IT’S Management Jim, but…

In the esoteric world of IT Service Management, that word ‘management’ is bandied around with such commonality that sometimes, it is misused and its meaning is blurred; technicians are not managers, and processes do not need management.

The word ‘management’ follows the title of almost all ITSM’s conventional processes (release management, problem management etc.). In doing so, may confuse more than enlighten. ITSM – It’s management Jim, but not as we know it.


The whole point of a process is to treat a predicted stream of similar demands in a uniform, repeatable manner. Any decisions that need to be made within the process are ideally built into its design. That way, decisions are converted into routing conventions. “See this incident? If it looks like this, send it to department A, if it looks like that, send it to department B.” One of the key needs for real management – the requirement for decision-making in the face of options – is essentially negated by the use of process.

Yet we persist in using the word ‘management’ in regards to process for what is, essentially, administration. But that’s fine. That’s habit. Experienced managers know that the point of process is to remove chaotic direction changes. Thus, ‘process’ is, in effect, what’s left over when the managers have done their job and departed. The manager then leaves the supervisor to check process adherence.


Noel Bruton - manager or just senior technicianThe problem arises when more people in IT believe the process-management hype, and think that it really is management. The end result may be an IT industry full of supervisors and senior technicians who think they are managers because they don’t know any better. Consequently, although they may be heads of department, and it might say ‘manager’ in their job title, their day-to-day function may contain little if anything that is actually managerial.

Beyond the hype, two further factors exacerbate this. The first is the handing out of job titles. For almost as long as we have been calling bin men “waste removal engineers”, he who they have dubbed ‘manager’ may be little more than the oldest technician in the workgroup. Job titles may be a useful indicator of hierarchical position, but they do not always accurately describe real power or authority, conferred or otherwise.


The second is in the very nature of IT. Ours is essentially a technical industry – it needs technicians. Furthermore, in the corporate services side where ITSM resides, it is typically not a profit centre – it’s a cost. So we tend not to knowingly waste manpower (I say ‘knowingly’ with care – in fact most IT support operations operate with considerable manpower waste, but that’s for another article). We need technicians so we hire them. Then when the time comes for a leader to be appointed, we have little choice but to promote from that pool of technicians. But technician (reactive, diagnostic, conservative, function-centred) is not the same as manager (perspective, analytical, innovative, organisational). Many don’t make the mental shift – which is bad for the company as a whole, let alone for their own staff and the customers of their department. The two jobs are vastly different. Technicians are not managers.

Good Manager

We all know people in senior positions in IT who still keep their technical hand in. It’s part of the wallpaper of IT and always has been. The good manager knows there simply is not time to be a technician as well. There is too much else to deal with. Managers must understand their department’s position as a cog in the company machine and embody the department’s purpose as a consequence of that position. They must also assess the size, nature and diversity of the demands placed on that department and so translate its purpose into appropriately-designed service products. They have to define the skills necessary to produce those products, and ensure those skills are inculcated into the workforce. The manager will convert demand levels to production targets and key performance indicators, so that output requirements can be identified and communicated to the staff. He or she will spot the need to run internal projects to smooth the way and eradicate impediments. Somebody has to adapt industry best practices to the department’s reality. As leader, the manager motivates people toward their own and the department’s success. Meanwhile, with eyes on strategy, the manager develops his own replacement to leave himself freer to fry the bigger, political and organisational fish that inhabit these waters.


In other words, there is a bit more to do than waiting for the next request to drop out of the ITSM system. Too many IT managers simply preside over a department not of their design, but for the success or failure of which they are ultimately responsible. Or worse, they wait for somebody else to tell them what to do. Management is not just about being the boss – it is about the comprehension and definition of demand and the orchestration of resources to meet it. Technicians don’t always get that idea, because it requires a completely different perspective.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged. There are managers out there who know they are not managing as well as they might, and are keen to understand why. Theirs are the pages upon which the future of our industry can be written. I meet them all the time, as they attend my IT technician-to-management training seminars, and they are a joy to the heart. See you at the next seminar.