So, now that I have pontificated for about 6 weeks on IT organizational structure, I can finally answer the Professor’s question: how do you strategically allocate people to keep normal operations flowing yet still advance strategic IT capabilities that extend the business’ competitive advantage? If you put all your attention on keeping current things from falling apart, the competition will pass you by. If you focus only on the future, the floor will rot out from under you – that was the essense of the conundrum he presented (rephrased in my own words). So: where do you put your best people in order to keep both progressing?
The obvious and over-simplified answer is to balance it out so that they’re spread across the organization. But I contend that beyond being trite, it is also wrong. First, the two areas require different talents, meaning it is not an either-or situation. Second, there are different levels (individual contributors, first-level management, executive direction) that provide more levers to push. I think that the U.S. Navy has long had the general answer to this question.
A ship is run 24 hours a day, separated into watches. Let’s divorce theory from reality for this discussion and say that there are 3 watches, one led by the CO (Captain), one by the XO (first officer), and one by the CDO (command duty officer, which is a rotating role, not a person). Who is on the bridge with the captain? The weakest, newest officers being evaluated or trained into the positions. Who is on with the weakest of the three commanding officers? The best officers for each position – specifically to cover the weakness of the officer commanding the watch. We’ll ignore the mix characteristics for the XO for the time being.
This same model can act as a guide in strategic personnel assignment. In the maintenance role, you want a tactical leader who is a great crisis manager. This role needs little strategic thinking, other than planning for the next crisis. The people they lead need dogged troubleshooting skills and deep knowledge of how things work, but they do not need to be the “best and the brightest.” The senior leadership of this group performs mostly an administrative role. Of the three levels (IC, mid-management, executive), the maintenance/operations group needs the mid-management to be its strongest link.
The development organization, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. The individual contributors need to be independent and creative, the best and the brightest. Mid-managers in development often only need resource-management or administrative skills – if the individual contributors are as strong as they should be. The executive level needs strong vision and inspiration ability. In this case, the stronger people are in the Individual contributor and Executive positions, while mid-management can be weaker.
Those who show strong management potential might be promoted into mid-management of the maintenance organization where they gain knowledge of how the business works, how important it is that things keep operating, and how to deal with high-stress situations. Managers from the maintenance side of the house can make good candidates for the executive core of the development organization because they now understand more of how the whole business works and what they need to work better.
As with any organization, there is no one cookie-cutter approach that works all the time. What I describe here works when the IT organization is structured as I described in the past several articles. The same kind of thinking (why you need strength at different levels) applied to IT Organizations with different structures and strengths will lead to an optimal layering of talent for that specific organization.
Tell us all how your organization focuses its technical talent to achieve organizational objectives. Have you seen models that work better?