The Business of IT Blog

IT Management: The Beginners Guide

Joe Roush
5 minute read
Joe Roush

Congratulations, you have been hired into your first IT Managers role! Now what? Most people in IT management roles have come up through the ranks in one of the technical teams. Oftentimes, individuals with exceptionally strong technical skills eventually end up in an IT management role. However, the transition from technical staff to management is one of the toughest transitions for IT professionals.

Always Make Time to Invest in Yourself

New managers often feel overwhelmed with their new responsibilities. The single most important thing you can do as a manager is continually invest in yourself. Read management books. Seek out professional development opportunities. Ask for funding to go to conferences. Even writing helps. I have found that the best way to increase you (and you teams) productivity is to keep learning.

Servers are Measured in Downtime, Managers Aren’t.

One of the most important measures of performance for an engineer is server (or application) uptime. That is why we spend time analyzing changes and test before moving to production. As a manager, its ok to try things out. Its ok to fail (small). You don’t have to analyze every aspect of a management concept before trying things out on your team. I’ve seen managers hesitate to have one-on-one meetings with team members because they “were still studying how to run an effective 1:1.” The only thing worse than a manager who makes bad decisions, is a manager who makes no decisions. When trying out new concepts, its ok to learn along the way. Ask your staff for feedback, listen to their suggestions and never stop experimenting.

Learn to Say “yes” the Right Way

No IT manager ever said, “I have enough resources to accomplish all of the goals of the organization.” However, you don’t want to be known as the IT manager who says “no” to projects all the time. As a manager, you need to understand the capacity of your current team and be confident enough to ask for additional resources when it makes sense. Your business leadership won’t respond well to you turning down a project request if you say “no, I don’t have enough resources.” However, if you say, “that is a great opportunity for us, and I’m excited to get going. To be successful I’ll need and investment in “x”. This allows the business to say “yes it’s worth the investment,” or “no its not.”

Become a Rock Star Project Manager

No one ever received a giant bonus because they kept the lights on. New organizational benefits are delivered by IT to the organization through new projects. Projects also represent a large financial risk to the organization. If you are known as the IT manager who delivers projects on time, within budget, that deliver the desired outcomes, you will never have trouble getting what you need. Furthermore, your IT organization will be viewed as an asset to the organization rather than a liability or cost center that can be cut when times are tough.

The Transition (People and Technology)

As a technologist your value to the organization comes from your in-depth knowledge of all things technical in your field. The more you learn, and your skills grow the more valuable you become and the more technical responsibility you will be given. This all significantly changes when you become a manager.

As an IT manager, you are responsible for the results of whatever technical team or individual you are responsible for. No longer will the acquisition of new technical knowledge, provide the benefit it once did. Instead, you must look at skills of the team, determine what is needed, and who is in the best position to acquire additional skills.

Strategy and Goal Alignment

This is probably the most difficult aspect of IT management. Instead of all your focus being on server capacity or quality code, you must now look at how those technical solutions benefit the organization. Senior leadership will expect this of you now as well. You’ll need to learn to speak in terms of organizational benefit. You’ll have to learn to describe IT investments as improving organizational capabilities. Rather than saying “we need to invest in generation 8 servers because our current G6 servers use an old architecture that doesn’t support more than 256Gb of ram in our virtualization environment.” You need to be able to say “we need to make an investment in our servers because our current capacity only allows x number of customers to do y. With this investment we can increase the number of customers by z”

Build Vendor Relationships

This was a hard lesson for me to learn. I always kept my distance from vendors and had operated with an attitude of “don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Believe it or not, most vendors really do want to help you. There are always a few out there that are only interested in making a sale. However, most of them truly believe that their solutions will help make your organization more successful. Let your vendors know what technology problems you’re struggling with. Listen to their solutions and make your own judgment call about their proposals. Sometimes they’ll get it wrong, but more often than not, your vendors can really help you out.

Vendors appreciate being partners with you also. If you only call them when you have a problem, they’ll do what they can to help, (and probably maximize their profit). However, if they view your relationship as a partnership, they are often willing to grant favors when you are in a pinch. They are also more willing to let you have input on new products or participate in beta testing.

Listen, The Answer is in the Room

As a technician or engineer, you are expected to have all the answers for the technology you support. Many new managers believe that they must have all the answers. When this happens, new managers will feel overloaded and stressed out. Managers aren’t responsible for having all of the answers. They are responsible for delivering results. If you could come up with all of the answers you wouldn’t need staff. Leverage their knowledge. Ask them to solve problems. You’ll be less stressed out, and your team will see that you value their input.

Don’t Overlook Problem Employees

This is one of the most devastating things to teams. You got your management job because you were viewed as a leader, so don’t be afraid to lead. Just because the previous supervisor didn’t deal with poor performing staff, it doesn’t mean you should do the same. However, oftentimes for new managers this is one of the most difficult things to do. Since many new managers are still building their confidence they often ask the question “are they really a problem” or say “he’s not THAT bad.” My litmus test has always been, would I expect my boss to allow that from me? If the answer is no, then its definitely time to deal with whatever is going on.

Additional Readings

IT Management Mistakes:
Beginners guide to IT Infrastructure management:
Lessons for first time managers
Things for your first management job
Things every new manager should do
New manager mistakes
The Effective Manager
The Effective Executive

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These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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About the author

Joe Roush

Joe Roush

Joe Roush has managed information technology in a variety of roles in several different industries. After getting his start managing systems migrations in Banking and Manufacturing, he has spent the past 15 years providing IT services to small government and education. Joe currently serves as a senior IT leader in higher education, specializing in IT strategy and helping organizations understand the value of technology infrastructure in delivering organizational results.