Running lean IT environments

In the current economic slowdown, many face a semi burnout feeling as jobs seem less challenged and less changes seem to be happening in the short term.

Here are a few things that I believe will increase the team spirit in an IT environment.

1. Destroy boundaries
My team (systems and applications) and the network team work closely together. In the office, we physically sit in cubicles next to each other. While thinking about tearing the cubicles down for a while already, last week we did it. This increased the “bond” between the teams.
We now see each other, and have a more lively atmosphere. Small things just get done more quickly, and communication (and occasional jokes, of course) improved dramatically.

If you minimize boundaries and distance between people, they just seem to work better with each other, and your team spirit increases. Break down walls, have informal team-meetings, and invite all for lunch together.

2. Create small project teams, and give ownership
Both the network guys and myself came up with a few internal “projects”, under a cleanup program to increase security, visibility and control. When we both started in Nakheel, we inherited a scattered infrastructure and thus we’ll be consolidating and streamlining this to make our operational tasks easier. This big program will have a gazillion sub-tasks, each with its own project manager, or rather, owner. This makes people feel more in control, and have them being more passionate about it.

Let users “own” a certain project or program, and they’ll pour more time into it. Make “empowerment” a value amongst your people, rather than just a fancy word on your core value booklet.

3. Create (relevant) tasks on what people want to do
Turns out that few of the members of my team love to do development. With this, we will be creating (or call it “hacking together”) several systems to make our jobs easier. One of these will be revamping our monirong infrastructure. We might create modules for our current systems, and publish them to the community, or if this is too hard, create our own humble monitoring system, and publish it open source.

Check what employees want to do, build one’s career is equally or often more important than building the company. See what your team members want to, and align accordingly.

4. Conduct internal trainings
With IT budgets altered, as all company budgets, companies often don’t have the luxury of “sending their guys” on external trainings. We’re conducting internal trainings to each other, for two reasons; first obvious reason would be to learn new things, second is to start conversations between teams to understand what each one is doing, and see if there’s room for improvement. An extra pair of eyes is never bad.

5. Ask your users what they want, and deliver it without too much hassle
A typical IT setup is that many tools are bought, without the clear need for it. I usually give a car related analogy, so it’s like buying an turbocharged SUV when you just need to pickup weekly groceries. When a department grows, many layers are introduced, to maximize control and give everybody something to do. This often turns into time consuming processes whereby many projects fail. We try to ask what our users want, assess feasibility and deliver it. You’d be surprised how happy you could make them, working with an agile mindset, and putting your techies with the business.

Just a few things, how we try to run things at our ends. We don’t succeed all the time, since I come from a start-up environment (and God do I miss it), and we just have enterprise boundaries to deal with. But we’re trying, and slowly we’re getting there.






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