Managing IT Professionals

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 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.


2 Responses to Managing IT Professionals

  1. Steve Patterson says:

    I agree with your point here, Jim. But I think it’s really critical to find the right balance for your environment. In your world, where accountability to the public is extremely critical, the elements of structure emphasize the accountability. In a place where profit and customer service are higher priorities, those same methodologies can distract from the business’ more practical goals.

    • Jim Wiedman says:


      Thanks for your comments.

      I completely agree that finding the right balance between structure and creativity is critical, however I disagree that a framework in which to work distracts from business goals of profit and customer service. I have heard too many IT professionals argue that structure interferes with their flexibility to get the job done, when in fact a lack of structure makes profit and customer service very difficult to achieve. Don’t forget that while I support government clients, my company is a business enterprise. I have experience in both public and private sector organizations and in both solid processes and rules of the road lead to improved results.

      I’ll write more on this in my next blog.


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