Opinion ... Setting expectations stops IT turnover David Gleason
Information technology department heads and staff have a brief tenure. They are often embattled, unable to please the myriad individuals demanding their help. They field complaints about system shortcomings from users and department heads, while executive management tells them they spend too much money. Although they know how to solve the problems, they often can't explain their ideas clearly enough.
Too often, facing a no-win situation, the chief information officer or chief technology officer moves on to seemingly greener pastures only to have the cycle repeat. Frequently, a portion of the IT staff will join the exodus. However, with the help of the current market, you can bring an end to this situation by establishing a reasonable set of IT expectations.
During the 1990s, IT employee tenure was reduced to absurdly short periods. The cost of such turnover is high because IT employees must learn a great deal about a company's systems and operating environment before they can be effective. However, because many IT projects fail employee casualties are common. Most people want to be effective in their work, and if they are blamed for failures, they often decide to leave a situation, or are forced out.
Too much IT turnover can be disastrous. IT staff take a wealth of knowledge with them as they leave. Replacing staff causes delays as new employees learn, leading to a loss of motivation, ambition and direction among all stakeholders. Return on IT investment is compromised and sometimes business continuity is threatened.
IT projects fail for many reasons -- including unclear management expectations, inexperienced IT staff and miscommunication between IT staff and business executives. These and other causes reflect a significant challenge to the relationship between businesses and their IT departments -- businesses have become dependent on technology that is inherently complex, unstable and rapidly evolving.
The current economy is helping companies retain staff. While it was difficult to find and keep qualified IT personnel during the 1990s, today's high unemployment levels make people want to keep their jobs.
Widespread unemployment in IT also means more expertise is available at more reasonable rates, whether you are hiring consultants or staff. Outsourcing has become a more realistic option for many firms. As the IT industry has matured, fully developed services are available for everything from network infrastructure and help desk support to web development and hosting.
Given an employer's market, the next step to better outcomes is improving expectation management around IT projects. Improved expectation management means building high-performance teams where open and honest communication makes coordinated effort possible. The primary expectation should be one of collaboration, within the context of maximizing business through the use of IT.
To improve overall IT project effectiveness, the team should broadly identify stakeholders and then carefully manage them. The team should also evaluate and manage the impact of the project on each stakeholder. Individual stakeholders and stakeholder groups can be satisfied through regular, informative, and brief communication; inclusion at appropriate moments; and consistent delivery on promises.
Succeeding at projects where many fail requires discipline. A high-performance team uses best practices to continuously improve its own performance. From having an agenda for and notes from every meeting to rigorously following escalation procedures and project management principles, the team must meet expectations.
There are many other components to effective IT projects -- including quality controls, risk management, cost controls and scope management. Techniques such as these, combined with experience and clear business objectives, can significantly improve project outcomes. A focus on quality from start to finish, leads to high-integrity, robust and targeted systems. All these principles are readily available and well established by proven professionals in the field.
Strong IT discipline may seem a draconian recipe for discontent and turnover, but the reverse is true. Successful IT projects build confidence, strength and value -- all of which help retention.
The specific benefits to be gained through disciplined approaches include improved morale and reduced IT turnover, a better return on technology investment, and -- perhaps most important -- strong alignment between business objectives and enabling technology.
David Gleason is managing consultant of IT Quality Solutions, a Boston-based systems-consulting firm. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.