sally asked me to guest-contribute, via a back-and-forth interview format, on the subject of how IT folks and Marketing people can work better together. Not only is this topic especially close to my heart, but Sally’s also one of the sharpest executives I’ve worked with. She especially stands out in her ability to collaborate, forge agreements, and foster teamwork at senior executive levels, so this was a great conversation. Check it out here.

Why reading and writing both matter more than you’ve been led to believe

It’s probably already evident that a lot of the focus of this blog is going to be on “blocking and tackling” principles related to running information technology at a reasonable-sized company. Curiously, those basic principles often seem to get ignored, which is one way that lots of companies end up in crises of information systems delivery and operations.

This post, then, is going to be about the most basic of basics: reading and writing, and their importance (“critical success factor” importance, in fact) to the overall success of a CTO/CIO’s projects and department.

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The perils of a new CTO position

No matter how experienced or battle-scarred you may be as a senior information technology executive, starting a new IT executive job is laden with not only what are politely called “opportunities”, but also an intoxicating amount of mass euphoria. Here’s what you’re almost invariably walking into, no matter what the company is and what the history has been:

  • You’re suddenly the anointed savior of a situation that it seems everyone was frustrated with. Thank God you’re here.
  • All the “sins of the past”, however major they are in impact, are (consensus would seem to have it) nonetheless able to be cleaned up (yes, by you), in a jiffy (say within the first three months or so, unless of course you can do it faster). Get to work.
  • You’re an “ear”, a new source of hope. People will want to explain things to you so that you “get it” as early and as fully as possible.
  • You can’t believe, as you listen to people describe process and products and performance, etc., that things have really been this crazy, this non-standard, this out of norm. It’s great to be somewhere where you can make a quick difference. [Read more…]

Two additional models for CTO/CIO behavior

Although the Five Pillars of Purview are a useful framework for what amounts to functional decomposition of the CTO/CIO role, let’s take a step back, or higher, and look at the meta-behaviors that the senior technology executive needs to exhibit in order to succeed. These augment the Five Pillars by lending them some philosophical background. The Five Pillars are categories for your personal To Do list, as it were; the models I’m about to discuss come closer to being questions about the meaning and purpose of it all.

In one job, I used to put the following two points into each and every department presentation I did as CTO, because I felt that they’re useful insights for every worker, not just executives. They boil down to these two questions: [Read more…]

The Pillars of Purview of the Successful CTO/CIO

So, as we’ve now discussed, you, the CTO or CIO, brought in to oversee the technology areas of your company, are paradoxically not really there predominantly for technology. Even if you like to think of yourself as a technogeek (and most of us do, frankly), if you want to be effective in the overall role of this chief information technology officer, you’ll need to broaden your approach. Then what is your purview as CTO/CIO?

Call it marketecture if you want, but I’ve found it useful to separate my role into five major areas, all of which happen to begin with P. I call these the 5 Pillars of Purview, and they represent, for CTO/CIO responsibilities in general, a model or framework that I’ll be referring back to in this blog.

  • People Career path, evaluations, coaching, hiring, firing, compensation, public relations to the rest of the company, communicating, motivating, rewarding
  • Process How are projects spawned and prioritized and appropriate resources allocated? Is the way that you “bake” and release software clearly understood and fully under control? How is your quality assurance? What do your internal users think?
  • Product How are you progressing your company’s products or services? What’s around the corner that you’ll need to deal with?
  • Projects Which projects are on track? Which are lagging? Why, and what can you do?
  • Performance How are your systems performing? Response time? Bugginess? Stability? How do you know? [Read more…]

The title issue: CTO vs CIO, and why it’s the wrong question

CTO has got to be one of the most overloaded (to use a development geek term) titles around. Depending on the industry, the company, and the individual in the position, the Chief Technology Officer may have entirely different responsibilities and purview from other similarly named positions. And what in heaven’s name is a CIO anymore? In many companies, the CTO title seems to have supplanted what ten or twenty years ago would have been referred to as the CIO, which sadly tends to spoil the old joke that CIO stood for “Career Is Over.”

As an article in ComputerWorld pointed out, “ask what a CTO does, and you’re likely to get a variety of responses. In some companies, the CTO heads research and development. In other companies, the CTO is just like a CIO. In still others, the CIO reports to the CTO. And there are also CTOs who work in IT departments and report to the CIO.”

I’m going to reveal my bias here up front: it doesn’t matter, really, what you call the position. The important part is to recognize two conflicting truths: technology is all-important in many leading and bleeding-edge companies today; technology itself, however, cannot be the sole, or even the main, focus and purview of the senior technology executive. [Read more…]