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Six ways to build confidence in your IT team
The importance of the IT function cannot be underestimated: it is increasingly the part of the business that knits together operations, strategy and delivery. A well functioning IT team can mean the difference between success and failure.
For that reason, it is essential that IT teams operate with confidence. They have to know their way around the business, and understand the unique set of drivers that affect the business outside their own function. Equally important, those within the business need to have confidence in IT teams - to deliver what they promise, when they promised it, and at the agreed cost.
For many IT leaders, particularly those in retail, the journey towards a customer-centric, digital future is some way along. However, for others who have previously given little thought to customer experience or consumer engagement, the need to step up their game is becoming urgent."
IT leaders and their teams that are able to work effectively with the other parts of the organisation will be better equipped to help their business. They can be key to decision-making, by providing information that can help drive greater revenue. Those with the skills to harvest and manage data can provide insight to identify areas where costs can be reduced and profitability increased.
For Mark Haggan, Head of IT Projects at Halfords, the issue of confidence is critical.
"At Halfords we believe there are two important issues: how do you build a confident team and how do you have confidence in your team – the two things are very important, and inextricably linked. Ultimately, if they are confident, then your confidence in them will grow.
"So it's been a challenge to build a team to be genuine business partners who can add value to the organization and not just play the role of ‘techy IT guys'. It's simple stuff, but it's important."
In the Halfords philosophy, for these colleagues-cum-business partners to drive better decision-making, it is important to clearly define what they are expected to do. What their responsibilities are. What insights they are expected to deliver (and to whom). Where they should focus their efforts to add the most value; and how their performance is to be assessed?
Answer these questions, Haggan says, and you will have clarity around the role of the IT professional. This must then be communicated to the wider business to ensure expectations are aligned around what these IT ‘business partners' should and should not do.
Haggan says his IT leadership team insists on a number of factors that must be in place before starting any significant project:
1. Get the basics right – deliver on time, stick to the project plan. And it's important that the plan is upfront in everyone's minds all the time and that it not become a piece of paper filed away somewhere. Everyone needs to be on the same page – they need to share the deadlines together.
2. Get the budget right – is everyone clear about the budget? Do they all understand what is expected of them? Battling with finance is no fun, so understanding the bottom line is an IT issue too.
3. Get the scope right – sometimes people get confused with the aims and deliverables of a project. It's a classic situation where something has been delivered and it's exactly what was requested but doesn't fit the brief anymore – so IT leaders need to make sure everyone know what is expected and how it will be delivered
4. Ensure the team understands its purpose – and are delivering against it.
5. Measure the right things – It's easy to track progress or success in the wrong way leading to teams focussing their energy in the wrong place.
6. Develop the correct culture of communication and collaboration – Once the right people are in place, then it's about building a culture of partnerships that deliver long term. And while those partnerships are important it's also critical that they don't become too focused or concentrated on one person. So for example, when you have a project with communication problems, if those outside IT only trust one member of the IT function then you're in trouble. The confidence should come from the office, from the function itself, not just a person who happens to work in it for a while.
For IT leaders who address these issues there's an opportunity for their teams to truly demonstrate how IT adds value. Effective IT business partners not only understand the current needs of the business but also appreciate how needs will change over time. They also recognise the key drivers that determine which activities and outputs create most value.
Ultimately, Haggan believes, the challenge for IT leaders is simple: how to empower their teams to take ownership of projects. "That's not always simple: their track record counts: You'll believe a team if you see them delivering on what they say; but if they constantly get things wrong you can't expect anyone to have confidence in them," he says.
Haggan was speaking at the recent IT Leaders Forum event in Birmingham.
The IT Leaders Forum is supported by Reed Technology Leadership Practice. It was established to allow IT specialists who work within a managerial capacity to develop their knowledge and professional networks. Membership of the forum is controlled to ensure maximum benefit for participants.
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