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Back when I was a performance analyst, I began getting some oddly technical requests from senior management , literally “out of the blue.”  In one famous case, someone with a fancy title, ESVP or some other interesting combination of letters, demanded that we immediately begin to do “parallel SYSPLEX.”  I had a notion that he didn’t actually know what parallel SYSPLEX meant, so I asked “How much of it should we do?”  He replied, “We’re a bank. Let’s be conservative and do about 10% to start.”  I filed that request under a dump and ignored it.  But it got me wondering – where are these ideas coming from?  It was then I discovered a selection of management magazines, heralding the next new thing for IT, urging managers to get on board.  We were ordered to convert all VSAM files to DB2, to move from the mainframe to UNIX, taking perfectly good CICS systems and moving them all to MRO and more. 

 

These “good ideas” could absorb an army of technicians without necessarily resulting in any business benefit.  It isn’t that any of them were necessarily bad, but you had to be reading more carefully to understand under what circumstances these ideas were warranted and the cost of making those choices.  At the same time, real world issues presented themselves, but to many, it seemed a career-limiting move to focus on those. 

Now, the buzz is cloud and again, it’s not that moving work to the cloud is bad.  But you have to ask first – What problem are you trying to solve and will this be the best way to solve it? The savvy technician – the one who wants to retain his job while still doing the right thing – will take the following steps:

 

  1. Read the magazines.  If you don’t know what your managers are reading, you won’t really understand what is behind the request.  Figure out what the “free lunch” is to them and whether or not your real world works that way.
  2. Develop the right list of questions.  No manager in the world likes being told by his senior technician that he is an idiot.  But if you ask powerful questions, you can work together to understand the real problem and then, derive a good solution.
  3. Understand the business. At the heart of it all is the value the business gets from IT versus the cost.  Powerful arguments, when needed, will always involve framing the issue in terms of business value. 
  4. Be a diplomat.  Diplomacy is the art of letting somebody else have your way.
  5. Be prepared to learn more.
  6. Use this as a solution-buying occasion

Once an idea has been agreed upon, you will quickly find your new challenges require new tools.  If you have done the research and you are ready to implement the new direction, you should know before you start what tools you need so you can manage it.  If you wait, it is much harder to upgrade your toolset.  But in the beginning of a project, it can be readily folded into the cost of the project.  These journals can be your friend, or your enemy.  It’s your choice.  Don’t let a crisis go to waste.