The IT Management Hump
IT Departments in fast-growing companies often lack agility due to the sheer demand for service. The companies that defy these odds are the ones that maximize their technology; allowing them to remain competitive at scale and ultimately acquire greater market share during their surge. An IT leader must advocate based on this idea and find ways to align IT investment and business value to make it possible.
With the increasing significance of IT systems as a competitive factor across various industries, large-scale technology projects are becoming more prevalent and impacting multiple aspects of organizations. Consequently, these projects carry the potential risk of detrimental consequences to the company in the event of any errors, which unfortunately occur frequently. Compounding further, continuing to manage support and other day-to-day deliverables while managing other IT growth areas can become increasingly complex, to the point where IT change processes become bureaucratic and ultimately prohibitive due to management structure and IT department capacity.
Maintaining control over multiple teams in an organization with ample resources (multiple managers reporting to a director or CIO) is one thing but trying to manage IT support and projects in a growing company, with only one IT leader, can become incredibly stressful. We call this period of an enterprise’s maturity “The IT Management Hump”. If managed incorrectly, this period presents the highest risk of turnover in IT leadership, which would consequently set the organization’s IT maturity level back and likely incur technical debt. This must be avoided at all costs during a period of growth.
Let’s itemize some risks of trying to manage a growing IT department with just one IT leader:
- They may struggle to manage and fulfill surge work due to resource constraints.
- They may be faced with overbearing responsibility that is not sustainable or scalable.
- If the position has turnover, it will result in a recession of IT operational maturity.
- IT staff will be more prone to corner-cutting and lack of attention to detail due to necessity, incurring technical debt and increasing the chances of an error occurring.
These realities make the idea of outsourcing some aspects of the IT department palatable to some, but other leaders remain hesitant to bring in outside consultants, for many reasons.
Three ways to handle IT demand surges during growth, without outsourcing:
1. Align IT investment and business value to receive approval for a budget increase by managing strategy and stakeholders; continue building out an internal IT department.
Ideal for most IT Managers (and leaders adverse to outsourcing), but likely sadly unrealistic if your org is within a competitive market or has any level of resource constraint. This approach is absolutely the way-to-go if you are certain growth rates are predictable and sustainable but is inefficient if growth stalls during “The IT Management Hump”. Any HR Manager or Accountant will warn you about the risks of pre-emptive hiring practices.
2. Collaborate with contractors and manage them internally.
If you can find the right contractors who are up for the job, this can make a lot of sense… but finding them is more easily said than done and retaining them for prolonged periods can be even harder.
3. Use a strict change procedure and lean on product support.
If your internal IT support team is well-trained and you’re operationally mature enough to follow through on a strict IT change protocol, minimizing IT changes and leaning on product support can be an effective way for support teams to handle issues with certain SaaS applications (and therefor reduce IT surge). While often this isn’t the best-case scenario and will result in mediocre or even poor support levels, it can enable your support team to action more tickets per day by maximizing your vendor support entitlements.
Two ways to handle IT demand surges during growth by leveraging IT outsourcing partnerships.
1. Engage a staffing agency to gain access to extra resources.
The most painful option but can be palatable if you have lots of easy-to-explain, hard-to-mess-up tasks that need to be delegated. Build a short IT temp onboarding program, bring lots of well-written SOPs, and be sure to explain everything thoroughly, and affirm their understanding of your instructions.
2. Hire an IT firm to manage part (or all) of your IT department.
Identify the tasks you frequently find yourself repeating such as backup management, desktop support and identify skillsets you need, but don’t currently have on your internal team. A great IT Director can maximize the value contribution of all IT resources (outsourced and internal) by carefully selecting what services to outsource, and which ones to keep in-house. Analyze the skillsets of all parties and build a strategy that works for everyone. The most important part of succeeding in working with an IT firm is selection.
Not sure how to select an IT firm? Read our related blog here.
The high level of risk during this phase of a company’s growth makes it wise to analyze your strategy and consult with external professionals to accomplish your mission.
Companies usually take the path of least resistance – which tends to be an overworked IT Manager. Understanding these risks, communicating them to stakeholders, and addressing them with a proactive strategy will be key to curbing risk and scaling out of “The IT Management Hump” without incident.