Most people in the IT industry are familiar with the trite phrase “people, process, and technology.” There are manifold technology and process standards that enable the IT industry to impact society in profound ways. From government and defense, to medicine, to finance, and to entertainment, no realm of the human experience is unaffected by information technology.
Technology and processes, when properly designed, are based on logical principles, principles mostly unaffected by human emotions, such as commitment and loyalty, or even envy and greed—emotions that motivate human beings. Although technology is created by people and is supported by people for the benefit of human interests, the innate “people” component of technology development and management is many times neglected.
Consider this short business fable: Tim, a talented software development team leader with a driving and sometimes confrontational leadership style, was under pressure from his program manager, James. “I could write you up for insubordination,” James told him. “Your interpretation of the user interface requirements is wrong,” Tim retorted. “I’ve met with the customer and I know what he wants,” Tim continued. “He doesn’t like the mockup. Why won’t you listen?” “I told you to proceed with the approved requirements. You have a very bad attitude,” James said as he stormed away.
The conflict between Tim and James may be related to processes, and technology is certainly involved. However, the solution to their squabble is found in neither the process domain nor the technology domain. This is a people problem, a leadership problem, and the manner in which it is resolved could have profound impact both on their ability to satisfy their customer and on their careers.
IT project managers may manage processes and technologies, but people must be led. The IT industry attracts people who think in logical ways—analytical types who have a propensity to place more emphasis on tasks and technology than on people. This has led to leadership challenges such as poor communication, poor relationship management, and poor stakeholder engagement. Critical IT projects and programs have failed because IT leaders neglect the people component of “people, process, and technology.”
When I transitioned from Air Force active duty to the commercial IT industry around the year 2000, I found that the industry was more interested in my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification than in my leadership experience as an Air Force Communications and Information Systems Officer. Employers were more interested in my ability to solve technical problems than in my ability to lead technical people. I found that many people in IT leadership positions had never been taught how to lead. They were promoted based on their technical abilities and their technical training—training that excluded leadership—yet they were expected to lead. Some had natural leadership abilities, others did not. Some imitated the leadership practices of their previous managers, many times mimicking their dysfunctional leadership behaviors. Many times, this led to poor team performance, high turnover, and troubled or failed projects.
As a geek—a moniker I wear proudly—I have written code, designed and developed databases, and administered systems and networks. As a leader, I have led multi-million- dollar projects and programs. The US Air Force equipped me with world-class technical training as an enlisted Airman and with world-class leadership training as an Air Force officer. I have obtained top-tier IT certifications, such as the (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP®) certification, and top-tier management certifications, such as the Project Management Institute’s Program Management Professional (PgMP®) certification. I am one of the very few people in the world with both of those certifications. During my career of over 31 years, I have made the transition from geek to geek leader, and this book will help other geeks do the same.
I wrote this book to address the leadership issues in the IT industry, to help IT practitioners lead from the lowest level. Unlike other leadership books that provide a one- size-fits-all approach to leadership, this book focuses on the unique challenges that IT practitioners face. It is a book I wish I could have referred to, one that I wish I could have provided as a reference, as I traversed the IT leadership ranks.
Geek leaders are challenged to deliver results in a complex domain that is prone to failed projects, as I discuss in Chapter 1, Initiation. Leading IT personnel and projects is different than leading in, say, civil engineering, as I explain in Chapter 2, Why Geek Leadership Is Different. In Chapter 3, Emotionally Intelligent Communications, I provide an in-depth discussion of the communications cycle and emotional intelligence, providing geek leaders with tools to improve their understanding of others and to help others understand them.
Transforming from a geek to a geek leader requires Self-Leadership, which is the subject of Chapter 4. Geek leaders must also be good followers, and they need to be equipped to assist their team members to be good followers. Chapter 5, Followership, satisfies this requirement. In Chapter 6, Personal Credibility and Leadership, I explain how a geek leader’s ability to navigate disparate social styles leads to greater credibility and influence. In order for leadership to be applied consistently across IT projects and programs within organizations, leadership needs to be integrated into technology development processes and project management standards. Chapter 7, Systems Integration, provides a methodology for performing this integration. Chapters 2 through 7 conclude with practical instruments, such as leadership assessments and checklists, that can assist geeks to assess and improve their leadership abilities. Finally, in Chapter 8, Closeout, I provide a business fable that summarizes the concepts presented in this book.
This is not another vapid and prosaic IT project management book. Business fables such as Tim’s story provide life and context. Personal anecdotes from my career provide real- world experiences. This book is replete with graphics that illustrate and emphasize essential concepts. It covers diverse topics, providing a multifaceted view of geek leadership. For example, you will learn about Bill Gates’s success as a geek and as a leader; you will learn how to use self-talk to grow new neural pathways; you will learn how to read body language; and you will learn how to differentiate between the Driver social style and the Amiable social style. Yes, this book is about IT geek leadership, but it can benefit anyone, including those of you who can relate to Tim, or to James, or to their team members, their non-IT leaders, or their customers.
I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Ginger Levin for this opportunity, and to Mr. John Wyzalek, Ms. Susan Culligan, and the superb team at Taylor and Francis and CRC Press for their hard work and assistance. Because of their influence and hard work, I’m sure you’ll find IT Project Management: A Geek’s Guide to Leadership edifying and enjoyable!
Odenton, MD, May 31, 2016 Byron A. Love, MBA, PgMP®, PMP®, CompTIA Project+, CISSP® Sr. Director, IT Programs, Intrepid Solutions and Services, Inc.
Chairman, Unity Economic Development Corporation