December 12, 2000, 4:51 PM — JOHN R.'S BOSSES WANT A LOT. They want to have access to trading-oriented
information anytime, anywhere. They want him to build the company's fledgling IT
department and grow its infrastructure. And the CEO wants John to assist him personally
in evaluating potential investment partnerships.
To achieve the first goal of 24-hour access, John's IT group must complete three
strategic projects by the end of the year: link trading and accounting systems, create
a Web-based marketing system and centralize contact databases.
Pulling this off will require that John manage competing demands for his
department's limited resources, finish his projects speedily and remain within budget.
Politically, John must walk a fine line between the conflicting expectations of a
technology-aggressive CEO and a cost-focused company president.
CIO asked veteran IT executive Robert Barrett to talk with John about how to
handle these familiar leadership challenges.
Divide to Survive
John: Bob, my biggest challenge is that this is a small IT shop, but we have
multiple major projects and dozens of smaller distractions to deal with. Not only do I
manage, I also like to get my hands dirty with the technology. I'm also assisting the
CEO in evaluating potential partnerships for our financial deals. So you can understand
how rough it is to stay focused and follow things through because I have all these
responsibilities -- which I want. But I need to learn to manage things differently,
prioritizing and delegating some responsibilities.
Barrett: At every place I've been, one of the first things I've done is
separate day-to-day operations from projects. If operations are broken or someone needs
something, they assume you can drop everything and get to them right away. If you do
that, your projects will never get done.
John: Exactly. Everything is the end of the world.
Barrett: You have only a few people working for you, so it's tough to do it,
but somehow you've got to make that separation -- either divide your people into
support versus projects or somehow divide their time between the two.
It's hard to say on average what amount of time you spend fighting fires. But you
need that benchmark to make your case when you need more people and also to determine
an acceptable level of responsiveness when things are broken. It's nice to be a hero,
to run in and fix things when something's broken, but it's way too easy to lose track
of a project because it's not due for another month.