June 11, 2010

Why don't people who speak IT speak English?

In my career as an IT professional, I have dealt with many other technically-savvy individuals. But few speak  English that can be understood by business decision makers. Many of the technicians I have had the honor of working with have suffered this very problem. Having worked with many experts in my industry, and watching trends of effectiveness, I have come to a rather mundane conclusion: No one cares how much you know until they see you apply it. Every effective technician I have ever worked with  has been effective in communications with management, no exceptions. Why? the reason is simply that managers are not going to know or care how much you know or can implement until you can translate it into language that will boost their standing with their managers. As a technician, you will not get a chance to show your skills off to management until you  can out yourself in a position to demonstrate your skills-- by effectively showing management that you can perform, and that your performance coupled with technology creates a synergy that boosts the performance of the related groups of stakeholders.
This being said, there is another component of communication that is non-verbal between technology workers and performance-oriented managers: The impact on daily production by routine maintenance, and the impact on production by upgrades or repairs. Here is an example of the maintenance and stability aspect:

Let's say you realize serious performance problems that are only alleviated by defragmenting the filesystem daily. So you go around and every day at 10:00 AM, you pull each user in a department off their computer for two hours to let a full defragment run. This is an absolute disaster. First of all, there are alternatives when configuring disks that can greatly reduce filesystem fragmentation- such as OS, array configuration, data storage location, interface methods, and so on.

In this example, you take production staff down for three hours of an 8-hour day (Everyone ALWAYS takes lunch at noon, right?). Management will realize that there are ways to work around this, first way being correctly scheduling maintenance, and computers can have defragmentations scheduled during non-business hours. Explanation here can go on for some time, so to keep this post interesting, I'll curtail it here. Management will have a significant pain point with this maintenance schedule, not because it is so crazy to have to do this much defragging (remember, management DOES NOT CARE about technical details- they just want it to run smoothly, and to decrease the time frame on the ROI of the technology implementation). This scenario was set up by an IT department that was out of touch with management, and reflects poorly on IT staff. No department manager would ever write anything positive for a LinkedIn recommendation for anyone in an IT department responsible for such an awful scenario. Management loves it when IT keeps technology invisible (except for their blackberries, of course!). Speaking the language of management is vital to success- which is why continuus daily performance must not be impacted by maintenance. Remember, managers hire IT- not the other way around!

The other non-verbal component of communication with Management is how implementations are handled. I recently jumped in to an Exchange 2010 implementation that was on the verge of failure, Though it was too far gone to resuscitate, I successfully handled the damage control. What went wrong with this? It was a fresh install of Server 2008R2, and a fresh install of Exchange on that server, to upgrade from an AD network containing an Exchange 2003 implementation. What happened was that technical staff got their momentum going. The implementation itself was a huge success of technology- everything went so smoothly, and all the mailboxes copied with minimal bad messages and no real errors. The problem was that there was zero communication by the internal staff to the customer base, and as a result, the company's entire sales force was without email for almost three hours in the middle of a workday. In this case, management did not rave about the technical seamlessness of the or how much faster the new server updated Outlook, or the appearance of the OWA- but they did rave about almost half a day's lost productivity (And not in a good way)! If the IT staff involved had told the users to be impacted to expect hours of downtime, and to be sensitive to the users' deadlines, the users would not have had to call the home office to find out what was going on. Indeed, they never would have noticed the transition because it would have occurred during off-hours, and they would have had the URL to OWA a week ahead of time.

Management needs to know that IT values management by the smoothness of implementations, and of maintenance. Backups must be available for immediate retrieval, plus permissions must work transparently. Management is easily pained by issues not resolved with SLA's, and by reoccurring issues.
The last way you must communicate to management is in pictures. Learn how to make attractive Visio's of networks. Don't use connectors- to draw a network, use the Ring Network icon, move all the connectors to the inside and you have a visual platform that represents a network. Every computer on the network can sit on the ring, and you can use the lightning-bolt Comm Link to connect network segments. Make things look pretty and uncluttered, and you have just made the case to do your own implementation of whatever you choose.

If you want to speak IT, you need to learn English according to managers to have a real impact, or else you will always be working for someone who can already do it.