How IT Managers Can Teach Their Teams to Handle Uncertainty
By Jim Anderson
I wish that I could tell you that there will be no things that happen in your IT manager career that will surprise you. However, both you and I know that that simply is not true. Instead, there is probably going to be a lot of uncertainty. What this means for you as an IT manager is that you are going to have to use your IT manager skills and IT manager training to show your team how best to deal with this uncertainty.
What to do now
As an IT manager, you are probably used to having your team receive requirements from other parts of the company. However, there will always be those times that your company’s senior management announces a major program or initiative that you know will impact your team. However, you won’t be able to start on it until another team provides you with what you need.
When a situation like this happens, uncertainty gets introduced into your team. When will you get your marching orders? How big of an effort is this going to be? When will it be due? These are all valid questions, but they are not going to be answered until that other team gets around to providing you with what you need. When your team finds itself in this situation, the one thing that you don’t want to do is to ignore it or, even worse, do nothing.
What the team needs to be doing instead is getting ready for what you know is coming your way. Every project that your team works on has a set of common components to it. These are the things that you can get set up now. You can pick the team members who will be working on this project. You can also assign roles. Although you don’t know all of the details, based on what you do know your team can probably create a preliminary schedule and then refine it once more information becomes available.
What to do when you have the information
All of this pre-planning will help your team to deal with the uncertainty that they are facing. However, eventually they will be presented with the information that they’ll need in order to start the project. Once the information becomes available, the level of uncertainty will decrease, but it’s not going to go away all together.
What you are going to have to do is to sit down with your team and review the information that the other department has provided you with. The information never seems to be complete enough. One of the first things that the team is going to have to determine is what information is either missing or is incomplete. Once this is known, you’re going to have to reach out and make requests for what you don’t have.
Identify what needs to be done when
A great deal of the uncertainty that your team is going to be living with is going to have to deal with scheduling. What exactly needs to be done when? What deliverables are going to be due in what order and who are they going to be given to? These are all valid questions, but more likely than not you won’t have all of the information that you’ll need.
What this means for your team is that you are going to have to sit down and create a project plan for what you are going to work on, in what sequence you are going to work on it, and to whom you’ll be delivering your results when they become available. In the absence of a plan provided by others, your team’s plan will become the one that everyone else starts to work towards.
What all of this means for you
We live in a world in which we do not control everything that goes on. What this means is that both you and your IT team are going to have to get good at living with uncertainty. As an IT manager in addition to working on IT team building, you are going to have to make the effort to teach your team how to deal with uncertainty.
This means that when you don’t have all of the information that your team is going to need, you need to come up with a plan for what you’ll be doing. Next, once you get the information that you’ve been waiting for, the entire team will need to take action. Finally, when you have less uncertainty you’ll need to make important decisions about what needs to be done and when.
Uncertainty is a part of our modern life. As an IT manager you have to learn how to deal with it and you need to teach your team how to deal with it. The good news is that once you master this skill, you’ll be able to get uncertainty to work for you, not against you.
Jim Anderson has been a product manger at small start-ups as well as at some of the world’s largest IT shops. Dr. Anderson realizes that for a product to be successful, it takes an entire company working together. You can learn more about Dr. Anderson on his website, http://www.TheAccidentalPM.com. You can subscribe to his newsletter here.