The evolution of the IT performance evaluation

As IT responsibilities evolve, managers strive for better ways to measure techies' contributions.

How many lines of code did you write this quarter? By how many hours (or days or weeks) were you behind in delivering your latest project? Was it over or under budget, and if so, by how much? How quickly were you able to get your last program to testing?

For many years, those were the metrics by which IT employees were judged when their performance reviews rolled around.

These days, IT managers acknowledge that writing fewer lines of code can be more efficient, that longer timelines and bigger budgets can be acceptable if that means getting a project done right the first time, and that moving a program to testing quickly isn't necessarily a sign of a job well done.

What's more, as IT shifts from being a service provider to a strategic business partner, managers are looking for people with different skills than IT workers were expected to have in the past.

"What we value is high performance of our services and strong execution on our projects," says Joel Jacobs, vice president and CIO at The Mitre Corp., a not-for-profit science and engineering organization.

Jacobs is clear about his expectations, and, like other IT leaders, he wants to make sure his IT staffers are meeting those objectives. But what's the best way to determine if that's the case? Gone are the days when technologists were measured on straightforward, quantifiable metrics that reflected a heads-down development focus. But what should replace those metrics?

"We have to decide what we measure, and that's true in any part of the organization, not just IT," Jacobs says.

Mitre is overhauling the way it evaluates its employees, including those in IT. The organization now evaluates the impact of what people produce alongside more traditional measures such as meeting deadlines and staying under budget. "What we're trying to measure is performance against our plans for existing services and new capabilities," Jacobs explains.

Wanted: Better IT Assessment

Throughout IT, managers like Jacobs are wrestling with the question of how to best evaluate tech workers in the face of evolving responsibilities.

Consider the findings of an October 2012 survey of 3,500 IT professionals and leaders by TEKsystems, an IT staffing and consulting firm: Only about half of the respondents in either group said that their supervisors are great at performance management.

Performance management "is definitely challenging, and that's why you see it not happening," says TEKsystems marketing director Rachel Russell.

But any organization that wants to maximize the value of its workers will want to make sure assessments do, indeed, get done, Russell says. Performance management, of which evaluation is an important part, is "basically how an organization leverages people to achieve what it's trying to achieve," she says.

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