IT Profiles: The IT Manager

by | March 31, 2009

The day in the life of an IT manager entails everything from the banal to the hilarious. On the surface, an IT manager's day may seem to be no different than any corporate manager's. Looking deeper, however, a day in IT management offers one unique challenge after another. After all, the IT manager makes sure that the myriad of people in technology, the corporate departments, and the company think tanks work smoothly together.

Ingrid Johanns is the IT manager who standardizes all of Chevron-Texaco's web sites. Her main duties are ones that most IT managers must perform: standardizing technology, managing teams of techies, and being the voice between technology and business. Her day is typical of an effective manager's.

Event for event, Johanns' day does not make IT management look unique or special. "Well, I don't think my day is very interesting," says Johanns. "It's like, write email, check email, get on the phone, call people, walk around, walk to a meeting, have a meeting." But each of those events is actually surrounded by decisions, dilemmas, and the need for ingenuity that characterizes an expanding technology field.

"Get on the phone, call people"

Johanns' task to standardize Chevron-Texaco's entire web site is as typical and demanding as it gets for managers. Chevron-Texaco is a worldwide, non-IT company that recently merged. Its IT departments are spread across the globe.

"Part of it is, I have to find where all the web people are in the company," says Johanns. "It's almost the same thing as saying, 'I'm going to standardize the In-TER-net! Where would I start? Well, I'll start at Yahoo.com, and I'll follow all the links! Hopefully, all the web site owners put their contact information on their sites.' That's the kind of challenge that it is."

That challenge is by no means unique, considering that nine out of ten IT jobs are at non-IT companies. And, since the market is slow for IT consulting of that magnitude, it is often up to managers like Johanns to handle projects like this.

After finding the proper managers and programmers to call, "the next thing is approaching them, and approaching them in the right way," says Johanns. "But not in a too demanding, 'you! You have been spotted on our radar! You must change your web site immediately or we will pull the plug!'"

Finding the right approach may be tricky. "People HATE change. And there are things that aren't very nice about [site-wide] standards; it takes away your freedom."

Thus, Johanns must put the technology people at ease about having to change their web site procedures and methods. Unfortunately, it can be tough defusing resistance to new standards and policies.

"I've gone into meetings where, in the very beginning, arms are crossed," says Johanns. "They're looking at me all nasty, and they're like, 'my boss told me I had to come to this! I'm going to sit here and listen to it, but I'm not going to do ANYTHING! I'm not going to change that web site ever! You're just taking away my freedom and this makes absolutely no sense! This is a big waste of time for the company! Lalalalalalalala!' And I go into a room like that and I'm like oh my god, help me."

Finding the approach means doing more work before the initial meeting. "I go and I gather information from all these people," says Johanns. "I have them fill out a questionnaire, where I say, 'So, what do you like about standards? What don't you like? What are your opinions on this?' I basically poll them, and try to get a psychographics demographic on where they stand in regards to the standards."

So then, the opposition remains against specifics in the policies, not on the IT manager implementing them. "My approach has been to really embrace all the resistance. Instead of resisting the resistance, I go right up to them, and say, 'Thank you! Thank you for the resistance!'"

"But not everybody's going to speak up necessarily," says Johanns. "They might be afraid I'm going to hold it against them. They might be afraid I'll tell their boss, or that I'd say, 'Look! You said you didn't like them! You're fired!'" So Johanns must do more work during the meeting.

"Walk to a meeting, have a meeting"

Once the proper people have been found, approached, polled, and notified of the project, the next step is to lay out the project details in a meeting. "When we get into the session, it's like a three-hour training session about the new standards," says Johanns.

Although going to a meeting may seem ordinary, IT meetings can require more than just explaining details.

"What I do, in the very beginning, is I get them into little groups," says Johanns. "And I have them all talk about what they think of the standards. Basically, I just get them talking with each other and with me not there, either."

Johanns uses this method to get the meeting participants to speak freely about their opinions. "And they're getting their issues out," explains Johanns. "One goal is to just have them voice their issue, and then also to hear what their peers think."

After discussion begins, Johanns begins to visit each small group. "And I talk about their issues. I ask, 'What don't you like about them?'"

Once again, Johanns embraces the resistance. "It does suck if you're a designer and you're used to doing whatever you want," says Johanns. "So I acknowledge their concern, I don't just ignore it. And then I say, 'We're going to talk about that actually.' And then I go through the presentation."

Johanns claims that acknowledgement is key. "The philosophy of being really open to criticism to the standards, and being open to people not liking it, it makes the [participants] really open to me."

"I've gone into groups where they're really upset at me at first," describes Johanns. "And then, by the end of the session, they're like, 'Let me show you what I'm working on! What do you think of this?' They're asking my advice! They're, like my friend!"

Of course, those types of meetings require a lot of work and communication. "Very easily, I could've gone in and say, 'Here's the [standardized web page] header and here's the [standardized web page] footer,'" says Johanns. "And I might have reached that 10% who were already on board, and the rest would just ignore me."

"Walk around"

After holding a meeting, Johanns must do more legwork. Not all questions can be answered in a meeting.

"People ask things like, why do we need to use these colors?" says Johanns. "It makes sense that you'd limit the palette, but why was it limited like that? Why that blue, and that red?"

To get the answers, Johanns goes to other offices, like the branding department. There, she asks the same questions that were posed to her. "I'm like, where do these colors come from? Why should we use them? You give me the arguments because I don't know. I have no good response to people who say they don't want to use them."

In an effort to deal with the technology people, Johanns learns more about the corporate side of the company. "I got all this information on how corporations pick colors and how they have to look at what competitors' colors are," says Johanns. "They did do a great job on coming up with what the standards should be. So it's been easy for me to go and look up the reasons for why something is a certain way."

"But, the thing is, just having a high quality product, and having a good business case behind it, does NOT guarantee that it's going to be successful," stresses Johanns. "It's all in the way it's presented and dealt to people."

"Write email, check email"

After getting people on board with the project, and after getting them started on the work, IT managers still have a lot to do in the day. To ensure that IT departments finish their jobs on time, IT managers must continually follow up with their technology people.

"I'm like a helpdesk for standards, making myself available to the technology people so that we can keep in touch," says Johanns. "Because even if the seminar went really great, a couple days later the [technology workers] may get distracted and may not follow through on what they're doing. Or they might get back into their old way of thinking."

As a support person for the company's web standards, Johanns also keeps an eye on the technology. "The other piece is evolving the standards. I discover things that aren't working, or things that need to be tweaked, or changed, like I need to manage that process as well."

Once the technology people are working on the project, and become used to touching base with the manager, the manager's job becomes easier. "I feel like I'm at the point where I've gotten momentum on the project, a lot of web sites are being redone, and I don't see nearly the amount of resistance I did in the beginning about it," says Johanns. "In fact, sometimes my presentation at times seems almost heavy-handed in trying to convince them. Because they're all already here going, 'Yeah, this is a good thing, we're okay.'"

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