Focus with Management on What is Really Important

Google has been on what senior vice president Alan Eustace called a “fall spring-cleaning.” The company discontinued nine products and Web features, including Aardvark and Google Desktop. These weren’t the first projects the company had axed. The idea was to “make things much simpler for our users” as well as to “devote more resources to high impact products—the ones that improve the lives of billions of people.” In other words, the company was spreading its resources too thinly and needed to focus.

As Eustace wrote, “Technology improves, people’s needs change, some bets pay off and others don’t.” It’s a good lesson for those who have a management information systems degree. Knowing what to do is obviously important. But the key to success is knowing when, why, and where to take action. That is focus. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs knows as much about how important technology can be to people as anyone on the planet. Here’s a talk he gave when he returned to Apple as CEO in the 1990s and had killed off a number of projects. He explained his rationale to developers who had been working either on the projects or creating products and services that depended on them (the interesting part starts about 2 minutes in):

“There were people going off in 18 different directions, doing arguably interesting things in each one of them,” he said. “Good engineers. Lousy managers.” The total was less than the sum of the parts. The company needed to focus, and, as Jobs said, focusing means saying no. In that sense, IT is no different than high tech product management and engineering, except for one thing. There are good and bad ways of saying no.

Too often, IT departments are seen as disagreeable curmudgeons who shoot down every idea. Instead, they have to learn how to say no intelligently and how to get other departments to not just agree, but to fully support them. That means setting priorities with business line managers so that everyone buys into the strategy. You also have to remember that this type of business planning isn’t a once-a-year activity, where you have a meeting and everything is set.

Companies constantly reevaluate their strategies and market conditions. IT must learn to do the same, in conjunction with other departments. Companies, with IT as a responsive guide, can consider what would really make the greatest difference to how they operate. Sometimes what information technology specialists consider an annoyance could be exactly what the company needs.

An IT manager at Intel said that one of the best things the company did for efficiency was to let employees use almost any device they wanted to get their work done. Once the strong priorities are in place, then you work to focus on what will really be a help. There may be other projects that might seem more interesting for the experts, but they can’t come first. Move the company forward and you’ll find that IT — and your career — have a lot more support than ever before.

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