Blueprint - Successful IT Organization

Different types of organizations have different views of IT. Usually, there are two general organizations: a Corporate IT and a Service Provider IT. There is a HUGE difference in the way things work in those IT organizations. By comparing these two organizations, here is a blueprint of a functional IT organization.

My first job was in an ISP. My second was in technical sales of a large corporate organization. In both functions I had to cooperate and work with the IT guys.

Corporate IT organization - a typical and frequent organizational structure within large companies. Their characteristics are as follows:

  • Take time to react to requests - as specified in the policies and procedures
  • Follow established procedures to the letter, but rarely object or try to improve them
  • Document everything - as per the defined standards
  • Focus on maintaining the services and/or calling up the supplier
  • Have a very clear, usually multi-tiered organizational structure
  • Within the structure, very few people are empowered to make decisions
  • Have systematically planned and available budget for all required activities
  • See the service as their job - they will maintain it and escalate as per the procedures. At the end of the day, the next shift takes over, and the employees will forget about it until the next day.
  • In case of incident, will communicate the issue to other units for resolution.

Service Provider IT organization - a typical and frequent organizational structure within ISPs or smaller software development companies. Their characteristics are as follows:

  • React as fast as possible to any request
  • Usually avoid procedures, or have a very loose understanding of them. Constantly trying to change procedures to make their life easier
  • Document some things - In a hurry, and rarely in a very usable form for anyone other then the author
  • Focus on delivering a service as fast as possible
  • Has an overlapping or flat organizational structure
  • A lot of people are empowered to make a decision
  • Have planned but rarely sufficient budget for all required activities - Tend to make the most out of current resources
  • See the service as their own - they will do anything and everything to make it work. They take it very personally when things don't work.
  • In case of incident, will help each other, even if it is only by bringing coffee to the other guys.
Both organizations clearly have strong points as well as problems which arise from their understanding of what is their job:

  • Corporate IT is systematic but very rigid and usually slow to deliver a service.
  • Service Provider IT is fast and customer oriented, but usually functions on the edge of chaos.
From the above characteristics, by taking a here is my proposal for the best functioning IT department:
  • React as fast as possible to any request - try to minimize the specified reaction time in the policies and procedures
  • Follow established procedures with exceptions - Document exceptions for review of procedures. If you find a procedure that hampers you, escalate to remedy it.
  • Document everything, but don't be too strict about the standard - The team leader should be the manager of all the teams documentation - collects and organizes, but rarely writes.
  • Focus on delivering the services ASAP, but in a coordinated effort - There is no "software error" or "hardware error". There IS AN ERROR . If the service is purchased from someone, all people should be aware of the service contract, so they can pester the supplier within the contract limits
  • Have as flat an organizational structure as possible - Your team leaders should be few and chosen by efficiency and ability, not by seniority.
  • Empower as many people as possible to make decisions, within their area of expertise.
  • Promote a culture of "service ownership" - the IT teams should treat the service as more then just their job.
  • Promote a culture of mutual assistance - In case of incident, everyone should pitch in together. To avoid procedural problems, a person with authority should be included and advised of the process
This ideal blueprint is not achieved overnight. But here are the steps that should get you there:

  • Position the IT as a business - Establish a business aspect of IT's work and enforce it, including costs, profitability, head count, resources. Even strive to establish a brand for your IT within the corporation.
  • Empower your teams - Encourage your teams to educate themselves, and delegate responsibility to them for parts or a whole service in your everyday portfolio. There is nothing more rewarding for an engineer then to see his creation in function and use.
  • Encourage mutual cooperation instead of delegation or escalation - avoid the not my problem philosophy. Where ever possible, strive to resolve things with a horizontal communication
  • Organize the teams for efficiency, not for seniority - Your most senior people may not be your best team leaders. Good leaders are readily visible in times of incidents and potential problems. It is then you can see who will step forward, direct, give advice, coordinate. You are the manager and accountable for the entire operation. So regardless of personal emotions, choose the best parts for your engine.
  • Maintain procedural compliance - This is a very difficult part. This is a part where team leaders will have to step up and earn their salary. In all processes, strive to maintain efficiency while adhering to procedures as much as possible. Also remember that procedures are not set in stone, and can be changed.
  • Award good work - Think out of the box. Contrary to the mantra "don't praise me, just pay me", there are hundreds of ways for a manager to award an employee. Here are some that i have seen to work beautifully
    • verbal commendation in front of the peers;
    • opportunity for education and training (usually costs much less then a raise);
    • free personal time when needed;
    • asking for advice and expert opinion on subjects;
    • inclusion in strategic projects;
    • delegating person as representative in intracorporate projects;
    • corporate benefits - special discounts at stores for your team, team building trips

Talkback and comments are most welcome

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