Listening to My Own Advice

By DANIEL ANTION posted 01-23-2013 07:15


A group of industry mentors is going to meet with the senior MIS class at a Central CT State University tonight to kick off a course that includes their final project. The course is set up with groups of students organized into consulting companies that spend a semester responding to an RFP. Tonight is the first time the mentors get to meet their groups, and it’s a two-part class. During the first 45 minutes, the professor conducts a bidder’s conference, answering questions submitted by the five groups. After that, he wants one of the mentors to lead a session where we share our thoughts with the entire class as to how best approach the course. I was a little slow reading my email last night and by the time I got to that request I had already been volunteered to handle that segment.

The groups spend the semester preparing a proposal and a final presentation, with the goal of becoming the selected vendor. One of the reasons I was volunteered, is because my groups have been selected the two previous times this course has been offered. I don’t really think it was because of my influence, but I did agree to share my opening advice with the whole class. As I sketched this out, I realize that it applies to the IT people who are constantly under attack these days (me included) so here it is for all to see:

You are the experts – My groups often have to be reminded that in this little role-play exercise, they are the experts and that they need to act like experts.  That means using active voice in their reports, leaving our phrases like “we think, we feel, it seems” and taking a few risks when offering recommendations. I don’t advocate bad choices or relying on shaky research, but neither do I advocate playing it safe. The safe choice might be the one everybody understands or wants. Dig below the surface, make the best choice and show the customer why you are the expert.

Communication is essential – One of my previous groups had a close brush with disaster because one of the students didn’t submit his analysis until the last week of the project. Worse yet, his analysis was spot-on, and his ideas changed the course of the group’s recommendations. They managed to beat the deadline, but the product was a bit chaotic. The professor also pointed out that the final report didn’t really line up with an earlier deliverable. Constant communication keeps people in the process and helps them to understand the way a solution evolves. If we are doing something called analysis, then it should be accepted that the final result may evolve slowly and that we don’t know the answers today. That may sound in contrast to “you are the expert” but it’s not. Your expertise means that you are able to perform that analysis, not that you already know every answer. I think this is where IT often gets it wrong, they move too quickly to a solution that they know.

Speak with One Voice – The problem with a group project is that the final report often looks like five reports that were stapled together at the last minute. Someone has to step up and edit the final product and blend five voices into one. In IT, the analogy is that we all have to agree on a strategy that underpins all of our projects. Are we using SharePoint? Are we considering Open Source? Are we supporting client-side scripting? Are we supporting iOS devices? What about Android, what about Microsoft? Where I work, there are only four of us in IT, but we are all reading from the same playbook.

I’m older than you are – OK, this last bit is meant for the students who feel that they can send me an email at 10:30, asking me to review something that is due at midnight. But in reality, this is saying that we need to understand the constraints we have to work with. Whether the issue at hand is the lack of staff, the lack of money, the questionable security of the product(s) being considered or the regulations that have to be complied with, everybody needs to be aware of them at the outset.

After I deliver my message, I am going to invite the other mentors to add their thoughts – payback is sweet. If they offer any nuggets that the IT world can use, I’ll pass them along.

#Collaboration #Expertise #communication #mentoring