How to Help Management Make a Better IT Decision

Decisions that directly affect Information Technology (IT) projects or IT services within an organization are not always made in the IT (or Engineering) department. That is not bad thing; it is just the way things are and how business runs.
Like what?

  • Management decides it is in the company’s strategic interest to form a partnership with another company that includes exchanging selected IT services
  • A desirable client requires all documents to be in Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point
  • Planning which IT functions to centralize and which ones to operate independently or with greater flexibility
  • Figuring out how to balance data security and personal privacy
  • Allocating the internal IT budget to the needs of the organization

The good news is
Almost all companies and organizations ask for consultative help from IT or Technology professionals and project managers as they deliberate strategic decisions that involve IT related tasks.  Of course senior management needs to realize that the options under consideration involve IT, either directly or indirectly. If they don’t get it, you – the project manager – may need to be proactive (subtly and with political sensitivity). For example, if you hear via the grapevine — oh, yes your organization has one so get plugged in! – that the company is considering purchasing XYZ’s CRM system, you might remind your boss that XYZ’s system requires upgrading your server or that it does not work with the database that you currently have.
In asking for a professional opinion from IT, I have found that decision makers treat these expert professionals in one of three ways – hint: the first two are bad.

  • The IT professional is viewed as a deity with magical understanding and powers.
  • The IT professional is viewed as someone who does not understand the reality of managing a for-profit business. So, their opinions or recommendations are viewed with skepticism as to motivation and possible empire building fantasies.
  • The IT professional is viewed as an essential and knowledgeable team member who can provide insight into options and consequences in order to make sound business decisions.

Effectively assisting management decision making

  • Prepare yourself with facts and the opinions of unbiased outsiders – especially if, based on your previous dealings with these managers, you know that “expert” opinion is given higher value than general opinions. (see: Fear No Project post on Cognitive Science Insights into Decision Making).
  • Remember that cost is a big decision driver for senior managers. Include short term costs and long term cost implications, such as maintenance and training in answering questions and presenting information — especially critical when the initial cost may be lower for a poor decision.
  • Prepare to discuss risks and the impact of the decision on existing and planned projects and organizational strategy.
  • Do NOT become emotional, remain calm and objective.
  • Do NOT talk down to the decision makers because they are less knowledgeable about technology. It is your job to explain options, costs and risks in layman’s terms. Consider using analogies and metaphors that will resonate with the shared experience of decision makers.(See the post on Communicating to a non-technical Audience)
  • Listen closely to questions and clarify concerns before giving an answer or recommendation. Offer to collect more information if they seem to want it before making a decision. Just remember that senior managers don’t like to postpone decisions.
  • When you have done the best you can, remain quiet and allow the deliberations to take their course.  One more time, be quiet and listen.

If you have additional ideas or have been successful in helping managers make better decisions, please share your insights.

Project Manager Travel Guidance

I am sure there are people who enjoy traveling as part of their job, although I have not met any of them recently! Travel to current or potential customer sites, subcontractors, giving a conference presentation or receiving training is sometimes necessary for the project and the organization. Who knows, sometime you might even get a vacation. So, who minds the store while the project manager is away?

Here are a few guidelines to help you prepare for your absence and minimize problems, especially if you will be gone more than a few days:

  1. Check the project schedule to see what is supposed to be happening while you are away. If anything tweaks your antenna as a potential problem, talk with the lead and develop an action plan. Tell them your concern or thoughts and get their feedback. This is a real-world opportunity to mentor project leads who may become project managers.
  2. Note any paperwork due during your absence — status reports, personnel forms — do it before you leave or assign someone.
  3. Check your calendar for any meetings you are required or promised to attend — assign someone to go in your place or let the organizer know you will be absent. If it is your meeting, contact attendees to cancel.
  4. Pull up or pull out your risk management indicators — anything that needs tracking should be assigned to someone while you are gone.
  5. Select a person to be in charge in your absence. Then, inform project personnel, your supervisor and department heads with whom you interact frequently — in writing — with contact information. You may also want to change for voicemail message and out-of-office email message. If your company’s policies allow, give the temporary PM signature authority, either total or specific.
  6. Make sure you have contact information for team members, the organization and your project customers on your cell, iPad or notebook computer. Redundancy is good here since bad or stupid things can happen. I have forgotten chargers and had liquid spilled on devices when we hit an air pocket.
  7. If you will not be reachable by email, phone or text message, assign someone to check your messages daily and follow up.
  8. Meet with your acting manager and review tasks and concerns. Use this meeting as an opportunity for training.
  9. Update your shared project or organization calendar to indicate you are out-of-office. If you use Microsoft server for project document management, be sure to check-in working documents.
  10. Contact your backup PM daily to see how are things are going. Let them know that you value their taking responsibility. Do not undermine their authority or confidence by criticizing decisions made in your absence. Ask questions that help them identify potential problems and think through possible solutions.

I probably left out some tasks that would be important to do before you leave. Project managers; please add your suggestions via comments.


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