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Shedding Light On the Black Art of IT Management 57

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the that-web-fad-will-never-catch-on dept.
Cathy writes "An article by Harvard's Andrew McAfee tells nontechnical managers how not to get overwhelmed by the 'drumbeat' of IT projects. McAfee breaks down IT into three categories — functional, network, and enterprise — and says that this framework 'can also indicate which IT initiatives are going to be relatively easy to implement and on which projects executives should focus. In that light, IT management starts to look less like a black art and more like the work of the executive.'"
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Shedding Light On the Black Art of IT Management

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  • Tunnel Vision (Score:4, Insightful)

    by parvenu74 (310712) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @05:44PM (#16776865)
    The "black" part of the art: the inability of managers to adequately know everything they need to know about the projects for which they are responsible.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Soko (17987)
      The "black" part of the art: the inability of managers to adequately know everything they need to know about the projects for which they are responsible.

      Sure about that? My boss answered your post with "Maybe I'm not the greatest technical mind, but I know what I need to - to trust in the people I hired to do these IT projects, that they'll make sure there's enough return on each dollar spent. Pretty simple."

      One of the reasons I work here.

      Soko
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Heembo (916647)
        Bullshit! Managers need to participate in the design process of IT projects, especially applications that they their departments will be depending on. I hate managers who "iterate with programmers" on an actual application, spiral style - that is SO expensive and less secure (a highly refactored system is less secure that one that was done right the first time) You iterate with design docs, get involved early. Once you (as a manager) have a good design in play, then set your IT people loose. If you do not h
    • by Skadet (528657)
      Oh, I see, inadequacy, inability, and stupidity are the "black" traits, huh? If it weren't for the glass ceiling, we'd learn, too! It's a conspiracy of menthol cigarettes and government-sponsored crack! You racist! I demand an apology and reparations in the form of Apple Cinema Displays!

      Hmmph.
    • Re:Tunnel Vision (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @06:30PM (#16777453)
      Here are the real parts of IT management:

      1) Risk aversion: throw amazing amounts of cash at an external vendor to manage "risk". This way, when something goes wrong, you can point your finger outside of your domain.
      2) Kickbacks: because you are throwing tremendous amounts of money around in step #1, you'll quickly find that the external vendors are willing to throw some back - strictly off the record. They'll also pay for your prostitutes.
      3) Blind decision making: since you've paid external vendors to take on the bulk of the risk, there is little reason for your reward (see: risk/reward). This means that you can NOT delegate decisions to the people who have the knowledge to make them as you would be left to do nothing at all. Instead, subscribe to Gartner. They'll tell you what to do. They'll even tell you what to do after you realize that what they told you before was wrong (see: outsourcing, buy instead of build, etc).

      Rinse and repeat. Posting anonymously for obvious reasons.
  • by Zo0ok (209803)
    I dont think this article says much to the Slashdot audience. It is really targeted at poeple who find IT confusing and needs to get an idea of what it is. It categorises and simplifies - maybe in a useful way for people who need an introduction. But again: not for the slashdot audience. Move on.
    • by mritunjai (518932) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @09:40PM (#16779491) Homepage
      It is really targeted at poeple who find IT confusing and needs to get an idea of what it is. It categorises and simplifies - maybe in a useful way for people who need an introduction. But again: not for the slashdot audience. Move on.

      Read the article again, it's focussed on the non-technical people managing technical people. Yeah, right - one of the "people who find IT confusing" can be YOUR boss tomorrow !! (Surprize!!!!)

      When the sh*t hits the fan, you'd need to know what to point her to, and more-importantly - to know what the hell she's been reading!

      When you need to babysit your boss, every bit of knowledge helps :-)
    • by daHIFI (458710)
      Or maybe for someone who has been a geek for years and is now coming into the business oriented side of things this is a good read.
  • Black Art? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @06:06PM (#16777169)
    Most of the techniques for managing IT Operations have been known for decades. It's just that each generation seems to insist on learning everything the hard way. Believe it or not, the mainframe folks in the 1970s really did know a lot about IT Operations.

    Other than thst, the biggest problem I see today is middle managers on up not bothering to talk to their technical people and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on poorly configured equipment.
    • Re:Black Art? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by itwerx (165526) <itwerx@gmail.com> on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @08:32PM (#16778849) Homepage
      biggest problem I see today is middle managers on up not bothering to talk to their technical people

      Indeed, the whole article scores a giant, "DUH!"
            The real problem with IT project management is that very few people can functionally integrate management/business skills with IT skills. They are fundamentally different ways of thinking and not very many folks are that flexible upstairs.
            So you generally end up with one of two types of project managers, those who can manage but don't know enough about IT to read between the lines and translate a programmer's estimate of 1000 hours into a real world 4000 hours, and those who are ridiculously capable behind the keyboard but can't handle personnel issues worth a damn.
            (Speaking as that very rare third type who IS that flexible and has to deal with the other two types on a daily basis. Sometimes I think I should change my title from "Consultant" to "Bi-directional Tech/Management Translator". :)
    • Re:Black Art? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by asuffield (111848) <asuffield@suffields.me.uk> on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @09:08PM (#16779181)
      It's just that each generation seems to insist on learning everything the hard way.


      "Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn at no other"

      Each generation has far more fools than the previous one. Population expansion and all that. You can spot these people because they never learn from anything other than their own mistakes. Ironically, many of them think that this is a virtue.

      Believe it or not, the mainframe folks in the 1970s really did know a lot about IT Operations.


      In the 1970s, mainframes were hard to work with. You had to be good to get anywhere at all. Nowadays, it is far easier for an idiot to use a computer.

      Oh, and in recorded history, there are no significant instances of people learning from history. That's why it always repeats.
  • by jaypifer (64463) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @06:10PM (#16777233)
    Lucky we have commentary Academe to put us people that actually work in IT onto the proper path. Possibly he would be equally open to our suggestions on how universities should operate.
  • Just stop using the black light and use normal lights. Where IT workers work, it doesn't need to be a dark hole in the wall. That's for cables and switches.
  • by gamer4Life (803857) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @06:26PM (#16777405)
    ...everything I need to know about management from Dilbert.
  • by callistra.moonshadow (956717) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @06:28PM (#16777431) Journal
    A friend recommended it (The Mythical Man Month) to me 10 years ago when I was a Sr. C++ developer at a small start-up. I read it, then later re-read it. Years later, after going over to the "dark side" and becoming a manager I often still quote from that same book after going through things like RUP, Agile, MSF, etc. Everyone puts a new spin on the reality that if you have a project with a manager that is not technical they have to have a VERY strong development lead or they are in deep doo doo.

    In the past some at some companies people could not fathom a good project manager being a good architect. Where I currently work that is not the case. My strong management skills are important, but my technical knowledge is also valued. I have seen change in the industry in this direction. I hope it continues. At the end of the day what was valid over 40 years ago is still valid today.

  • by L4m3rthanyou (1015323) on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @06:41PM (#16777567)
    McAfee breaks down IT into three categories functional, network, and enterprise
    Well, clearly, the quality of McAfee's products demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach.
  • Unfortunately, though I'm sure he's smart and all, it's a little hard for me to take IT Management advice from a guy named McAfee... Ah well, at least it wasn't from Harvard's Peter Norton...

  • Lucky we have commentary Academe to put us people that actually work in IT onto the proper path.

    Hey, someone's got to, and I can count on a very few fingers the number of IT managers I've met who know who Fred Brooks is.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    is broken into a few areas:

    Firefighting - finding those lovely bad caps
    Suspect Web Development - adding spaghetti PHP code
    Trolley pushing - bring out ya dead PCs
  • by SirKron (112214)
    Check out the 20th Anniversary edition [amazon.com], it has four new chapters.
  • by bsd4me (759597)

    I think you are talking about two different things. Personally, I would prefer to be managed by someone who admits that they don't understand all of the details, but instead trusts the team and does a good job of helping them work together to reach the project's goals. It's one thing to understand the long term goals and have an overview of the technology involved, and another thing to stick your nose in because you have some cursory knowledge.

    I think it boils down to the difference between a project ma

  • In the 1970s, mainframes were hard to work with. You had to be good to get anywhere at all. Nowadays, it is far easier for an idiot to use a computer.

    It's not only mainframes were hard to work with, you also have to squeeze out every bit from it and every clock cycle. Today, you can easily add more memory, cpu and disk for almost nothing to any computer. So, a badly written application, sub-optimal system can be made working about right just throwing hardware at it. Something like trashputing instead of

  • A lot of non-IT people have a distorted view that all IT staff fix computers. I know how, but I don't. It's not my job. I *can* get you the data you need to make a sales decision. I can tell you why the query development wrote is broken, and how to fix it so that not only will it make the website work but *faster*. So please don't confuse a DBA with a desktop administrator ;)

    P.S. All of the desktop administrators I have known have been extremely helpful, skilled in multiple areas and far from lazy. Maybe I'
  • Wow! You have some bitterness going on there! I am an IT/IS manager and in many ways I agree with you (minus the venom). IT does exist to support the business and many times IT/IS does get a distorted view. That is a function of Bad IT management. The main thing that separates IT from Electricians and Janitors is that IT can be, and needs to be, used strategically. This is the biggest failing with the article. It needs to be stressed that businesses run on information, and the more efficiently you can handl
  • by shmlco (594907)
    Reread the quote. The guy said he may not be the greatest technical mind, not that he had no experience or knowledge whatsoever.

    And regarding iterative design, part of that process lies in prototyping and getting feedback as soon as possible from the users. The "waterfall" has its share of issues too. Plenty of projects have been designed and designed and designed and then built, only to find out afterwards that none of the users read or understood the hundreds of pages of "specs" and what was built doesn't
  • Dear Sweet $DIETY, I sincerely hope your head doesn't pop-up over a cubicle wall in my building. I recently met a gentleman in a Starbucks, who started a conversation with me regarding IT after seeing my purchases from the adjoining bookstore.
    His philosophy was quite similar; "IT is by no means important, it's just a necessary evil. A means to an end." He then went on about how no one is even truly dependent on IT, computers, or information.
  • by glwtta (532858)
    everything I need to know about management from Dilbert.

    As have many managers... which is why Dilbert exists in the first place... wait, Dilbert is creating some kind of tear in the space-time continuum, isn't it?
  • No, you are not correct. Project manager needs to facilitate the design, they do not have to get involved on the technical level - if they have good people whom they can trust. Project management is not about delivering, it's about managing the delivery. Sometimes it is even a disadvantage to mix these two. You have to draw a line between your responsibilities as a project manager and the team who delivers. Otherwise you can be sidetracked easily - your job is not to deliver 100 % quality at 1000 % the pric
  • ---Posting again, as the previous post seems to have gone to a black hole---

    No, you are not correct. Project manager needs to facilitate the design, they do not have to get involved on the technical level - if they have good people whom they can trust. Project management is not about delivering, it's about managing the delivery. Sometimes it is even a disadvantage to mix these two. You have to draw a line between your responsibilities as a project manager and the team who delivers. Otherwise you can be side
  • You need to change your job, really. You live in a sad world and I would not want to be in your place. Or maybe not you but the moderators who moderated this "Insightful" rather than "Funny". Oh, wait, this is Slashdot.
  • by AK Marc (707885)
    my technical knowledge is also valued.

    Ever hear of the PMP certification? It is handled by the Project Management Institute. They state that it is a necesity that a project manager have technical knowledge. You certainly don't need to be an expert, but if you aren't capable of understanding a detailed progress report, you will be incapable of managing the project.
  • by krico (678909)
    How long did it take until engineering mgmt was not a black art?
  • WTF happened to ITIL?
  • I had the 20th anniversary edition. It will probably be interesting reading.
  • Yeah, I know about it because I've studied for the cert, but haven't taken the exam. Much of what they give you is great for general project management, but even with PMI the methodology is suggested, not something you use 100%. In as far as non-technical managers plenty of places still go that route and end up paying for it in various ways. On the other hand, you can run into situations where the managers may be technical but spend no time doing business analysis. Without understanding the user story a
  • by Tim Browse (9263) on Thursday November 09, 2006 @08:23AM (#16783607)
    "Hello, Meme Police? I'd like to report a spillage."
  • Apparently the moderator has never managed an EPO server or this would be at least a 2. I know what you are saying brother!
  • In Soviet Russia, IT breaks you down.
  • the IT staff would make the decisions and then tell management/sales/paper pushers what they are to do. Judging by the comments on Slashdot over the years, I am not the only ubergeek that thinks the IT people should be the high paid personnel and the management asshats should be the underpaid paper pushers that we all know they are. If I had a company all the managers would have to have undergrad degrees in CS or something before they were allowed to get their MBAs.
  • For most IT projects you could better categorize them as: "decreases costs and adds efficiency to the business", "increases costs and makes things more difficult", and "is huge Enterprise overhead purchased by someone at the CxO level who's clueless."

    Oh wait, that third one falls into the second category, but the magic of "I'm in charge, do what I say" comes into play and suddenly the need to determine whether or not the project is worth the money being spent flys out the window.

    If you work on projects that
  • Spent ages scrolling back to copy McAfee The biggest pain in the a$$ software. The IT field is filled with two types of people, those that know what there doing and those that have been there since 1992 and think they know what they are doing. "He has been here since 1992, John is 67, but will not take retirement, he keeps us all in check and we cannot do anything, he just upgraded us to windows 2000" I have heard that, thats a real sentenance at an interview. The people that hire you are idio

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