Nobody really likes the IT Team in any organisation, do they? They get the blame for everything that goes wrong or is delivered late, even on the odd occasion when it isn’t actually their fault. They are universally eyed with suspicion and generally considered to be nothing more than a drain on the resources of the business – a bunch of geeks, only interested in the release of the next version of Angry Birds and intent on creating a cottage industry of bureaucratic, red-tape governance, who have no real knowledge of, or passion for, the business.
To be honest, most of that is pretty fair comment in a lot of cases. But there are some out there who do care about their business and would like to would contribute more but actually find it difficult to find a way to do so whilst buried under a mountain of SQL tables and RAID logs.
An effective way for the common or garden IT-er to advance is to somehow demonstrate that he or she is keen to learn more about the business they are in and does actually possess the passion to step out of the nerdy confines of the PMO or the coding shop. More often than not, of course, the daily grind does not afford them the luxury of doing that.
And so, my IT colleague, you must do it yourself. You must endeavour to regularly PAUSE your working week to take the time out to constructively and actively increase the breadth of your knowledge of your business and its environment. You will be surprised how much more socially acceptable you will start to appear to your colleagues in other teams and, more importantly, be taken seriously if you try out some of the following suggestions.
Time out! – Find a slot in your diary and block it out each and every week for you to step back from your projects and learn new things. If you can only afford a single hour then go for that, but two hours would be much better. Make it the same day and time every week, perhaps coming in a little earlier on Friday mornings, for example, if that’s easier to schedule. And do not let anything get in the way of your ‘me’ time. If you’re lucky enough to have an office with a door, close it! Or book a meeting room and close that door. But, whatever you do, don’t not do it! If you have a regular 5-a-side football or squash game each week, you wouldn’t let anything get in the way of making that appointment, would you? Treat this self-development time slot with exactly the same respect.
Super User – How many Project Managers have you heard say “I don’t need to know the system inside out, it’s not my day job”. No, it isn’t, but just think how much more credibility you would have within the business if you did? How much more authority would you have in the decision-making process if you knew almost as much as your customers did about their own system? Get yourself a login, sit down and play out some business scenarios. Use the time that you would normally spend stalking people on Facebook and LinkedIn. Plus, you won’t have to keep pressing Alt-Tab whenever someone walks past the window.
How the other half live – As well as learning more about some of the systems you have to deal with, try to learn more about the roles that key players in the business have. Ask if you can spend some time with them to understand their key issues and challenges, for example. They will always say they are too busy so maybe bribe them with the offer of a coffee. Don’t pick the CEO either, as he/she will definitely be too busy. The CEO might, however, be prepared to suggest certain individuals with whom you could spend time. If the boss has suggested it, there will be an increased chance that your subject will agree to meet you. It might even save you the price of a coffee, which is not to be sniffed at in this day and age. If you can try to tag along at one of their Operational or Team meetings, though that may prove to be much easier said than done.
Check out the competition – This may sound like a glaringly obvious thing to do but, why not use the time to find out more about the market place in which you operate? Visit your competitors’ websites and see what they are up to and what they offer or Google news articles on them. Take a nosey at your own company’s website. It’s right there, at your fingertips, but I bet you rarely visit. You’ll be surprised what you can learn about the history of your own company. Maybe compare the financial statements of your company and its rivals, if they are available.
Any other business – If the rigorous planning of your PAUSE session has drawn a blank in a particular week, don’t let that discourage you. If all else fails, there must be countless company policy documents that you could read (don’t read about the IT usage policy, or the HR policy on dress-down days, it will only depress you) but your company’s document repository must contain something interesting worth reading? Maybe spend some time looking at that low–priority, negligible benefit item sat right at the bottom of the wish-list that a certain middle manager has had a bee in his bonnet about for months. Nothing may come of it, but he will definitely thank you for having a go and will remember that you at least made the effort. Do not use this time to file emails or do other housekeeping – that is what the days in between Christmas and New Year are for.
“Why did you capitalised the word PAUSE there, Griff?” Because it’s IT, so it’s clearly an acronym. It stands for Practice And Understand Systems & Everything!
“Wow, that’s a bit cheesy and contrived, isn’t it?” Well yes, it is a bit. I think one of those nerds in IT came up with it while we were busy doing some real work.
See you at ‘me’ time – Griff