No, you can't avoid office politics in IT. Deal with it.

My cheap-o bookshelf is sagging under the weight of numerous IT leadership books: The Real Business of IT, World Class IT, The New CIO Leader, The CIO Edge, and many others.

I'll need to add another one: "Unleashing the Power of IT," by Dan Roberts and the folks at his consulting firm, Ouellette & Associates, which specializes in the "people issues" of IT.

The book covers a lot of important ground, with chapters on topics such as:

  • recruiting & retaining the type of IT/business professionals who have the skills needed for the 21st century
  • evolving IT into the role of business consultant
  • managing vendors, and
  • marketing IT's value

But here I'll focus on two (somewhat random) topics that stuck with me after I put the book down.

IT professionals have to deal with corporate politics -- in fact, they need to embrace it. We've all heard techies say: "Leave me out of the politics. I just want to implement the technology." But that's not a recipe for success. As the book puts it:

"Where there's technology, there's change, and where there's change, there will be people who perceive themselves a winners or losers. That's where politics begin."

The reason for engaging in the politics of IT is that it means a greater chance of a successful project and a successful career. "Career success will come to those who stop blaming politics and start handling them," the book says. Politically savvy project managers can:

  • Get their projects bumped up on the priority list.
  • Cut through red tape.
  • Get management buy-in for their projects.
  • Get more project budget.
  • Get the people they need -- when they need them.
  • Get their ideas heard.

Sounds great! But this doesn't come naturally to IT folks, so the book offers some clues for getting started:

  • Fire up your radar. "Become adept at ferreting out information that lives not in the world of facts but in the hidden world of rumor, innuendo and personal relationships." Understand the factors that influence projects.
  • Determine where the power bases are -- the movers and shakers -- including the people with hidden clout. (Think: Radar on M*A*S*H.)
  • Sort your enemies from your allies. Who stands to win or lose from the project?
  • Predict the political pitfalls -- sort of a risk analysis of the project -- and determine what you can do to head off unfortunate events.

And the second insight I gleaned....

IT departments need to improve the way they write requirements documents for building new systems. Instead of long, indecipherable documents -- which obscure rather than illuminate -- the book calls for short documents that are so incredibly clear that it's impossible to misunderstand the point of each requirement. Quoting from the book:

"The goal is to write a simple document that is clear and concise. It should be easily understood by IT and the business ... with no ambiguity."

The key is using precise language. For example, the book recommends using the word must instead of should. (Using must will flush out the exceptions to the rule. And the exceptions are the killers.) And watch out for that pesky word and. "Try to eliminate any stray ands from your document, because their presence indicates that you've combined two thoughts that should be separate," the book advises.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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