An intuitive approach to IT management

A little intuition can go a long way towards making effective decisions

Even when it comes to the most technical of choices (whether it be a new outsourcer or platform), any decision an IT manager makes will contain a mixture of analysis, research and intuition. Tuning in to yourself could seem a little silly at first, but intuition is just as valuable as the latest facts and figures, says Lynn Robinson, a Boston-based "intuitive consultant".

"We're having to use intuition a lot more these days. Research and logic don't always give the right information or offer a decision quickly," Robinson says.

One way to hone your intuition is to note how past gut feelings have come to you or paid off in the past. "Pay attention to how intuition speaks to you. That way, you can be ready for it the next time it happens," says Robinson. However, says Dave Wallace, CIO for the City of Toronto, it's extremely important to operate your intuition on top of a solid base of your experiences and up-to-date knowledge.

"Intuition is now a necessary thinking strategy," says Arupa Tesolin, owner of consultancy Intuita. To gauge where IT intuition fits in, we asked the experts to walk through common IT decisions and identify when to trust your gut and when to take a second look at the facts.

1.Choosing an outsourcer

When it comes to choosing an outsourcing company, Robinson says it pays to plan on a combination of intuition and research. She suggests asking yourself open-ended intuition-based questions, such as "Is this a good company?", and then tuning in to any gut feelings or flashes of insight that occur.

Tesolin offered other questions to consider: 'Are there red flags? Is anything bugging me?' Try to intuitively sense what questions have not been answered. Here, Wallace leans more toward research. "You need detailed analysis. It's not just an all-or-nothing, 'What gaps can I fill?' You need to know what the plan is, what you want to execute, what your architecture is and then work strategically. You need to take your time and not rush into anything."

Haskin agrees: "This decision is much more evaluation-based." He suggests starting from a basis of research (including site visits and reference checks) and then from there, going with your gut about which contenders feel right.

2. Managing IT risks

When it comes to risk management, feelings can taint the proceedings, due to the elements of disaster involved. Robinson suggests noting how one feels about the possibility of risk then continuing through the emotions with logic and analysis to choose the right risk management options. "Look to see which companies have successful track records in this space."

Working through an emotional reaction is key, says Wallace. "You have to be ready for risk," he said. "You need to recognise the changing winds so that you can work through the risk when it happens. You also need to document the situation — it's important, as next time, you will have a set of knowledge you can refer to."

3. Upgrading an IT platform

Extensive research is clearly necessary when making a platform upgrade, said Wallace: "It needs to meet the business needs -- it's something you can't do by gut feel." Intuition can ease deployment pains, however. Instead of concentrating on just the technical aspects of a rollout of a new platform or other major infrastructure change, says Robinson, "you need to think, 'How can we win them over?' Instead of trying to get people to agree with you, see past the project (to the people)." Wallace had a few intuition questions to ask during the planning stage of a platform change. "Is the culture in the degree of accepting change? Is this a good fit? Would people want to innovate on this platform?"

4. Allowing Web 2.0 at work

According to Robinson, the quest for a healthier life/work balance is gaining popularity, especially among the incoming members of the workforce. It makes sense, then, that the connection-based technologies of Web 2.0 are becoming a viable option for the corporate sphere. When it comes to deciding whether bringing them into the enterprise would be a good idea, Robinson suggests pondering each of the various options — from wikis and podcasts to social networking and instant messaging — and seeing which ones have the most energy.

"See what people are enthusiastic about. Boredom can be very draining," she says. She suggests that IT managers hold brainstorming with core team members to see which technologies strike them the best.

When Wallace was working for his previous employer, the Government of Ontario, he said that his team felt that "intuition was telling us that Web 2.0 technologies could have really, really good value." But, he says, it was important to back that gut feeling up with a wiki pilot project. It was a success, he says, and even inspired employees to start using the collaborative features in a program they'd been using before.

5. Buying new software

Searching for new productivity software is something that should be researched, according to Robinson, although staying attuned to one's intuition is key.

"You should take small steps toward it: has it been recommended? Call people about it. Try it on a trial basis. Once you're doing this, you can ask yourself intuitive questions: what do you want the features to look like? How much do you want to make in revenue? What's the best outcome of these actions?" said Robinson. "You look at the future you want and then work your way back." She recommends tapping in to what you don't want to create, and then using that to form the concrete basis of what you do want to achieve.

"This takes a lot of research," Wallace says. "You're going to have to work with this stuff, so you need to run the scenario through." He advocates running pilot projects.

When it comes to productivity software, Tesolin says, you might not need such a rigorous testing period. She says that the growing emphasis on user-centricity and ease-of-use has meant an increased focus by vendors on streamlining their products. "Learning curves are shorter, so it should take less time to get on board. Once you start experimenting with it, your intuition will tell you early on if it feels right, but most of us keep going," says Tesolin.

6. Hiring new staff

Robinson says intuition plays a big part in choosing new IT staff. While hard skills and references are undoubtedly important, she says seeing whether a personality will click with a particular corporate culture is key. One trick she recommends is trying a decision on for size. Pretend that you have just chosen one candidate over the other and note what your immediate reaction is.

Said Wallace: "Based on your intuition, ask yourself 'How well-suited is the candidate to this position'? You have to understand what kind of person you want to bring to this organisation...and make sure that they would be a good fit."

"You're hiring the person, not necessarily the skill-set. You can train people on the skill-sets," Haskin says.

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