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More Tales of Terrible IT Managers

Management Meltdown

  • January 25, 2011
  • By Carla Schroder
Managing IT staff is crucial to the success of any business, and yet tales of abused IT workers and lousy management are legion. In part 2 of this series readers talk back.
IT Management Fail: Always Blame the Worker Bees, in which I rant at an article that was a paean to terrible managers, struck a chord with readers, who shared some of their own stories:

Management Meltdown

Let me start with a short story about a situation I dealt with this past summer. I flew out to a client site where I found a broken architecture, management with no idea what was wrong while pointing fingers, and a completely dispirited team. After two weeks of taking a look at what was running (and what wasn't) we'd isolated a dozen specific problems with specific workable solutions, and did so using that dispirited team getting excited about fixing stuff and showing up for meetings. Other teams at the client - testing and environment groups - were shocked with the speed we moved as well as how informed and on top of things we were. The two real bad employees were corralled and worked around - the rest lined up and rocked through.

Over the course of two weeks I heard numerous complaints from the management and executive team about the IT team. The majority of which was baseless, and the remainder aimed at the wrong people. In fact the two real problem employees (out of thirteen) were partially championed as hard working saviours - when in fact they were openly sabotaging their own efforts, blaming it on others, and then getting praised for suggesting unworkable solutions.

The management the previous year had worked most of the employees about 3000 hours each (given a typical work year is 2080 minus holiday and vacation, it's fair to say these employees were abused), and to avoid raises and bonuses given them all bad reviews at the beginning of 2010. The implementations in 2009 suffered from bad business requirements and worse deployment scheduling. In short IT and LOB management was largely incompetent and busy driving the company over the cliff.

I changed a lot of the resentment and productivity issues with two simple things. I actually talked to the IT staff. And I brought in doughnuts each Thursday morning.

So when I read your short piece on IT Management Fail, the first thing that came to mind was how poor management teams have become and how frequent very simple efforts are skipped while huge demands and blame are placed on those people who make or break IT solutions. I've dealt with managers who cannot do basic math, cannot schedule activities, cannot read a project plan, cannot outline a strategy, cannot hold a team meeting, cannot balance their budget, cannot document decision criteria nor pros and cons, etc. In fact I seem to make a living off of dealing with bad management teams. Some are so bad, the vendors tell me in confidence that if they could then they would fire the customer.

Yet all the focus is on the system admin who has four server platforms, six appliances, and three domains to manage - with training on two and what he could figure out from reading online documentation for the rest. When you ask those guys what their exit plan is - how they are going to go from working day and night and being woken by pages from their server clusters - you cannot help but notice the senior folks don't know any way to work differently any more. All optimism or thought of rational work situations was burned out of them one lit cigarette applied to their bare flesh at a time. Backups? We can't afford the disk. Redundancy? We can't afford the servers. But here's three more software packages we bought today - figure out what they do, get them installed, and let's try to convince the business team to use them.

Generally speaking IT folks are some of the hardest working people I know that don't pick up bricks and lug them around for ten hours a day. Even when I get calls 6 time zones away, I answer them despite it being 3 AM - and my lady friends look at me like I'm crazy. But for IT folks it's a given that everyone is on call without pay for it. And every rule that's ever been implemented - from travel purchasing to limited administration rights - an IT person has broken to get the job done.

Maybe it's time we ask why managers - with MBAs or supposedly years of quality experience - simply aren't up to the tasks that are required of them. Why can't they manage and manage well?

Indeed. Why can't they? Most of us worker bees have low expectations of MBA weenies, whose biggest success as a group has been selling the myth that a brand-new college graduate has any practical knowledge, and can skip that whole tedious entry-level step and go straight to bossing wise, experienced workers. As a result workers have been suffering from their clumsy inexperience for a couple of decades now.

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