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.

2 Responses to “How to Help Management Make a Better IT Decision”

  1. Rosemary Wycherley Says:

    In most organisations these days the Business Case is the principal decision making vehicle so this advice to IT professionals who are called upon to contribute their knowledge is excellent. More and more organisations call upon their Enterprise Architects to develop the business led IT strategy – but I’ve never met one yet who can sit quietly and listen!! However, I wouldn’t swap their expertise for anything.

  2. Magnus Says:

    I think you are definitely right that cost can be a decision driver. Associated with cost is business value and risk.

    If it is a software or IT company, having a reliable and professional IT system in-house sends a signal to customers, and has business value on its own.

    If the IT system fails — especially when hosting customer projects or data — this can have catastrophic consequences. This cost can be difficult to evaluate. What is the probability of server downtime? What are the consequences/costs if it indeed does happen? And so on.

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