Managing IT Professionals

November 8, 2009

Being responsible for a team of IT professionals is often compared to herding cats.  I have experienced resistance to even fundamental management disciplines such as change management and project management because of a perception that added “bureaucracy” would take too long and reduce effectiveness.  As frustrating as this push-back was, I understand it.

To fulfill a graduation requirement at the University of Redlands,  I chose a life sciences course where I was the only senior in a class full of freshmen.  Each week we had to turn in a report detailing our accomplishments for the course.  The format for the report was draconian (or so I thought at the time).  We were to write one page, and one page only single spaced, Times New Roman font, 1 inch margins with the following sections:  one-quarter page describing a science article we had read, one-quarter page describing what we had learned in class that week, and one half page relating nature observations we had conducted on our own.

I thought the format was micromanaging the class and chaffed under the perceived limitation on my creativity.  I don’t remember all the topics I covered for that class, but I distinctly remember writing about squirrels collecting nuts around campus, and about my observations of California passing below me as I few home for a holiday.  I soon discovered that rather than limiting my writing, the report format gave me a structure in which I could  respond creatively to my task.  I had plenty of space to convey my observations, and my writing improved as I judiciously chose the words and concepts I needed.

More recently, I watched a presentation on TED.com by orchestra conductor Itay Talgam.  He described how a good conductor will provide a framework for musicians while leaving each of them room to creatively interpret the music.  I was astounded.  I had always assumed that members of an orchestra strove to play with an exact, almost mechanical, observance of the written music and directions from the conductor.  Instead, Talgam described a partnership between the leader and the led that did not include absolute control, but allowed the orchestra to weave their creativity together.

I had always assumed that technical was the opposite of creative until I looked it up in the dictionary.  According to Webster’s, the first definition of technical is, “belonging or pertaining to an art, science, or the like”.  Solving technical problems is rarely a rote process involving nothing but applying knowledge in a mechanical way.  IT professionals must use creativity to develop solutions and to improve services and for this reason formal process may seem to constrain this creativity.  However, like my professor’s report format, or an orchestra conductor’s direction, good IT management provides a framework for success and leaves plenty of room for the creativity required of a technical team.