What to do if your IT department is broken?

Firstly, let’s be clear, fixing a broken IT department is not for the faint hearted. You will need a mixture of planning, drive, people skills and luck. Every situation is different but here are some general guidelines that I have used with great success.

1. Get the support from your sponsor at the outset. This is absolutely essential. In effect, this means agreeing a ‘contract’ whereby you agree to turnaround the department in return for getting the necessary resources (provided, of course, that they are reasonable requests). Those resources can be any or all of expenditure, staff, political support or strategic direction.

2. The plan built in your first 30 days needs to identify the major components of your strategy for next 2-3 years so you need to have looked under as many stones as possible. I tend to call this plan the ‘get-well’ plan.

3. Part of the 30 day plan needs to be a honest assessment of the timescales for the turnaround. Generally, it takes 6-9 months to ‘stabilise the patient’ with the following 18-24 months to complete the turnaround and carry out some limited future-proofing.

4. The 30 day plan will evolve over time as actions get completed and new actions get added. However it is a great starting point and I find that I still have a ‘get-well’ plan at the end of the turnaround even though it has none of the original actions on it.

5. The core of the plan and the thinking that goes into it is based on a very simple structure. Look at the People first, then the Processes and finally the Technology. If you have looked at the first two in depth then often there is little that needs to be done in terms of technology. For example, let’s say that an organization is having a problem with its firewalls as they are quite unreliable. The root cause could be that the staff are poorly trained or motivated or that the change management processes are poor, or it could be that the firewalls are old and unreliable. The point is that it is easy to assume that a technical problem requires a technical answer and often it doesn’t.

6. It is important to listen to the staff. You may have seen particular actions work well in other organizations but the staff are usually the closest to the problems and often have some excellent ideas on how to solve them. By considering carefully their ideas, you gain their loyalty and their motivation to make things work.

7. Everyone has their own management style. Mine is what you might call ‘firm but fair’, so I will absolutely drive the teams to hit deadlines but also appreciate when, through no fault of their own, they are unable to deliver bang on time. Generally, if you have a firm word with some one then the word gets around and you don’t need to do it any more. I find that this style binds the staff to me so that we jointly turnaround the department.

8. Finally, I am a fan of tactical outsourcing but usually only where it is difficult to retain staff and the processes are solid. Even then, I tend to keep a mixture of internal and outsourced staff, in order to mitigate any potential risk.

I hope that you found this short article interesting and please feel free to contact me via the Contact Us page (here) if you have any questions.