Managing a Growing IT Department

Growing IT DepartmentCan any of you imagine being the CIO of a growing IT department? Maybe you imagine it to be the land of endless candy, rainbows, and pastel glitter. A land where there are no IT budget cuts or hassles getting an additional FTE. Funny though, the grass isn’t always greener in a growing IT department. And by grass I mean the headaches of IT staffing and fighting for funding or the complexities of developing and executing an IT strategy.

Supporting Business Growth

It would be easy to forget that there are plenty of companies and organizations out there enjoying phenomenal business growth right now. For these companies, it doesn’t usually matter so much if you are still in start-up mode or simply growing at a record pace. Business growth puts strain on the IT department and its services.

Business growth requires the IT services to scale to support growing workforce requirements, increased customer base, new business models, and the need to develop new capabilities, such as Website development.

This is not about normal organic growth which is important since the type of growth matters. I am talking about those businesses that sign a new customer and instantly double their business. I am referring to companies with booming business models and products that just catch fire.

Growing IT Department Issues Are Unique

If you are a CIO or director for an established company or organization your world is likely following a fairly predictable trajectory. You probably enjoy operating within a regular business and planning cycle albeit the normal chaos.

Maybe you are stressed by the prospect of more IT budget cuts. But that pales in comparison to the real life IT stress test of a growing IT department that must support a growing business.

Just think about it for a moment. If you could start over and design your IT department from scratch, what would it look like? Would you rely on a completely in house staffing model or some form of hybrid where you use strategic partnerships and some external service providers?

What would your application and technology portfolio look like if you could hit the reset button and start over? Would you build a computer room or data center and purchase everything to be run it in house? Or, would use leverage cloud services where ever possible to avoid capital outlays and accelerate the time-to-value?

This is what makes the situation unique for growing businesses and growing it departments where all decisions are first time decisions. There is no legacy decision to be reversed or questions about the sunk cost of prior investments.

That does not mean each decision won’t be influenced by people’s bias from prior jobs or the safety of a known product. It just means when you start with a blank piece of paper the product selection and IT investment decision can be made more objectively.

It also makes the opportunity costs of every IT investment more real for CIO’s because you see directly the trade-offs of situations like buying an expensive software package versus hiring another sales persons to close more business.

Planning is Crucial

When you find yourself supporting a rapidly growing business or one that is in the early stages of start-up, every decision counts. That is why it is imperative that you have some form of a plan in place to help guide those decisions.

I don’t advise investing a ton of time in a detailed plan or IT strategy in these situations. Instead, it is more important that you nail down the basic tenants of the overall IT strategy, the technology plan and your staffing model that will frame future decisions. Something like the CIO Manifesto I have described earlier.

Cone of Uncertainty

The reason is simple, there is often just too much uncertainty to be able to produce an IT strategy or technology plan with any precision. Since you will also make some bad hiring decisions you will need to address that upfront with a philosophy such as “hire slow, fire fast“.

Let’s face it, you can’t know how many new clients will be signed or if the growth will be sustained. You don’t know if the sales team will have to commit to a capability that you don’t yet support in order to close a deal. You don’t know if you will need to shrink your department or open a four new locations next quarter.

So you have to accept the fact that we all operate within the cone of uncertainty. The issue then is to understand where in the cone you are at. The more certain things are, the more deliberate and planned they can be.

The greater the uncertainty, the more you need to work with developing flexible strategies and options. Just be sure you do have a strategy to manage the growth.

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6 Responses to Managing a Growing IT Department

  1. peterjames says:

    The IT industry needs more resources to fulfill its goal actually a good management with a capable team can make it happen. Nice post with informative content.

  2. Daphine Marcelynas says:

    Hey there! I’ve been following your site for a long time now and finally got the bravery to give you a shout out from Texas! Just wanted to tell you keep up the great work!

  3. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    Thanks for the shout.

  4. Marc Legru says:

    In order to manage this “cone of uncertainty”, I would suggest to the CIO / Manager to :
    – go to the “field”, where the teams are working.
    – ask questions about what are the obstacles that hinder team’s performance, and ask why many times.
    – show respect to people : they can solve their problems by themselves when they are well accompanied and coached
    – make people launch “experiments” : actions to try to solve their problems, one by one. The best is to use the structured problem solving approach PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act)
    – learn from those experiments, both teams and CIO/Managers.

    In a few words, try to use Lean Management applied to IT (Lean IT) !

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  6. The Higher Ed CIO says:

    All good advice Marc

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