Monday, October 28, 2013

My lead-manage-do journey

We only have so much time in a given week. How you divide your time is up to you. But where should you provide focus? Lead, manage, or do? The "lead-manage-do" concept helps us to understand the focus we need to put into our work. To be the most successful, one person really should concentrate on (at most) two of the "legs" of this triangle: "lead-manage", "lead-do", or "manage-do". While it's not impossible to do all three at once, doing so reduces focus in your other areas.

I wrote about this topic in September, asking What's your focus? Think of your available time as a "pie," and how you divide your time as "slices" of the pie. That's your time for the week. You can't make the pie any bigger, unless you want to work through the weekend. How do you spend this available time?

I sometimes like to reflect on my own performance, and today I'd like to share my own "journey" of lead-manage-do throughout various points in my career. This is a good way to demonstrate how focus shifts at different levels in an IT organization. People must divide their time differently, focused into specific areas, depending on what is important for their role in the organization.

Here is my journey:

Systems administrator: geographics company
» After my B.S. degree, I worked for a small geographics company. A lot of our business was printing custom maps for very specific uses; banks might use us to create a visual representation of their lending practices (to demonstrate equal lending) or insurance underwriters would ask us to map out certain insurance risks in a particular areas. I'd interned there the previous summer, writing small programs to audit databases, and they remembered me when I graduated. I managed the thirty-something Unix servers and workstations, and helped support the approximately 100 Windows desktops throughout the company.

We always looked for more efficient ways to do things, and for new business opportunities. I remember taking my first step towards leadership, proposing a vision to our vice president: let's take advantage of this new "World Wide Web" thing, set up a web server where people could type in their address, and we'd give them a simple line-drawing map of their neighborhood, indicating other information we could provide them by calling our sales department. Our vice president rejected the idea, claiming "No one wants free maps on the Internet." (Mapquest started offering "free maps on the Internet" the following year, in 1996.)

After about a year, we had some turnover in our department, including my manager. I shifted into a manager role as Associate Manager of IS. But to be honest, I was still just a systems administrator who also managed a very small team; my focus was the "do" of systems administration.

Working manager: law firm
» Eventually, I left that company and joined a small data management company owned by a law firm. We provided computer-based "production & discovery" for lawyers; during a lawsuit, each side needs to "produce" documents that the other side can comb through and "discover" evidence they might use in their case. Normally, this is very paper intensive, but we streamlined that using technology. I was Manager of IT, responsible for a group of IT staff. But as a working manager (the trend at the time), I still took responsibility for systems administration of our fifteen or so Unix servers. I had to balance "manage" with "do."

But again, I occasionally exercised "leadership" by providing a vision for future options in technology. I once shared an idea with our CIO that we could simplify the management of our desktop computers by leveraging "The Web." I proposed that we could move our email systems to use a "webmail" interface (then a new idea) and several of our backoffice applications to web applications. All we'd need to run on the desktop is Microsoft Office and a few other key applications. But the company didn't have the spare funds to make such a conversion. In 1998, the company shut its doors. I moved on.

Manager: OIT Web Team
» I joined the University of Minnesota, managing the Web production team in the Office of Information Technology. We were the folks who migrated new web applications from "development" to "test" and then to "production." Among other things, my team was involved with one of the first web-based course registration systems at the university.

My focus was manager, but I was still a working manager, although less so than at the law firm. I would lend a hand with managing the Unix systems, assisting my team with the day-to-day systems administration tasks. I divided my time between "manage" and "do," with some "lead," but most of my time was now in management.

Manager: Linux and Unix
» After a few years, I moved to a larger role in OIT, managing all Linux and Unix teams. As you might expect, I gave up more of my "do" tasks. I now had several teams of systems administrators, so I didn't need to assist in the day-to-day. To be fair, I did some "do" tasks; I had a user account on a test system, and I occasionally wrote scripts to analyze system performance or do other simple reporting. But my new focus was "manage" with a decreasing "do" and increasing "lead."

I had a few other positions within OIT after that, growing to manage all of the systems administration teams within the Office of Information Technology.

Senior Manager: Operations and Infrastucture
» In 2006, I became Senior Manager for all OIT Operations and Infrastructure. This included all Unix, Windows, and VMWare systems administration teams, as well as system databases, enterprise storage and backup, production automation, disaster recovery planning, desktop support, and similar areas.

In this role, I provided much more leadership: Tracking trends, anticipating future needs, developing vision and strategies to achieve goals, and engaging others. By this time, I consciously tried to exercise "lead-manage-do," putting my focus on "manage-lead." But sometimes "life" got in the way. For example, during a particularly difficult PeopleSoft upgrade, I was called on to help a "SWAT team" fix an enterprise printing issue (I wrote a simple program that acted as a print filter). So as much as I tried to minimize it, I sometimes performed a few "do" tasks.

Director: Information Technology
» Most recently, in 2010, I joined the University of Minnesota Morris as the Director of Information Technology and CIO. We have a small team, but I interact with every aspect of the campus: students, faculty, and staff. Here, my role truly is "lead-manage," dividing my attention about equally between the two areas. There's only a small portion of "do" in collecting data for a report, providing help of a routine nature, developing basic business processes, dealing with day-to-day email and phone calls.

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