11 Ways to Improve your IT Teams Productivity – and my responses

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Over at CIO.Com this morning, there was a great article on 11 Ways to improve your IT Team’s Productivity by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff.  I highly recommend you jump over and read the source article, that way you will understand my additional comments below.

 

1. Set goals — and be “Agile.” – Goals are the key to staff knowing if they are performing to expectations, and being “Agile” as recommended is an excellent way to hit the constantly moving target of IT.  I personally like to work with individuals and Teams to set what I call Short (1-3 months), Medium (3-8 months) and Long term (1 year +) goals.  In some cases, these goals should stand alone, but in many…I like them to build into each other….ie, your Short Term Goal setting up the Medium Goal, which in turn works toward a Long Term Goal.  You also notice, I try to avoid goals in the 9-12 month frame – because it leaves room for project creep and unforeseen circumstances.

2. Communicate goals, expectations and roles from the get-go. Just like setting the goals, being able to communicate them effectively should be the strategy of every manager.  A common way I do this, is after the Goal Setting Meeting, I have the individuals responsible actually write the goal and then submit.  That way, they are framing it in a way they understand.  From there, we can tweek it to meet the over-arching strategy and come together to a mutual agreement.  I also like to set benchmarks that show where they are towards that goal – and (in many cases) make the goals transparent to the team….that way, even individual goals feel like a Team Win.

3. Provide tools and and infrastructure that promote collaboration and efficiency. Tools like Lync, Yammer and Sharepoint are great for this, but be cautious and monitor that to many tools do not become a distraction or a knowledge seive as one group uses one tool and another group prefers another.  Remember, with any tool there will be a Honeymoon phase where everyone will want to use it.  Reevaluate in 1-2 months and see what the real usage is.  If it has reduced to one team or group – its not an effective Collaboration Tool and should be either discarded or investigated further.

4. Streamline workflow — and reduce unnecessary tasks. This is a great thing on my levels of your organization, and I highly recommend the ITIL methodology of Continuous Improvement.  Once you start mapping your processes out and aligning them into the different verticals, you will start to learn how to streamline.   An additional tool I use is Swim lane diagramming in Visio.  From there, you can map the process to defined responsibilities – reducing ambiguity and confusion….thus people are not doing unnecessary tasks.

5. Hold regular team meetings — but beware the excessive meeting trap.   Death by Meeting – We’ve all been there.  But the real question is how to avoid it?  The key IMO is to find the sweet spot in number of attendees, and keep them focused to the real decision makers/influencers.  With regular meetings, you can keep the numbers numbers to key individuals only, keep the meeting short and on target….and always remember – Be On Topic, Be Brilliant and Be Gone.

6. Reduce reporting and don’t micromanage. Nothing can be more motivating than Micromanagement, and it is something I try to avoid. 

7. Provide real-time feedback — both positive and negative. While both of these are true – Managers tend to tout the positive, and not discuss the negative.  I think one of my strengths is, I can have to the tough conversations with individuals.  They are uncomfortable, but when they are over – everyone walks away feeling better and we can go back to business as usual.  This is much more preferred by staff, than letting negative events stew until an annual evaluation – where you blindside an individual.  We as executive must stay out of the ivory tower, and interact with the staff to ensure they know what is going on (both good and bad) at all times.  There is nothing worse than a customer complaining, and them seeing the results going un-addressed for months.  Just like pulling off the Band-Aid, have the tough conversations as quickly as possible.

image8. Turn off distractions. “Meetingless Mondays” is what we call a day where everyone (aside from Managers) is just allowed to do their regular jobs.  No Sprint Planning, no QA meetings, avoid cross team functional meetings and just focus on the core aspect.  Now, unlike the CIO article, we do not turn off IM – because that is an integral part of our communication/collaboration (Remember TOOLS in #3), and much of company is customer facing – so we need to interact.  But that said, formalized meetings are discouraged. 

I would like to expand on another way we, as Managers/Executives, can remove distractions – that is by “Flying Cover”.  Often in IT, we are in Crisis Management Mode.  System A is down, and your Network Admin is trying to bring it back up, but is constantly distracted by someone in Department B contacted him for status.  By funneling crisis points and communication through either a manager (or delegate), you remove those distractions and allow the focus on the important issue…that of fixing the problem.  We do that through defined process and escalation points, set communication goals and single points of contact.

9. Implement a smart pay-for-performance program. I actually chuckled at this one, because at one point in my career I had done this.  Only to realize that IT Staff definitely have a “Gamer” mentality – where, if given a specific set of rules….they will do whatever it takes to “Win”.  In this case, once the team learned that they could directly have an impact on their bonus structure – they immediately attacked all goals and tasks to make sure they met the requirements.  Customer Satisfaction was up and all Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were excellent.  The tripping point for this was, other executives who were unable to motivate their teams to perform as well – thereby looking bad.  One has to be cautious here – as it is a double-edged sword, and while your team may be happy – others might become jealous or angry at your success.

10. Offer development opportunities. I could not agree more.  In our organization – TS/IT tends to be the proving grounds for other departments.  There, they learn our product, operational procedures, organizational structure – we are able to truly gauge their knowledge, skills and abilities.  From there, you know when to give them additional responsibilities and challenges that could lead to them promoting within the team OR moving on to other teams that might be a better fit. 

11. Nourish them. Literally. – Another one you have to be cautious on.  Much like the pay-for-performance program, if you implement this – others will become jealous and it will be expected going forward.  Personally, I steer away from something daily and would suggest something Quarterly….especially if the team is meeting the goals set in Number 1.   And now we have gone full circle.

 

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