Hiring and firing: an example of a stellar employee

I plan to make a couple of posts surrounding the very thorny issue of hiring (and firing) IT staff. To start off, here’s a recommendation letter I wrote a couple of years ago, at the request of a former employee. It shows at least one executive’s (i.e., my own) view of what matters in a job candidate most of all, and how certain characteristics can (sometimes, not always) make up for lack of background or experience. I’ll call him Harry. What I sought (and found) in Harry doesn’t necessarily pertain equally to all IT positions, but I offer it for consideration:

I have known Harry for over four years, ever since I hired him into the role of Project Manager at XYZ, where I was the VP of Information Technology.

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Career tips for the CTO/CIO path

One of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten after starting this blog pertains to how one can work up to the CTO or CIO role in IT. This isn’t all that easy to answer, other than with some platitudes. Every career is different; every individual takes a separate path. I can’t exactly recommend to people that they take the path that I took, because there were certainly some odd stutter steps and digressions along my route. That said, I do indeed have some biases and thoughts about how a motivated, talented IT professional can position herself or himself for a top management role in IT.

  • Get broad. Strive to understand ALL of IT: development, quality assurance, operations, project management, architecture, user experience, PC help issues. And, of course, there’s no better way to understand those areas than to do some kind of rotation into each and every one of them, formally or informally. Diversify yourself. Doing so fully may require moving companies. One of my favorite Tom Peters’ quotes is “‘Repot’ yourself every ten years.” With respect to high tech, it needs to be more frequently than that.

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Einstein and the care and feeding of upper management

One area where I feel I’ve learned and grown in my career is achieving a much clearer understanding on how to communicate with upper management. Most advice along these lines tends towards simply warning against overuse of technobabble, and I can’t disagree with that. But there’s a lot more to successful communication than simply that, and I’d like to describe here a few ways to avoid the pitfalls that I’ve seen IT people (including myself) fall into in these situations. None of these ideas is especially new or difficult, but they don’t always seem to come intuitively to IT folks.

When presenting a problem and/or proposal to upper management, keep in mind the following:

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More tips for dealing with IT vendors

Now that I’ve covered the more humorous (and hopefully the less typical) side of dealing with vendors, I’d like to present some “lessons learned” for developing and maintaining positive relationships with hardware, software, and service providers. After all, we all need to use vendors’ products and services, and I’ve learned in my own experience that there’s a great deal that the technology executive can do to make a vendor relationship a positive experience for all concerned.

Here are some general tips, tips for during the sales cycle, and then tips for after the sale is over. Topic of a whole separate post in the future will be negotiations; this post will focus on relationship building and value determination.

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Watch out: Top 10 statements by IT vendors

Enough serious posts for the moment: it’s time for a little bit of humor, hopefully with a moral or two in tow.

About 15 years ago, when I was still a director and not a C-level executive, I worked a great deal with vendors providing services, project management, software development, and so on. In particular, my company chose to enter an extended and extremely expensive relationship with a well-known large consulting firm, which was given near-total management control over resource allocation (meaning their own resources) and an apparently unlimited budget. For the next three or four years, I worked closely with them, Biedermann among The Firebugs, working to maintain a semblance of integrity and direction for the project and for my company’s financials.

In the course of all that, I heard certain earnest promises repeatedly, and came to regard such statements as canaries in the coal mine when dealing (especially in the early sales cycle) with new vendors. At the time, finding some strength in humor, I dashed off the following list, which I’m repeating here with some commentary. If you hear any of these statements from a vendor (not to mention several such utterances strung together in an elevator pitch), my strong advice is FAV: Find Another Vendor.

In true David Letterman style, here’s the Top 10 List of Vendor Statements, with annotations.
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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.