Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Three “Soft” IT Management Disciplines

It takes mental toughness to manage orders from chaos, stay cool under the turmoil and present gentle to overcome rigid. 

IT is impacting every business unit and is becoming the driver of business evolution and digital transformation. With the fast pace of changes, old IT thinking simply cannot move fast enough in the era of digitalization. IT management is multidisciplinary; it not only includes “hard” components such as IT operation and portfolio management but also has some “soft” touch elements. Digitalization means business fluidity. Often, soft overcomes the hard and gentle overcomes the rigid. Here are three “soft” disciplines to improve IT management maturity.

Business Requirement Management: There are both business requirements and IT requirements. IT has to oversee the full set of the requirements to ensure the cohesiveness and to determine all the customers, users, and stakeholders and obtain their involvement. IT requirements are allocated to IT from the business requirements. Business requirements drive everything the entire businesses do, way beyond IT, but many of which IT is "allocated" its share of. The customers, users and all stakeholders including suppliers, partners, and all internal functions hold a stake in the requirements. IT initiatives are unlike others as they are always enterprise-wide, and IT oversees business processes. Assume any inputs are incomplete from a holistic perspective and are filtered from the silo's functional view, the reiteration of the requirements development process is essential to arriving at the "real" requirements to keep the business initiative moving forward. When it comes to collecting the business requirements, IT needs to take the traceability path of where the requirements come from, and IT requirements need to be functionally structured to serve each functional needs of the enterprise. The requirement managers shouldn’t lose the sight of all requirement and relationship, understand where all the functional boundaries are and who is organizationally associated with each requires managers with a holistic perspective as well as the “soft” leadership skills and management disciplines to communicate and prioritize, focus on those requirements whose improvement has the most benefit to the business, and keep the stakeholders focused on those requirements and relationships.

Communication Management: Communication is the tool to solve problems, and languages are the tools to make communications. Communication clarity makes directly impact on the business effectiveness. However, in many organizations, especially those strictly hierarchical large organizations with bureaucratic culture and silo mentality, a lot of time and energy are spent on keeping and maintaining the functional wall instead of developing honest and genuine relationships with people. They are process and control driven, have large communication bottlenecks, which stifle cross-functional communication and collaboration. In fact, miscommunication is one of the biggest gaps between IT and business. To improve IT communication effectiveness, the question is not only about how to deliver the clarified message but also what message to deliver. People all filter information differently based on their neurodiversity and experiences. Respect your audience's cognitive diversity and professional interest, and try to send the message which appeals to them. It is also important to foster an environment where feedback and communication are based on reality and not simply what senior management wants to hear. It is equally important to discourage unprofessional communications. We live in the digital era with continuous delivery as a new normal. So, it’s all about striking the right balance of overcommunicating and “less is more,” to improve communication effectiveness and achieve the end goals smoothly.

Partnership Management: Digital IT shouldn’t be run as an isolated function, but a real-time business partner in order to bridge the gap and improve its responsiveness and maturity. Therefore, the partnership is a “soft,” but a critical component in the digital IT management playbook. IT is no longer that island, or corner and those who still want to stick in that corner or live in its comfort zone! Business today will not just use IT as a digital extension, but leverage IT across their organization to attain the enterprise-wide business competency. IT is not a function that can be handled only in the IT department or by IT managers only, what should be focused on is how to integrate IT into business decisions and processes. IT not only needs to build a cohesive relationship with the business but also should develop varying business partnerships with vendors, customers, and varying shareholders within its digital ecosystem. IT leaders should make an objective assessment of those relationships: Who are your strategic partners, who are your reliable supporters, and who will be your detractors? Who will work with you to overcome big challenges? Who may try to kick you when you are down? Etc. To go broader, IT leaders need to manage multi-layer business relationships and play toughness and softness accordingly and master one of the most sophisticated executive roles in modern businesses effortlessly.

Due to the complexity and ever-changing business dynamic with frequent disruptions, it takes mental toughness to manage orders from chaos, staying cool under the turmoil, and presenting gentle to overcome rigid. More often than not, soft overcomes hard, but it takes enormous strength to achieve it. The soft elements will become the key factors for the success of changes. Organizations also have to tailor their management styles to make these soft business elements well mixed into organizational competency, and ultimately run a high-mature digital organization with digital fluidity.


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