Friday, September 01, 2006


Thoughts on Strong Technical Leadership

There is an important distinction between strong technical leadership and strong IT leadership that folks should amplify...

Over the last couple of months, I have had the privelege of working with a variety of industry analysts on case studies about things me and my peers do well at work. One question that comes up a lot is the size of our IT department which we of course avoid answering as we believe it is a useless metric.

Ignoring any media relations reason for not providing metrics on headcount I figured I should share my own reasons why I never provide them regardless of other policies. Just because someone works in an IT organization, doesn't make them an IT employee.

IT is a discipline and profession not an organization structure alone. Some enterprises choose to have business analysts within IT and some don't. Just because one IT organization chooses one model and folks will otherwise get it twisted if they attempt to compare one company against another in this dimension.

Imagine if upon the next reorg that someone decides that the security guards, the folks in the cafeteria and the cleaning staff should all report to the enterprise architecture team, do they all of a sudden become IT employees? Of course this example is silly at some level but we should apply the same thinking to other roles within an IT organization.

I remember in the Dot Com days a firm named USWeb/CKS who later renamed themselves to MarchFirst who ultimately went out of business. They were filled with art majors who capitalized on the dot com boom and started calling every employee Graphic Architects, Usability Architects, and so on. They knew how to use a computer but didn't really know anything else about IT as a discipline.

For the record, Project Managers within IT organizations are also not IT professionals. Project Management is its own discipline which can be applied to the field of construction, clean up of New Orleans, or making donuts for the school bake sale. Folks who do quality assurance testing from a functional perspective are also not IT employees. Think about all the monkeys on the Internet who beta test poorly thought out web 2.0 sites without even knowing their real role. Did we just make them IT employees?

If enterprises were to expose purist definitions of IT, we would actually see productivity increases. The only roles in IT that are real are: Architects, Developers, Network Engineers, the guys in the data center, helpdesk and systems administration. Everyone else in IT organizations is not an IT employee.

Once we start looking at it in this manner, we would also start to realize the important distinction between strong IT leadership and strong technical leadership...

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