Whether you are an IT manager or an individual contributor, there’s one thing you can always do to increase the value you provide to your organization, get yourself noticed and increase the likelihood that you’ll get a promotion. It doesn’t matter whether you want to stay technical or move in a managerial direction. It doesn’t matter whether you are just starting your career or are a veteran. At every level of every organization, the ability I’m talking about is always in short supply.
It’s the ability to manage time horizons, to plan your own work and provide direction for others. That might sound like I’m talking about personal time management — managing your own activities to improve your personal output, or the activities and output of people you manage. That’s important, of course, but I’m talking about something more expansive: thinking about the future holistically and using your insights to help select and adapt today’s tactical activities to account for the threats and opportunities you are able to perceive. The greater the breadth of issues you are able to think about and the further into the future you are able to consider, the more value you have.
In other words, organizations always are in need of more and better foresight.
And, your ability to provide and leverage that foresight is a key marker of your maturity and value to an organization.
When you’re just starting out in your career, you’re only expected to be able to see half a day or so into the future, and only about your personal tasks — a short time horizon with little context. But as you gain experience, you should be able to start planning for a few days and eventually weeks or months into the future. And you should also begin to understand how your tasks and products are intertwined with those of other people. You should be able to coordinate interdependencies with your peers and keep them apprised of your progress and setbacks.
Eventually, you should be able to think many months or even years into the future. At that point, you should have both long-term goals and short-term projects that align with those goals and support meeting them.
And at every level, you also have the opportunity to consider more than task-based drivers. The more you are able to consider the context of your work, the more valuable you become. Types of context include:
- Organizational: What changes in structure and/or personnel are likely? Reorgs? Mergers? What can technology do to lower costs?
- Technical: What new technologies can or will affect your organization’s work?
- Competitive: What are your organization’s competitors likely to do that might affect you? New products? Marketing positions? Acquisitions? New entrants into the market? What can technology do to enhance your position?
- Economic: Is a new boom coming that you could take advantage of? Are there signs of a coming downturn? Should the organization invest now or hold back?
- Societal: How are people thinking about technology in general and your technology in particular? Are there opportunities or threats coming in new attitudes and behaviors?
Too often, we in IT consider these sorts of questions to be someone else’s problem. We just want to take requirements and fulfill them. Of course, there are times to do that. But if you want to be more valuable and appreciated, look into the future and use your insights to make choices today that better position you and your organization in the years ahead.
Paul Glen is the co-author of The Geek Leader's Handbook and a principal of Leading Geeks, an education and consulting firm devoted to clarifying the murky world of human emotion for people who gravitate toward concrete thinking. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.