Micro Technology Stewardship

I learned very early on in my career that what gets measured gets improved.  Yet, I am still surprised to this day at how many business leaders do not practice this principle. Maybe they do not understand or believe in this principle, maybe they are too busy to implement this principle or maybe they just don’t ask their technology departments to mine the data necessary to implement this principle.

As a leader in Micro Technology Stewardship I do my best on a daily basis to preach this principle of utilizing data from Business Intelligence initiatives to track those items you look to improve, be it sales, revenue, costs or productivity.

Striving to improve and utilize the many models of continues improvement is a key element in leadership success.  Continuous improvement at the  most basic level is easy, just ask yourself and your personnel three easy “How” questions:

1. How are we doing

2. How can it may be better

3. How about if we try something different

But remember, you can not improve without the data, you need the data to establish a baseline starting point (what are we doing today) and you need the data to measure if your changes positively improve or negatively impact your desired outcome and you need the data on an ongoing basis to continue to improve and course correct if things start to slip.


I really love this post from Christopher Scordo “The Early Warning Signs of a Project in Trouble”; so much so, that I reposted it below.  As you can tell, the post is about identifying when a project is in trouble, and we, as good corporate citizens frequently find yourself on project teams.  If you remember from my earlier blogs, “Micro Technology Stewardship is the use of people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.”

I especially like Mr. Scordo’s warning sign titled “Corporate Leadership and Project Goals Conflict with Each Other”.  As Micro tech Stewards, one of the hardest things you will face is identifying and then acting on the issues that directly fly in the face of your corporate sponsors.  I sure if you look at your past experiences, you will find plenty of examples of gaps between the corporate leadership and the project team and I bet you, most of the failures occur when no one speaks up, or when someone speaks up it is often  too late.

it is hard to be Micro Technology leader in today’s corporations, but if you want to be a successful leader, sometimes it means taking the risk to speak up and putting in the work to carry the flag of “right”, rather than just following blindly.

Early Warning Signs of a Project in Trouble

By Christopher Scordo (PMP, ITIL) of www.PMPerfect.com  

Ever had a favorite football jersey which was starting to come apart after years of wear and tear?  You picked at the seam occasionally; only to find that one day, your jersey has unravelled completely.  This is what it feels like to have a project you are in charge of spin out of control.  Of course, if you had just taken a few minutes to stitch the seam that was coming undone, you’d have been in a much better position (and you’d still have that favorite football jersey).

Project management is much the same.  As a project manager it is your duty to keep an eye on warning signs that your project might be hitting a snag which could result in full on combustion.

Luckily, there are a few warning signs which are common in project management; and knowing what they are can save you a massive headache down the road.  Below are some early warning signs of your project being in trouble.

Team Members are Working Too Much Overtime

Simply put: when a project is running on schedule, there will be little or no overtime required from team members.  Overtime is a band aid to cover poor scheduling or scope management, and too much team member over time is a tell-tale sign that there are project management issues that need to be addressed.  The impact to team members can also be more negative than expected; late nights of sedentary work, too much junk food to placate appetites, and too much caffeine to keep team members works.  All of these indirect attributes of excessive overtime will result in poor team morale, and high turnover.  Of course, occasional overtime is perfectly fine, especially ahead of critical delivery periods.  But when overtime progresses to multiple hours on a daily basis, it is time to revisit your project schedule and calibrate client expectations to ensure a health project environment.


Project Goals are Misunderstood by Team and/or Client Stakeholders

Most projects have an overarching business goal, or two, or three.  The problem is that corporate leaders, project managers or even client stakeholders may assume the business goals of a given project are obvious to everyone.  So obvious that nobody ever mentions exactly what they are.  These types of assumptions can lead to a slew of project issues as team members are never quite clear on task priorities or “the big picture”.  Simply assuming that the overall business objectives of a project are obvious to all may lead to dangerous presumptions; and ultimately is a simple communication issue to resolve.


Poor Communication within Your Team

If your team members frequent have personality issues with you or each other, or are just not getting along well, then as the project manager you need to better manage communication.  While it is impossible for everybody to get along magnificently all the time, it is imperative that people put their differences aside and forge a business relationship.  As a project manager, it’s up to you to make sure the business relationship between people who don’t get along on a personal level is put in place, and that communication channels are kept open and flowing.  You might need to call upon the conflict resolution cavalry, but that’s what project managers are there for.  By not addressing let inter-term communication issues at the start, a project can experience massive productivity issues.  This goes for the project manager as well; it is important to understand that you are a team member, and not an emperor.  Condescending communication will lead to similar issues.


Project Direction is Missing or Inconsistent

If there is no direction from project managers or task leads, and communication channels aren’t kept open, your project might be in a bit of trouble.  When team members are not privy to the overall schedule of a project, or are micro-managed with small finite tasks, it is akin to removing the compass from the crew of a ship.  Nobody but the captain knows where the boat is headed, leading to poor team morale, and a misunderstanding of project priorities.  What’s worse than the absence of direction, though, is contradicting direction.  Constantly flip flopping between stated goals and objectives is a huge, red warning sign; and can indicate poor scope management on behalf of the project manager.


Corporate Leadership and Project Goals Conflict with Each Other

No matter how on schedule your project is, if there is conflict with the corporate leadership objectives, there could be a pending project disaster.  When corporate leadership decides to shift their business focus away from the needs of your client stakeholder, this is a red flag for your project.  For example, when an IT consulting organization decides it will no longer support a technology your client has invested in; the confidence and trust bestowed in your project leadership may plummet, ultimately leading to a whole slew of issues.   Recognizing the overall goals of your enterprise, and ensuring they align with your project is a simple way to ensure your project is not taken by surprise.  If you do notice a project conflict with regard to corporate communication, address it immediately by communicating directly with corporate management.


Assuming “No News is Good News”

Ever had a client that simply doesn’t return calls, either because they are so overwhelmed or because they simply don’t have the knowledge to provide feedback?  Communication among client stakeholders is absolutely critical to the success of a project, and when you find your client becoming unresponsive, it is easy for project managers to assume “no news is good news”.  This can be a slippery slope, especially as critical decisions are made regarding business objectives and project direction.  One way to counteract this issue without becoming an annoyance is to schedule a weekly status call with your client which can be as brief as five minutes.   Secondly, be sure to send weekly status updates that show exactly what your team is working on, upcoming deadlines, and any action items you require of them.   This type of proactive communication ensures your client remains engaged in a project and decreases the risk associated with an unresponsive client.  By moving along a project path with no input from your client (even if you prod them), you put your project and yourself at extreme risk.

Overall, an effective project manager must strike a balance between communicating effectively, ensuring agreement among stakeholders; and managing the three legged constraints of scope, schedule, and budget.  The warning signs mentioned are meant to be addressed immediately to avoid larger issues down the road.

 Early Warning Signs of a Project in Trouble – Project Managers.

Have you ever worked for a technology leader who over promises and underdelivers? I know that in my career I have (quite a few times actually) and it leaves your customer (internal or external) underwhelmed and over time, completely frustrated and exhausted when having to deal with the technology department. Your customer may react in many different ways through this experience…from “bad mouthing” your leader, or to worse, bad mouthing you as project manager andI have seen it get so bad that the customer has “fired” the internal IT department and gone outside to get the work done.

Practicing good micro technology stewardship is not always about making the right technology decisions (as discussed in prior blogs), it’s almost always more, let’s look at the definition again:

“Micro Technology Stewardship is the use of people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.”

Good Micro Technology Stewardship also includes “looking inside” at your self to make sure you are using your “experience” to understand the needs of others and properly addressing those needs. When you over promise and underdeliver you are really saying “I understand what you want, I know it can be done, but I am not a strong enough leader to make sure you are educated on why it can’t be done in the manner or timeline you expect.”

I have seen so many bad product executions that could have been avoided if the technologist had only educated the business leader on the realities of delivery.  What about you, are you in a company where your leader over promises?  Have you ever found yourself having to over promise because you felt you had no choice but to “comply”

If over promising and under delivering is so bad, what about the “formula for success” of under promising and  overdelivering?  Will your customers catch on? Will they then set expectations high, or worse yet, raise them each time you exceed your own self-set commitment?

I like this series of articles, but like this one the best having worked with and worked in non-profits.  The entire series can be found here and it is written by Nell Edgington, the President of Social Velocity (www.socialvelocity.net), a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability

In part 11 of our ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, we are talking about being brutally honest with your donors. If nonprofits are going to truly break free from the vicious fundraising cycle, they must find the courage to tell funders how it really is. And since board members are a nonprofit’s closest supporters and (I hope) donors, you need to stop telling them these lies as well.

If you are new to our Financing Not Fundraising blog series, the series is about how nonprofits must break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities.  Instead, they must create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.

And, if you want to learn more about how to apply the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, join us for our Financing Not Fundraising webinar on October 18, 2011.

If you want to break free of the exhausting cycle of fundraising, a key step is to start being brutally honest with funders. Here are the top 5 lies you have to stop telling donors:

    1. X% of your donation goes to the program
      The distinction between “program expenses” and “overhead” is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, destructive. You cannot have a program without staff, technology, space, systems, evaluation, research and development. It is magical thinking to say that you can separate money spent on programs from money spent on the support of programs. Donors need to understand, and you need to explain to them, that “overhead” is not a dirty word. A nonprofit exists to deliver programs. Andeverything the organization does helps to make those programs better, stronger, bigger, more effective.
    1. We can do the same program with less money
      No you can’t. You know you can’t. You are already scraping by. Don’t accept a check from a donor who wants all the bells and whistles you explained in your pitch, but at a lower cost. Explain the true costs, including administrative costs, of getting results. Politely, but firmly, explain to them that an inferior investment will yield an inferior result. If they simply can’t afford the price tag, then encourage them to find fellow funders to co-invest with.
    1. We can start a new program that doesn’t fit with our mission or strategy
      Yes that big, fat check a donor is holding in front of you looks very appealing. But if it takes your organization in a different direction than your strategy or your core competencies require, accepting it is a huge mistake. Nonprofits must constantly ensure that money and mission are aligned. Otherwise the organization will be scattered in countless directions with an exhausted staff and confused donor base. Don’t let a donor take you down that road.
    1. We can grow without additional staff or other resources
      Nonprofit staff truly excel at working endless hours with very few resources. They have perfected the concept of doing more and more with less and less. But someday that road must end. Nonprofit leaders have to be honest with donors when their staff and resources are at capacity. Because eventually program results will suffer and the donor will receive little in return for their investment.
  1. 100% of our board is committed to our organization
    If that’s true, then you are a true minority in the nonprofit sector. Every nonprofit board I know has some dead  wood. Members who ignore fundraising duties, don’t contribute to meetings, miss meetings, take the organization on tangents are always present. It’s a fact that funders want to see every board member contributing. But instead of perpetuating the myth that 100% is an achievable reality, be honest with funders. Tell them that you continually analyze each individual board member’s contributions (financial, intellectual, time) and have a clear plan for addressing deficiency, including: coaching, peer pressure, training, asking for resignations. Getting to 100% is probably never realistic, it is far better to demonstrate that you are tirelessly working toward 90%.

Stop the madness. We need to stop telling funders what they want to hear and then cursing them behind their backs when they set  unrealistic expectations. Funders must be made to understand the harsh realities of the nonprofit sector if they are ever to be expected to help bring change.

The link to the article below explores only one reason for not cultivating IT heroes.  I would suggest that allowing employees to develop a  hero mentality is not good Micro Technology Stewardship.

Creating gaps in your staff as it relates to knowledge and allowing those individuals to abuse that gap to make them self look good is not only bad Micro Technology Stewardship, it is bad leadership.  Remember the definition   – “Micro Technology Stewardship is the use of people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs.” By allowing an employee to play hero, we, as leaders,  are not properly addressing the needs of the business on a proactive basis.

Don’t cultivate IT heroes – FierceCIO.

As 2010 comes to a close I find myself looking back at the year and evaluating how well I practiced what I preached as an IT leader.  Not only do I believe that all successful IT executives need to become successful at MicroTech Stewardship, I wanted to capture a few other skills I believe we all need to focus on as leaders.  Below is the list I came up with:

1. Promote Micro Technology Stewardship within the organization through leadership.  In order to develop good Microtech Stewards under you, leaders have to really commit to leadership and recognize that they are always “on stage”.  In fact, I saw that both Gartner and Korn/Ferry’s research reveals that the highest performing CIOs are effective because they embrace the idea that everything they need to accomplish will be achieved through people, by people, and with people. I know you have seen this said before, but as a leader, we have to ” build people, not systems”.

2. Think Strategic, Deliver Clear Direction. A high-performing technology leader is a complex and (hopefully) creative thinker but when it comes to leading, the message must be clear, concise and easy to execute against.

3. Abandon your 70s School of Management. 70s school of management is not a concept I have explored in this blog and I hope to in the future but it is a term I coined to describe the old school “do what I say, when I say and tell me when it is done” leaders that still exist in organizations.  Today, technology leaders need to be more collaborative than ever in order to inspire people both inside and outside their organization in order to be successful in executing against your vision.  Inspire your people to consistently deliver their best work through collaboration and motivation, inspire them to feel like they are involved in something exciting.

4. Lead sideways. Successful leaders spend a great deal of their time and energy managing relationships that exist sideways: relationships with peers, vendors, and customers.  As in the above point, collaboration is key in driving results.

5.Be a Master of Communication. Constantly reiterate your core message and values. Focus on clarity, consistency, and simplicity.  Do it with passion and make sure your message is not only understood but also felt.

Well that is my short list, what do you have to add?

Let’s keep this one short, because let’s face it, when it is ugly, it is blatantly ugly.

There was another occasion from my past where I was brought in to a company by the CEO  to “turn around” an IT department in disarray.  This department was way out of step with the company, you know the kind, they are the IT folks you read about in Dilbert cartoons.  As a matter of fact, think of the then current CIO as Dilbert’s PHB (pointy hair boss).

Since I am blogging about concept of Micro Technology Stewardship, I will refrain from telling you about  ALL of the details and just get on  to my story.

It all began then this then current CIO had the idea that the company needed a portal for all of their senior medical professionals (Medical Professionals employed by this company aka employees :)) to log into for medical and corporate information and maybe exchange ideas with each other or the company leaders back at HQ, sort of an early social network for medical professionals.

Not a bad idea you say?  I agree, not a bad idea at all, EXCEPT, he never ran this idea past the CEO, any business leader or, to make it worse, any medical professionals in the field that this company engaged with!

The result?  Very much the same as “The Bad” post; out of control spending, IT out of alignment with the corporation, other projects missing deadlines, resources misdirected, frustrated senior leaders …yep pretty much a mess at this company too.

On the surface it seems so simple, but so many technology folks do not do it… just follow good micro technology stewardship – use the people with enough experience of the workings of a business or department to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs instead of doing it all “yourself” or doing it all within IT “cause we know best” and I guarantee you will have a better run IT department, and more importantly, a pleased CEO.

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