Written for Techrepublic.com

This article is about improving one’s ability to defend his or her point and to argue effectively.

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(Published by The Mark News here)

IT doesn’t have to be so hard. Here are 10 tips on getting the most from your IT department.

Isn’t technology wonderful? My phone has more processing power than an average school board could hope for just 15 years ago. I can stay in touch with the world; I can collaborate and do client work from my boat or a remote shoreline. New technologies become available almost on a daily basis, and even before the iPad was released earlier this month (to a surprisingly positive review from Walt Mossberg), some tablet contenders were quick to identify themselves to the world.

That said, when dealing with their IT departments, even the leading companies are having as many if not more challenges today as they were 10, 15, or 20 years ago. The typical sentiments of business leaders are as follows:

  • “IT is basically a black hole for money” (as one CFO put it to me);
  • “Whenever I want to take advantage of a business opportunity and need to move quickly, I know that IT will be in the way. It makes us uncompetitive”;
  • “They don’t understand the language of business priorities and finance”;
  • “Instead of doing what’s best for the business, they seem to focus on yet another methodology, a fad of the day that has little if any tangible business value”;
  • “IT projects are often misguided and run late and over-budget”;
  • “They hide behind their procedures and processes and are unwilling to make an exception, no matter how urgent.”

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may have reconciled yourself to the belief that this is just the way IT works.

If that’s the case, you’re being shortchanged. In today’s highly competitive environment, you can’t afford a function that underperforms in such a consistent manner. It’s no surprise that organizations across the wide spectrum of industries are outsourcing their IT departments in search of a reliable business partner. Outsourcing is often not the answer to these issues, as much of the valuable tacit knowledge becomes lost in the transition and the projected cost savings may be elusive.

What’s a CEO to do? How do you turn it around? Based on extensive work in this area, here are my top 10 recommendations:

  1. Hire a business-minded CIO who can translate the strategy of your organization into the strategy of her department.
  2. Insist that IT strategy is not merely a list of nebulous intentions but rather a target supported by a list of concrete steps (projects) with concrete timelines and responsibilities.
  3. Demand that IT speak the language of the business. They must be able to present a solid business case and understand key financial metrics (NPV, ROI, etc.) and strategy. They must be intimately familiar with the state of your industry, key pressure points, and emerging priorities.
  4. Encourage the CIO to hire talented, extraordinary people, not just carbon copies of the staff she already has.
  5. Encourage the CIO to become a technology thought-leader within the organization. Charge her with promoting technology skills to improve performance across the board.
  6. Aspire to see your IT grow into an innovation powerhouse. You really don’t want an expensive support department, but a group that propels the business past the competition through the knowledgeable application of technology is an incredibly valuable asset.
  7. Establish a project prioritization mechanism to avoid the confusion of conflicting priorities and turf wars.
  8. Appoint project managers not for the designations, the years in the industry, or the narrow systems knowledge they may boast but for their business acumen and ability to drive the project forward and over the hurdles that will inevitably occur, as well as to synthesize and communicate.
  9. Give your IT business challenges and results, not technical support orders. Instead of “We need to implement a business intelligence solution from X,” ask, “What can we do to ensure that we get our segment sales information in the most expedient, scalable, and timely manner?” If you have tried and the result fell short of your expectations, you don’t have the IT department you need and deserve.
  10. Draw on external experience. Resourcefulness and self-reliance are commendable, but the exclusively internal locus is detrimental. How will the best practices and ideas enter the organization if they are not actively sought out?

If you are an owner or an executive of a business today, you simply cannot afford not to act on sub-par performance. IT can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

A couple of days ago I interviewed Michael Elkins, the President of Kestral Group LLC, a Denver, Colorado-based consulting company that delivers strategic knowledge and content management related services to a global list of clients.

Michael and I discussed the key success factors in knowledge management (KM) initiatives, how to create the culture of knowledge sharing, the typical pitfalls of KM projects, why Schlumberger saw this as an important direction and other like topics.

Mr. Elkins has over 18 years of experience working with organizations in numerous industries to establish successful knowledge-based programs. Prior to founding Kestral Group Mr. Elkins held executive and consulting roles with FileNet Corporation, Convergent Group and Schlumberger, a MAKE award winner, where he honed his skills and delivered KM services for global clients.

His areas of expertise include:
• Social Network Analysis
• Information Architecture / Taxonomy
• Enterprise Content Management and Collaboration
• Compliance

You are about to listen to a recording of my conversation with Douglas Weidner, Chairman of the Knowledge Management Institute (KMI).

Douglas Weidner is a pioneering KM practitioner.  He is a respected KM consultant, columnist, speaker and mentor.  He co-founded the first KM professional society and is a past president of its Washington, DC-based Chapter.

Formerly a Chief Knowledge Engineer at Northrop Grumman. Among his clients are World Bank, the UN, NASA, the World Health Organization and many other government agencies and commercial firms. 

Full Bio (PDF)

Some of the topics we chatted about include:

–         the right place to start a KM initiative

–         how to encourage grassroots projects

–         how to avoid throwing millions of dollars out of the window

–         who should lead KM work at the executive level

–         the future of KM

Tune in !

Roger Martin, Dean of Rotman School of Management is interviewed by Mark Evans, a journalist and a consultant.

Why don’t organizations innovate more? Roger shares his views in this 3-minute clip.

This is a first interview in what promises to be an exciting series of conversations on the subject of Knowledge Management.

Mr. Wahl is the Director of Information Management for Project Performance Corporation (PPC), which has helped over 200 public and private organizations successfully implement portals, content management, collaboration, social computing, and other information management systems.

He has supported a variety of organizations including Pratt & Whitney; Columbia University; the Department of Defense (DoD); the International Monetary Fund; March of Dimes; Rockwell Automation; and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

He also sits on the board of the Washington D.C. based Knowledge Management Institute and is Chair of IIRUSA’s Annual Enterprise Web, Portals, and Collaborative Technologies Conference.

Later this year, I am conducting a webinar on the art of dispute as a part of the Excellence in Leadership series.  If you have ever been in a situation where you knew that your opponent was wrong but couldn’t effectively argue his point of view, you know why this is a highly valuable skill.  This morning, I was jotting down some most salient points for this session and thought that I should share one with you today.

We make decisions on a daily basis, many times a day: how to get to Memphis, what to have for dinner, what to wear, which espresso maker to buy and so on. Similarly in a business settings, people make operating and investment decisions: which project to select, how to enter a new market, who to hire, and so on. Why doing so, in life and in business, decisions are influenced by recommenders – friends, family, experts, employees, superiors, vendors, consultants, and others.

Although not a debate per se, a recommendation is similar to it in that the other party offers an argument to support their point of view. A decision maker listens to recommendations and makes a decision.

Here is my point. Never ever accept a recommendation or an argument that you don’t understand.

I see a lot of people in a lot of organizations all charged with making decisions. It’s a commonplace occurence that they make decisions to the tune of millions of dollars based on recommendations they don’t understand: a financial workup, results of a marketing survey, sales projections, etc. It only so happens that the financial workup contains errors, the methodology behind the marketing survey is flawed and the sales projections are based on best case scenario assumptions.

The resulting decision cannot possibly be sound. The result: wasted resources, lost time, overlooked opportunities.

I think the following is in order when listening to what recommenders have to say:

– if you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation. It is not a weakness but a sign of a confident decision maker

– probe and examine the recommender’s data and assumptions carefully

– understand the recommender’s interests. What do they stand to gain from your following their recommendation? Does it influence their recommendation?

– in cases where you are not in a position to validate an argument (e.g. a financial cost-benefit analysis), ask an authority on the subject to do it for you.

– never let yourself to be forced into the thinking that there is only one alternative to be considered

– think critically and ask critical questions.

In my observation, accepting the argument that is not well understood is even more of a problem in a group setting, such as a meeting. There is an implicit pressure to agree and no one want to look ignorant by asking for an explanation. (Since everyone else is quiet, they MUST understand it. I don’t want to look stupid, so I will pretend that I do too.)

Don’t let this to happen to you. Ask questions, make the right decisions, and thrive!

This is a repost from the same day a year ago. All of these still apply.

1. It is best not to share the project plan with the project team as it leads to unnecessary and usually incredibly stupid questions.

2. Mandate that team members submit task duration estimates as precisely as possible: two decimal digits (e.g. 17.36 days) are usually sufficient but some projects may require three digits.

3. Strive to disperse project team over multiple locations: it greatly reduces the time people waste mindlessly chattering with each other.

4. In this economy, everyone ought to be able to work harder. Schedule tasks based on 10-hour days.

5. Involve the Steering Committee in day-to-day running of the project. They will tell you how much they like it.

6. When briefing the Steering Committee, it’s a good idea to declare all nearly completed tasks as completed. Ninety per cent is awfully close to 100 per cent and the Committee Members will feel encouraged.

7. Try to surprise your Project Sponsor every now and then. Rescheduling the implementation date, firing half of the team or changing the vendor half-way through should all be considered.

8. Status updates clutter mailboxes, so avoid them.

9. Get rid of those team members who disagree with you. You are in charge of a critical project and the last thing you want around is some worm questioning your decisions.

10. Don’t waste any time trying to understand the business domain. It is unimportant and is not your job.

11. A list of typical project risks can be easily obtained on the Internet. Don’t waste precious time developing it; this is merely a formality.

12. Act professionally: don’t engage in unrelated conversations with your staff and certainly avoid socializing with them. It is important to maintain a distance.

13. Information Technology is an exact, predictable field. If your programmers cannot write code without any defects, replace them.

14. To speed up negotiations with vendors, just sign their canned contracts.

15. Details are unimportant; the job of the project manager is the overall supervision.

16. Once the scope of the project is determined, ensure that it is impossible to change it.

17. A lot of people may claim to be project stakeholders. Feel free to ignore those you don’t like.

18. Encourage team members to decide for themselves what their tasks should be.

19. The best way to gauge the skill of a fellow project manager is to ask them about the largest project budget they’ve ever been responsible for.

20. Plan to release the project team on the day of implementation, to save money.

21. (Bonus) Forget that it’s April Fools’ Day and start typing an angry letter to the Editor. Remember that it’s April Fools’ Day when you’re on the third page of it!

Hockey and Canada are two words that go very nicely together. We love the game and some of us are just outright crazy about it.

Here is the proof. According to Canada’s Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium, the men’s gold medal hockey match reached an average audience of 16.6 million viewers, making it the most-watched television broadcast in Canadian history.

Now, bad news. In total, Canadians watched 1.25 billion hours of Olympic coverage on television, with the average viewer watching 38 hours.

The statistics are likely unprecise and the average may not provide the complete picture but the number is stunning nonetheless.

website www.bizvortex.com email ibogorad@bizvortex.com phone (905) 278 4753


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