21st Century IS Leadership Part 1

Ghosts Through The Rush

Leadership in the 21st century has been a hot topic for years. It’s a big topic, with a broad swath being covered.  Today let’s focus on IS leadership for the 21st century, specifically those responsible for programmers.

Programmers still exist. Programmers largely aren’t programming games, smart phone applications or best of breed web sites. Most programmers are supporting and upgrading existing business systems. You know, those systems the customer never sees or uses.

Times are moving fast in this world even as the program languages have yet to fully catch up. Gone are the free-wheeling days when users could drop by and ask for a report change and have it before getting back to their desk.  Sarbanes-Oxley took care of that.

On the other hand, the use of spec programmers has gone down as budgets have tightened. IS leadership can no longer afford an extra body that can only heads down code.

Modern IS leadership’s biggest issue: constraints. Budget, paperwork overhead, and an aging workforce.

What hasn’t emerged along with increased constraints are better tools to managed and measure the work. Here’s where we can focus on a bit of what being a 21st century leader entails.

Most leaders are still measuring success by total project hours versus projected. Beginning work now requires paperwork and an hours estimate. Managers compile the projected hours up to a grand total for each programmer and then lay out the plan. This worked well enough in the days when user interaction wasn’t required to move the process along, nor did paperwork time equal programming time.

The factory mindset and approach no longer works. What are those in charge to do now?

Modern leaders must be obstacle removers and overhead reducers. It’s not a role most have adopted.

How about some techniques that help!

  • Centralize the paperwork requirements and make one person responsible – put them on a share drive and designate Tom as the curator. If it’s in that folder, it’s current. This removes the necessity of figuring it out each time a programmer begins work.
  • Centralize time tracking – let the programmer write code and solve problems by making timekeeping a one stop shop.  Use an Access database/app, a web app, or let them turn in time sheets. Apps are best.
  • Don’t ask for daily hours and progress updates – work isn’t linear anymore. If the plan is 8 hours, that’s not equal to one day. Eight hours means eight hours of continuous work. Interruptions for status updates don’t add value. Check the time tracking software.
  • Centralize support functions – don’t share the support line across all the programmers.  Rotate or designate – one person answers the phone and checks the email system. Likewise, appoint someone to track open tickets and help resolve them, regardless of who is assigned the work.
  • Include the programmer early in the project – primary bonus is  getting realistic estimates. Secondary to that is giving the programmer a direct idea of desired outcomes, and the use cases involved. Requirement complexity is greater than ever. Don’t handicap the team.

Sure seems like a lot more than Monday morning team meetings where the manager hands out assignments and shouts, ‘Get to i!’ It is.

I’m blessed to have a manager that’s cozying up to these ideas. He’s become more of a problem solver than a delegator. Oh, there’s more tips I could share, and more concepts to being a 21st century leader, but the ones above are strong building blocks.

What can you do? Go.Educate.Succeed!

Notes: This is week 2 of #usblogs weekly blogging endeavor by the Twitter group, #usguys. The following is taken from Brand Directions #usblogs post.


Monday-Thursday: we all suggest themes for the following week-end; any #usguys member can suggest a theme, to keep the game open to all, not just those who already posted; to suggest, simply send a tweet with the following format: “Theme: xxxxx #usblogs #usguys Please RT to Vote!”

Friday: we’ll pick one theme on a simple popular votes basis – the most retweeted; this ensures themes have broad appeal for both writers and readers – and hopefully enough controversy to stimulate different perspectives and opinions: I’ll be happy to keep track and announce the theme each Friday pm, around 6pm NY time.

Saturday & Sunday: we all write and post on our own blogs…

Before Monday Mid-Day: we all tweet our posts with the #usblogs hashtag, and update our own posts with a round up of all other #usblogs posts.

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