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Ask Slashdot: How Do You Prove an IT Manager Is Incompetent? 331

Posted by samzenpus
from the terrible-bosses dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I have been asked by a medium-sized business to help them come to grips with why their IT group is ineffective, loathed by all other departments, and runs at roughly twice the budget of what the CFO has deemed appropriate for the company's size and industry. After just a little scratching, it has become quite clear that the 'head of IT' has no modern technological skills, and has been parroting what his subordinates have told him without question. (This has led to countless projects that are overly complex, don't function as needed, and are incredibly expensive.) How can one objectively illustrate that a person doesn't have the knowledge sufficient to run a department? The head of IT doesn't necessarily need to know how to write code, so a coding test serves no purpose, but should be able to run a project. Are there objective methods for assessing this ability?"
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Ask Slashdot: How Do You Prove an IT Manager Is Incompetent?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:09AM (#43959803)

    I can't believe you submitted this to Slashdot!

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      Yeah John. Get it through your thick head: You're not going home early on Friday. Now get back to work.
    • by Big Hairy Ian (1155547) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:28AM (#43959929)
      There is nothing to prove as everyone already knows it. The trick is getting senior management to stop ignoring it but that might be tricky as they are probably as incompetent anyway.
      • Why not (Score:3, Interesting)

        by skirmish666 (1287122)
        Suggest an incredibly expensive, complex project that has no benefit to the organisation. Off the record, of course. Let him take _all_ the credit.
      • by jcaplan (56979) on Monday June 10, 2013 @09:05AM (#43961049) Journal
        Everyone already knows it, but they need an outside consultant to say it. That's why you were brought in. Senior management is not ignoring the problems at all. They know that costs are out of line and that there is dissatisfaction. Your job is to carefully document what everyone knows to be true, so they can get rid of the under-performing IT manager. Talk to everyone, compare to industry standards and write it all up in your report.
        • In my own experience, at least, this is a common scenario. Upper management has figured it out, but they need or want an outside stamp of approval to "prove" them right. All the OP really needs to do is (as said above) document the situation and draw the conclusions that senior management wants drawn. (If you think this is intellectually dishonest, you may be right, but you won't last long in the consulting business.)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:42AM (#43960071)

      Dear John,

      If you have been hired as a consultant to fix a companies problems with their IT department and you have to turn to /. for help; Do you really feel that you are in the place to criticize another professionals competency? /Sheldon

  • by Carewolf (581105) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:10AM (#43959805) Homepage

    He is the IT manager because he is incompetent, or possibly incompetent because he is the IT manager. Not sure which comes first but they always follow.

    • Re:Circular logic (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:19AM (#43959859)

      The Peter Principle is a proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, "Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence." In more formal parlance, the effect could be stated as: employees tend to be given more authority until they cannot continue to work competently. It was formulated by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous[1] treatise, which also introduced the "salutary science of hierarchiology".

      The principle holds that in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Eventually they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their "level of incompetence"), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions. Peter's Corollary states that "[i]n time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties"[2] and adds that "work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence." "Managing upward" is the concept of a subordinate finding ways to subtly manipulate his or her superiors in order to prevent them from interfering with the subordinate's productive activity or to generally limit the damage done by the superiors' incompetence.

      This principle can be modeled and has theoretical validity for simulations.[3]

      (wikipedia)

      • Re:Circular logic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by GargamelSpaceman (992546) on Monday June 10, 2013 @08:55AM (#43960927) Homepage Journal

        There's another thing at work in IT, at least, and probably everywhere else: If you spend the effort necessary to be good at your job, you don't spend that effort in getting your next job.

        The most effective way I've noticed to be promoted in IT is to be incompetant at IT, then you spend all your time appearing to be doing something, and you seek the paperwork tasks involving lots of emailing and nagging, and checking off what is done and not done. You always appear more concientious than the guy who ignores emails for an hour so they can code.

        Really any idiot can do this sort of thing, though it is stressfuli - you're lying for a living, and lies breed more lies - it becomes harder and harder to spackle things over so it's good to move around.

        People gain the opportunity to try their hat at faking it ( which is all managers do as they can't really know the details they are in charge of managing ) by fooling someone into thinking they can code ( or do job x ) ( another fake it test ).

        If you don't want a job, just suck at it. If you want a better job fake it till you make it ( which is a certain form of sucking at it ). But accept the fact that you'll be stressed out all the time. It's probably no worse than the alternative because shit rolls downhill, and there's plenty of shit to go around when everyone is an incompetant liar. You're gonna be stressed no matter what. Higher ups are not all Zapp Branigan having let their success go to their heads, ( though some are ). Some of them probably know exactly what they are. Kudos to them.

        • Re:Circular logic (Score:4, Insightful)

          by gbjbaanb (229885) on Monday June 10, 2013 @12:28PM (#43963881)

          na, if you suck at your job but have the right kind of personality, then its easy to succeed [dilbert.com]

          That said, if the boss is failing at running the dept, because he "just parrots what his subordinates tell him", then that suggests the subordinates need to go - if they were competent, they'd be giving him good advice after all.

      • by Synerg1y (2169962)

        Well...

        let me put this in layman's and those who have taken a management course already know this:

        leadership OR management ability has little to do with book smarts.

        Based on the IT budget overflow, the lack of direction, and a lack of conceptual understanding all imply this guy is an inefficient manager, but the other suits don't want to confront him about it because of the possible drama, so they brought in a consultant to say it. Then again, I can fully see the flip-side from the details given and that's

      • by Khopesh (112447) on Monday June 10, 2013 @11:32AM (#43963133) Homepage Journal

        The Peter Principle is a proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability

        Hm, interesting. I like the characterization, and perhaps it explains my current employer's angle on promotions: step one is to excel and display mastery of your current responsibilities (the Peter Principle [wikipedia.org]) while step two is to successfully operate at the level the promotion would award. This is especially useful to the employer in that they have such candidates working (or trying to work) at a higher level than they are paid. I don't think this works without step two.

        It works even better when the promotion comes with a bonus to compensate for the time the worker "should" have been in the new position (so s/he doesn't feel taken advantage of).

        (Interestingly, this step two isn't mentioned on the wikipedia article. Instead, its second corollary, which is basically the beginning of step two, states that training should happen before the promotion. Close, but not necessarily strong enough; knowing duties and being able to satisfactorily perform them are two different things.)

        • by cyberchondriac (456626) on Monday June 10, 2013 @04:11PM (#43966405) Journal

          It works even better when the promotion comes with a bonus to compensate for the time the worker "should" have been in the new position (so s/he doesn't feel taken advantage of).

          Yeah, because this actually happens..
          If you can do the job for less, guess what.. you're stuck there. And most likely, a supervisor is going to pat themselves on the back, and showcase to their superiors their "ability" to get subordinates to do more work for less, as an example of their shining managerial skills and beneficence to the company, and also as a good reason why they (not you) should get a raise.
          I hate to be such a cynic, but I've seen what I've seen.

    • Re:Circular logic (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xest (935314) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:28AM (#43959927)

      It's how you evidence it though, but honestly I think the person posing the question answered it for themselves.

      The IT department is running at double the cost of departments in equivalently sized businesses (and fields?) and that's all the evidence you need. Though if you need other objective methods for things like project delivery then simply ask if they're on time and on budget. If they're not and the justifications he provides as to why don't stack up then that's about as objective you can get in something that is semi-arbitrary in nature like project management. Other things you can measure objectively are number of outstanding support tickets, average response times, that sort of thing - make his support function adhere to a reasonable SLA and if he can't adhere to it look at the reasons why, if it's poor management again then there's some more evidence for you.

      As for what to do, well a few options are common in this scenario:

      1) Sack him.

      2) If you can't sack him right off, reorganise - state that IT isn't performing so the company intends to split IT into two, support and operations or some such. Leave him in charge of one, bring someone in who can do the job, split the budgets taking away most of his and his responsibility to the new guy. In a year or two decide to merge the departments again eliminating one of them and removing redundant posts - guess which ones lose their jobs? the incompetent manager and his incompetent underlings, keep the good ones. Enjoy your shiny new IT department.

      3) If the CEO/directors are part the problem and don't want him to go, quit and go elsewhere. It's no longer your problem.

      Really it depends how much you care, how much the management above him cares, what country you're in and what the employment laws are, and how much of a shit you give about lazy/incompetent people remaining in employment, or at least, under your company's employment. These things are all highly subjective so it's no point listening to me or anyone else on but something you have to figure out for yourself.

      • The objective criteria are already there to evaluate the CTO's performance. If the employment laws allow it, he should be sacked immediately. Otherwise Xest's advice is solid.
      • Re:Circular logic (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 10, 2013 @09:08AM (#43961105)

        The problem with the budget being out of scale for similar size organizations may also be due to what they are producing. I had this same question asked by a friend who wanted me to essentially agree that their Director of Technology was being wasteful and negligent. It took me two seconds to see why their expenses were higher than similar sized IT shops: they were supplying SaaS. The problem was the rest of the company was ignorant of how to properly count costs in the situation. They were simply attempting to sum all expenses and use that total to show the department was too expensive... even though it was also the only production department. They didn't account for the server costs/overhead of having their product as a SaaS vs similar sized development companies that sold prepacked products.

        Realistically it all depends on what field of business they are in, the actual role of IT in said business, and their interior directives.

        • Mode parent up, please.

          A good CTO should be able to explain where the money goes and why, and who are actually reasonably similar-kind and similar-sized organizations. If perceptions about the department are so bad, it could well be because it is woefully under-resourced relative to its charter. How could we know? Perhaps it is well past the time the CTO should take this question head-on, rather than have people snipe behind his or her back?

      • Re:Circular logic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) on Monday June 10, 2013 @09:20AM (#43961257)

        Ehhhhhh, I agree with you, the very fact that the department is obviously dysfunctional is prima-facie evidence of the IT manager's inadequacy. However, in most cases its necessary either politically or legally to have some real concrete data. My advice to the OP would be to recommend the initiation of improved methods. These can be drawn directly from CMM/CMMI principles. In other words recommend the capturing of metrics. If there is a help desk function then recommend the use of a ticketing system. For development projects, etc formal project management should be initiated with concrete deliverables, goals, and measures in place. If and when the incompetent manager cannot manage these functions or the data they return demonstrates where improvements are needed and said manager is incapable of making those improvements then upper management will be in a position to change things.

        Don't suggest sacking people etc. Simply point out where the dept seems to be deficient, problem areas. Relate them to CMM recommended measurement and management processes which are not in place and recommend THOSE measures. Don't make it personal. In fact you should frame the entire thing as simply a management improvement process which will improve the performance of the company. If the existing manager can carry out those improvements and produce good results GREAT! If not then his ultimate departure/lateral movement will be inevitable. If upper management STILL does nothing? Well, that's OK, you are getting paid and you can only lead the horse to the water. Simply make sure you provide everyone with your recommendations and reasoning in a nice report so they won't feel like you didn't earn your pay.

        I'd look at this as a good opportunity. Business management consulting is MUCH more lucrative than low-level tech consulting. If you can actually help these people you can get into a whole area of business that can be quite lucrative and rewarding.

        • by Xest (935314)

          I'll be honest, I've never ever once in my life seen a bad manager turned around into a good manager. I believe you're either a good manager or you're not, and no amount of retraining or whatever can change that because management is almost entirely about attitudes - towards work, towards colleagues, and towards the topic - and it's pretty impossible to change someone's attitude.

          This isn't to say the person is useless, he may be good in a non-managerial role, perhaps for example he's good at writing policy

    • I Don't Get It (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sycodon (149926) on Monday June 10, 2013 @08:00AM (#43960227)

      group is ineffective, loathed by all other departments, and runs at roughly twice the budget of what the CFO has deemed appropriate for the company's size and industry.

      Is this not objective proof that a person doesn't have the knowledge sufficient to run a department?

      • Or that the CFO doesn't have any say.

        Leading to point out the whole company is mismanaged.

        • by hb253 (764272)
          Bingo.
        • by rnturn (11092)

          Or that the CFO isn't terribly good at determining the appropriate level of funding for the IT group. S/he's likely under pressure to cut costs wherever possible and could actually have little to no clue how much money they really should be spending on IT. Does IT report to Finance in this company? (That's never been a good sign in my experience, especially if the company's business is not finance-related. Keep your resume up to date.)

          Failed IT projects are hard to miss, though. A few are probably inevitab

          • I forget the name, there is a corollary to the Peter principle that says (para) 'once someone has reached his level of incompetence, they at some level realize this, so they surround themselves with other incompetents so they can hide in the crowd.'

            Knowing this, the first thing you need to do is identify the 'king' incompetent. If he is above the IT director, then you know you are being asked to sacrifice a scapegoat (the IT manager). If the IT manager is the king idiot then you should expect a bunch of

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        1) Group is ineffective: who says this?
        By what standards? This is the claim that needs to be proven, not the proof
        2) loathed by all other departments:
        well ... IT is often loathed by other departments because they don't want the compromises they have to do to keep IT secure and running smooth. This could be a general atmosphere set by the "scared of thechnology" CFO
        3) runs at roughly twice the budget of what the CFO has deemed appropriate:

    • by puppetman (131489)

      It's easy to make fun of IT managers. At the company I worked at, our last one was pretty bad. He was a terrible coder, couldn't estimate or keep a project on track, made bad technology decisions.

      Our current one is excellent, however. Not sure how technical he is, as he hasn't had time to write code, but he asks us hard questions that challenge assumptions, projects go through the documentation phases that we need (business rules, elaboration, use cases), there is a full project plan that is updated weekly,

  • by geminidomino (614729) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:11AM (#43959811) Journal

    IANAM, but the simple pseudo-code I came up with would probably work.


    for each job responsibility
              if !manager.capable(responsibility) then
                            ++strikes;

    if strikes > threshold
              new CafeteriaCashier(manager);

  • by hsa (598343) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:12AM (#43959813)

    You must be a techie. The coding kind.

    Head of IT doesn't really need to know that much tech. His blind trust in his underlings might be an issue, but lack of technical skills is not really an issue.

    What they lack is manager level (paywise) position for Solution Architect - or just good old fashioned software process, like Scrum .

    • by DavidClarkeHR (2769805) <david.clarke@hrg ... ist.ca minus bsd> on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:17AM (#43959847)

      Head of IT doesn't really need to know that much tech. His blind trust in his underlings might be an issue, but lack of technical skills is not really an issue

      There is a minimum level of IT competency that leads to credibility as an IT manager, however ... actual managerial skills? That's all about goals, deadlines, motivation, people, targets, and deliverables (among other things).

      The most common metric for managers is project completion - not project satisfaction.

      If your manager is consistently meeting their targets and performance objectives, you don't have much recourse - Unless you're at one of the very forward-thinking companies that actually accounts for subordinate satisfaction in managerial performance reviews. Which is unlikely, because even companies that adhere to that philosophy don't generally put it in practice.

      • by RJFerret (1279530)

        ... actual managerial skills? That's all about goals, deadlines, motivation, people, targets, and deliverables (among other things).

        Yes, and the way to "objectively illustrate" that the "head of IT" doesn't have the skills is to let the CFO know that projects are "overly complex, don't function as needed, and are incredibly expensive."

        Oh wait.

    • by Tridus (79566)

      This is what tends to lead to meetings where the head of IT comes in and tells everyone that they're adopting because the sales rep showed him a powerpoint presentation of how it would magically fix everything.

      People acting as managers in a field should have at least a basic understanding of what it is they're in charge of.

      • by Tridus (79566)

        ... that should be "adopting <absurdly expensive corporate software>"

        Sigh, mornings.

    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      Head of IT doesn't really need to know that much tech

      The head of IT certainly needs to know enough tech to know what his people can do and can't do, when they're bullshitting him and when they're telling the truth, what resources he realistically needs, when he needs to bring in an outside contractor and when he doesn't (and how to tell when a contractor is full of shit), and how to set a realistic timetable for a project. If he doesn't know enough of the tech for at least that, all the management skills in the world won't save him.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      "Head of IT doesn't really need to know that much tech. His blind trust in his underlings might be an issue, but lack of technical skills is not really an issue."

      Yeah because proposing projects he read about in CTO magazine and running with them even though they are technically stupid is a good thing?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Head of IT doesn't really need to know that much tech.

      Nonsense. The head of IT has to know tech well. They don't need to know specific equipment, but they cannot function as a check to bullshit if they aren't familiar with the smell.

  • by jabuzz (182671) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:12AM (#43959817) Homepage

    Current incumbent is repeatedly failing. QED. What more do you need to know?

    • by hsa (598343)

      Current incumbent is repeatedly failing. QED. What more do you need to know?

      ..and replacing him with someone who knows all the technologies today will help how?

      The projects are already underway, late and technological decisions have already been made.

      The problem is, he shouldn't have been making these decisions in the first place! They need a technological guru to tell them how to design the architecture, what technologies to use and how to implement this in reasonable time.

      The original manager can still keep his paycheck, make decisions about schedules, go to customers and explain

    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      While I agree the IT manager is failing, it seems that the employees he's managing are also failing by taking advantage of his incompetence. While the IT manager should have enough knowledge to know better, it's the responsibility of his employees to give him the best advice possible for completion of the projects. Perhaps (if he's doing the hiring) his lack of expertise has caused his staff to be incompetent as well, by hiring the wrong people in the first place, or just following the advice of the other
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      he might have a contract. they need a list of dates and items to prove it when they do sack him. bigger companies tend to do this is theyre worried someone might complain and fight the sacking in court.

  • by crafty.munchkin (1220528) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:14AM (#43959825)
    Sounds far better than a couple of managers I've had. One asked for our advice, which we duly gave, and he ignored, going with a contractor's more-expensive and convoluted suggestions every time - he was sideways transferred when it became apparent that he was getting kickbacks from this contractor. The next manager asked us for options, which we duly gave, and a recommendation as to which we thought was best and it's reasons, and so he chose the cheapest each time, regardless of budget... I then left when they gave the control of the IT department to the HR manager, after that IT manager quit.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:14AM (#43959829)

    Take IT out of the equation. How do you prove any department head is incompetent?

    The company should set specific goals for it. If the manager cannot meet them, demote him or let him go. It's really that simple. Be sure to include specific documentation requirements. If this guy or gal has bad project management skills, they won't be able to show what the department is doing. Be clear that things must improve or else. Give them a chance, but be firm.

    You could also enact some form of employee survey in that department. Have folks turn them into HR with no repercussions. Have managers evaluate employees and employees evaluate their managers. This was done at a previous employer of mine and it was annoying to do but it did show upper management there were communication problems and things did improve. No one was fired, but there was significant training done with a few of the managers.

  • Several things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:15AM (#43959833)

    #1 - Figure out what convinced you that the head of IT is the problem. If you're thoroughly convinced, present those reasons to the business. If you have any reservations about your conclusion, then ask yourself if you really should be as convinced as you are about your conclusion.

    #2 - Are you an employee, or a consultant brought in to investigate? Your fear of reprisal might temper how much you say.

    #3 - Consider presenting some solutions at the same time you present your analysis. It might soften the blow. It also might leave a better taste in peoples' mouths if you find some nice things to say about the head/department as well.

    • Re:Several things (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Monday June 10, 2013 @08:30AM (#43960573) Journal

      Figure out what convinced you that the head of IT is the problem.

      runs at roughly twice the budget of what the CFO has deemed appropriate

      Why is the CFO competent about this, but the IT chief isn't? We all know how expectations can easily inflate beyond all reason. I've seen competent people in trouble for failing to accomplish the impossible. A group with unrealistic expectations can burn through a lot of employees, before someone starts thinking that maybe the problem isn't that they can't find any good people, maybe it's them.

      Given the extreme uncertainty in time and resources required for non-trivial software projects, on time (in the information we were given, there was no mention of projects being late) at only twice the estimated costs might be considered fair or even good results. What I've heard is that of all software projects, only 10% are finished on time and within budget. Only 10%! A further 30% are finished, but are late or over budget, or both. About 30% are only partly successful, achieving only some of the goals before being cancelled. The final 30% are total failures, abandoned when it becomes obvious that the plans were at best too ambitious, or at worst completely crazy, being not only utterly unrealistic, but also of no use even if they had been achieved. This last happens when you have managers who prefer hand waving and magical thinking to actual hard work and hard truths. All in all, that's a stunning rate of failure. It seems we ought to be able to do better than that, and I think we will get better. But until we improve, this manager's performance ought to be measured against that standard, not against some opposite expectation that 90% of software projects should succeed.

      And perhaps the rest of the company could use more appreciation of the problems that IT faces. Then instead of being perpetually disappointed in IT, they might have a little more respect. I've seen IT used as the whipping boy, and the handy, go-to excuse for why others couldn't meet their targets. It's IT's fault! They didn't keep our computers running! (Nevermind that we spent hours surfing porn sites with IE 6, infected all our computers, and bogged down our network with gigabytes of video downloads.) If the company has the mentality that IT is a "cost center", and, given what the CFO said, they probably do, IT is at a serious disadvantage.

  • Hire a Consultant (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:16AM (#43959835)

    I expect to be downmodded into oblivion for this, but...

    Your best bet it to hire a management consultant to review the practices of your IT department to see where they are failing and and how to correct it.

    Not only will you receive a (relatively) unbiased review of the state of your IT department from a third party, it will be coming from an outside source, which will give the report more weight with management even if your internal report reaches the same conclusions.

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      "Your best bet it to hire a management consultant to review the practices of your IT department to see where they are failing and and how to correct it."

      Comcast did this. They did not like the answer so they fired the consultant and threw out everything he found and said.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Comcast did this. They did not like the answer so they fired the consultant and threw out everything he found and said.

        Consultant gets paid the same anyway, but in general a consultant will pick up on this and tell you what you want to hear. If you really want honest advice you need to approach them this way. If senior management is part of the problem, then basically you just have to look at it like a paycheck until they change, unless you want to try to organize some kind of shareholder revolt (and those almost never work).

  • Talk with the IT engineers. They know what's happening. If most of them say the head is incompetent, then kick his sorry ass out of the company. Even if they're wrong, it's his job to make them feel "in safe hands". You can't go wrong.

    Otherwise you need to do some serious checking whether:
    1. Your goals were feasible, and
    2. Your budget was adequate

    Hope that helps

  • Dear Slashdot (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tgd (2822) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:18AM (#43959853)

    I've been asked to do something as part of my job, have no idea how to do it, can you help me?

    Sounds to me like the dimwit submitter is just as incompetent at doing what he's been asked to do as the IT manager.

    Which given that and the presupposed IT manager's incompetence suggests its actually the CEO that is the issue at the company.

    B players hire C players.

    • by div_2n (525075)

      If the only people that get hired to do a job are people that have done the job, eventually there will be no one left to hire.

      Not knowing the best approach for a given task doesn't make one incapable or incompetent to the task at hand -- it makes them inexperienced which isn't the same thing.

      Given the nature of this site and the broad experience base of the people that frequent it, this seems like a pretty good place to reach out and create interesting discussion on such a topic.

  • You already listed all the failures of the IT department, recognized from middle management to the CEO. The buck stops at leadership... whether he's the smartest guy on the planet or incompetent, a leadership change seems to be in order.

    Put another way, what will some other gauge of his competence will add to what is known?

  • You answered your question in your question. To wit:

    .... and has been parroting what his subordinates have told him without question.

    In other words, he's not managing.
  • I'm confused. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:22AM (#43959891)

    If it's your job to determine what the problem is, you should already have the skills necessary to thoroughly evaluate the situation and communicate your conclusions. If you've already determined that this person is the problem, what is left to assess? If you don't know how to objectively determine that this person is the problem, how have you concluded that this person is the problem? If you don't know how to evaluate someone's competence and can't explain your conclusions to the people who hired you, how can you be qualified to tell this company what's wrong with the department?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If it's your job to determine what the problem is, you should already have the skills necessary to thoroughly evaluate the situation and communicate your conclusions.

      No, it's not his/her job to determine what the problem is. In these sorts of cases it is comparatively rare that the root problem is unknown. The real problem is the office politics - maybe this useless manager happens to be golf partner with a key shareholder etc. By bringing in a 'consultant' to state the obvious, senior management is given a justification to do what they wanted to do anyway. All they really require is a professional looking document with 'IT capability gaps' included and for it to have b

  • by cdrudge (68377) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:24AM (#43959897) Homepage

    I have been asked by a medium-sized business to help them come to grips with why their IT group is ineffective, loathed by all other departments, and runs at roughly twice the budget of what the CFO has deemed appropriate for the company's size and industry.
    ...
    How can one objectively illustrate that a person doesn't have the knowledge sufficient to run a department?

    If you have to come to Slashdot to ask this question, are you REALLY qualified to help the company come to grips?

    While the 'head of IT' and/or some number of IT staff may indeed ill suited to perform their jobs correctly, if I was involved in the situation even if my job wasn't ultimately affected, I'd be really pissed that my department's direction was changed based on the advice of a 3rd party that had to post an Ask Slashdot.

    • This so sounds like a Dilbert episode. Here we have the useless consultant trying to fire the PHB... Makes me wonder what the IT guy did - upgrade everyone from Celerons running XP straight to surface tablets and Win 8? That would upset the CFO and everybody else in the company that can't find their minesweeper.
  • Return on investment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alen (225700) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:25AM (#43959901)

    Every IT project needs to save the company money in some way and these savings should be easily quantifiable.

    No ROI then no project should be funded
    I have seen geeks fall on love with geeky projects that cost a lot of money, seem to have no end and dont do anything for the organization except to show how busy they are

    • by Todd Knarr (15451)

      Question: what's the ROI on the janitorial staff?

      Second question: how many people would want to work at a company that couldn't keep their restrooms clean and their trash cans emptied?

  • All you can really do is hope that sooner or later his boss puts two and two together. In fact, they may have done in order to bring you on board with the remit you say you have been given. In light of that I supposed you could go through a document each mistake that has caused a project to overrun and hope that he is the common thread that unites all the projects.

    Alternatively you could try getting the department to run within it's budget and force the necessary cuts be made to staff provisioning. This wil

  • by pehrs (690959) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:27AM (#43959917)
    Management consultant does this all the time. It really is a task for somebody focusing on management and organization, not on technology consultant. So call some nice people at a company like Arthur D. Little, McKinsey or similar. Of course, they will charge a lot to sort out this kind of situation.

    If you really want to get into management consulting the easy path is typically to toss out all the value words and feelings you may have about the people involved. Don't even think words like "loathed", "ineffective", "parroting" etc. Instead you go to the hard facts. What is the properties of the department? How does it compare to other similar departments? Do they have procedures and routines? What are they? Do they have qualifications in relevant fields? etc. Don't fall in the trap of trying to pin everything on a single person, as this kind of situation is typically part of the culture of the department. The head of the department is a symptom, not the single cause of it all.

    Also remember, that those that hired you are probably also responsible for hiring that head of department. Calling him incompetent is roughly the same thing as calling the people who hired him incompetent. Not a good way to build professional relationships or helping people.
  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:27AM (#43959919)
    Is the manager's name Jen? Does she say that Googling Google can break the Internet? Does she think that the Internet is housed in a little black box with a red LED on the top?
  • That way everyone share the incompetence :)
  • Don't you have project managers to manage projects? Head of IT in corporate would not normally project manage (unless the IT department isn't very big).
  • "The head of IT doesn't necessarily need to know how to write code, so a coding test serves no purpose, but should be able to run a project. Are there objective methods for assessing this ability?"

    I would expect him to able to solve the Fizzbuzz test and explain what's the difference between a switch and a router or what is a DNS server and understand nested SQL queries. Yes, I know this is a very low bar.

  • on its face (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:34AM (#43959989) Homepage Journal

    How Do You Prove an IT Manager Is Incompetent?

    By his job description.

  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:34AM (#43959991)
    Have you checked out if his team are giving him good info? Do you know he's actually over a reasonable budget, or is this just the CFO's opinion? What are his credentials for saying so? Is he hated because he doesn't know what the hell is going on, or because he constantly says no to unreasonable demands from other departments?

    We have almost no information here for a fully justified and well reasoned response. For all we know he may well have screwed the CxO's daughter at an Xmas party and he's looking for an excuse to fire the guy.

    He either delivers, or he doesn't. If he delivers then he's "Working as intended" and you need to adjust his performance management criteria to better reflect what you need out of him. Hell, he may be working just to fulfil those metrics because they're so out of whack with what he actually is supposed to be doing. My Line Manager almost got me fired because she kept making idiotic decisions without asking for my input, and having to pick up the pieces made me look incompetent. We had a stern chat about "treading on my toes" and she backed off, now we're both less stressful and things work better. Costs less, too.

    I started rambling; Apologies for that. I'm trying to say that you don't sound like you have enough information to make this decision. If you don't know how to get that information, you probably should hand this project on to someone who does. It's what HR department exist for.
  • ...My consulting rates are very reasonable.
  • I had one tell me that ping was too technical and to talk to one of his workers instead.... I was left speechless. Project didn't fare too well.
  • You will probably have to use some kind of technicality to get rid of the IT manager. For my company, it was a combination of things, including the HR manager noticing that the IT manager was only coming into work like 4 hours a day on average (which was used with other circumstantial evidence). However, even after we got rid of that manager, we are still in the process of "hitting rock bottom" as we try to fix years of managing the department like a nation of fiefdoms . . . it is amazing how much damage on
  • by houbou (1097327) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:38AM (#43960027) Journal
    you have the ability to assess and IT Manager, it means you must be able to be one yourself, thus, look at projects and see how they are handled, create your own baseline for each with time/efforts/etc. See, how long it takes and the reasons why and what a manager should do to avoid the pitfalls. That's pretty much your report in a nutshell.
  • Sorry if this is a dup,

    Are there objective methods for assessing this ability?

    Why yes, there are objective methods. Here's what you should look for:

    their IT group is ineffective, loathed by all other departments, and runs at of what the CFO has deemed appropriate

    • by cptdondo (59460)

      Read up on Project Management. You're looking for Scope, Schedule, and Budget, in particular the S curve. You should be able to plot % complete against % spent for a sampling of projects, and demonstrate where the projects went off the rails. Then you can figure out why.

      Usually it's because the scope was not well defined. and thus budget and schedule were not based on a realistic assessment of what it takes to achieve said scope.

      And yes, I provide training for exactly this. A neat little tidbit:

      Q: Of 7

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:43AM (#43960073) Homepage

    I'm someone who's been involved in firing a couple of my immediate supervisors for being morons, and here's some steps that work. For purposes of illustration, the incompetent person will be named "Mr Dunce".
    1. Get to know Mr Dunce's boss. You don't have to be best buddies, but make sure that the people 2 steps above you on the ladder know who you are and respect you. (This is always a good move whether or not you have an incompetent boss, actually.)
    2. Assuming Mr. Dunce isn't getting caught obviously failing, you'll need to create it. A potentially good method: (1) Have a subordinate (or yourself if you are his subordinate) give Dunce slightly vague or incomplete answers to his questions. (2) Prime his boss before a meeting to discuss whatever it is with something like "I'd really like to know what you think - we want to make sure this is well thought-out." (3) In the meeting, Mr Dunce will promptly get peppered with questions that he can't answer with anything other than "err, I'll have to get back to you". (4) After a few rounds of that, information will start going around Dunce rather than through Dunce, because they realize that Dunce is slowing them down. (5) After a while of that, eventually people will start questioning what value Mr Dunce provides to the company.
    3. Be patient about it. Depending on how popular Mr Dunce is, or how much the upper management had invested in Mr Dunce, it could take months to go from step 3 to Dunce being fired or shunted off to a powerless position.

  • by Stolpskott (2422670) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:45AM (#43960099)

    SMART goals (Specific/Measurable/Achievable/Relevant/Time-bound) are typically used when discussing bonuses, but fundamentally they can also form the basis of a review process for somebody's base level ability to do their job, if the company does not have any other metric, which in this case it sounds as though they do not.
    I suspect that the manager has high subordinate satisfaction ratings for the most part, as it seems he acts as nothing more than a mouthpiece for them, meaning they get what they want, while members of other teams do not see the performance issue as that of the IT Manager, but of the team as a whole, because IT is a "black box".
    Depending on the employee rights and the politics of the company, it may be as simple as delivering a fact- and statistics-based report to the boss/board of directors. A complete breakdown of costs for every project and analysis of cost-overruns is probably overkill unless you are a consultant paid by the hour (but if this is the way you go, prepare a 1-2 page summary for presentation to the board, with the full 300 page report available for anyone who wants to read a more in-depth analysis).
    At that point, your job is done. You were hired to produce a report, you have done that. Let them know that you can produce similar reports for other divisions if they want you to, and maybe ask them if their situation can be anonymised and used as a case study for your Management Forensics consultancy if they have the opportunity to review it before you publish the case study. Exit stage left, hopefully not pursued by a bear.
    If you are angling to take over the guy's job, bear in mind that if you have a large part to play in firing a popular boss and then you replace him, you will have an uphill battle getting people on your side. The departure of the boss, and the introduction of business-oriented goals may change the atmosphere of the office... that together with you stepping in after sharpening the knife that killed your predecessor might result in a wave of departures from the team. As the new manager, the drop in productivity will be on you, not your predecessor. so you would need to turn it round quickly. All-in-all, I would say it is easier to let some other person take the management position and then step in when they almost inevitably fail - you are one step removed from the boss the guys liked, the tanking team performance is a god excuse to bring in some goal-based metrics, and by that time, people might have forgotten that you were around writing a report on the team in the weeks leading up to the popular boss getting the chop.

  • by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:51AM (#43960147)

    If you're a consultant/outside entity being asked to do this, then no worries. Just tell them like it is. You don't need any kind of technical test here: Just show them the trail of failed projects and unhappy employees/customers and how they all lead back to one source.

    But if you are part of the company...or worse part of IT yourself....watch the fuck out.

    Something stinks about this. Managers are usually the first target when it comes to determining blame for failed projects/bad internal PR. That's part of their job after all. The stuffed shirts know this, and if it was just about the IT Manager being terrible they'd fire him and bring in someone new. They don't need a third opinion to tell them the head of IT is incompetent. There's something else going on here, probably related to internal company politics, and you need to be sure you're not being thrown under the bus or are risking getting caught in the crossfire.

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Monday June 10, 2013 @07:53AM (#43960161)
    My personal experience with terrible IT heads was that they had no business sense. The worst IT people I have seen had certifications a mile long (All in Novell and they wouldn't leave Novell to save their or the company's life). I have seen terrible IT people with no certifications (One who used a faxed around list of IP Addresses with names beside them to assign IP addresses to around 200 employees. The IP addresses were then manually entered into the desktop systems. And this was at a large telco). I have seen a terrible IT person who could alter the Linux Kernel at whim to solve fairly minor problems that the rest of us might use a cron job for.

    But the best IT people had a real business sense. They would look at a million dollar UPS and examine it as a complete business case. (How much downtime cost vs the whole cost of buying and maintaining the UPS) They would also look at new IT policies from a whole business perspective. They understood that stupid policies like making everyone change their password every 30 days had a much larger cost than "a few seconds of their time". So the best IT people that I have seen did have a fairly good technical prowess but generally not awesome. It was their business skills that set them apart. The key threshold was that they recognized that IT supported the business and that in an ideal world the business could do away with IT as it wasn't their core business. So when someone asked something of them they didn't just yell "NO" and then back up their ridiculousness with technobabble; but looked at the business case and came back with a price.
  • Hi I am the head of IT of a midsize company and the management has called in this consultant. He is convinced my pointy haired bosses that my budget is twice the size and I an too naive and gullible and merely parrot my staff's opinions to the management. This consultant is so incompetent he is asking for advice in slashdot. How do I get him off my back, and demonstrate his incompetence to the PHBs?
  • I have been asked ....

    Since you have to ask on an internet forum how to do this task, it's apparent you haven't done it before - or have any particular skills in management consultancy. If you had, two things would happen: (1) you'd know how to do the assessment and (2) you'd know not to ask a bunch of geeks how to solve a non-technical, management problem.

    So we can assume that the CFO who gave you this task is him/her-self not very good at choosing the right person to do a job. (Alternatively, you've wandered in to a minefiel

    • by edmudama (155475)

      Yup. "I have been asked by a medium-sized business to help them come to grips with why their IT group is ineffective, loathed by all other departments, and runs at roughly twice the budget of what the CFO has deemed appropriate for the company's size and industry."

      If the manager is routinely at 2x the budget and that's acceptable, the entire company is out of control. Any of the above reasons should be sufficient on their own for management to replace them, if they're actually beliefs held by executive ma

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Monday June 10, 2013 @08:11AM (#43960343)

    I have been asked by a medium-sized business to help them come to grips with *why* their IT group is ineffective ... After *just a little scratching*, it has become quite clear that the 'head of IT'

    (emphasis added) So, management asked you to find out why IT isn't working, and you do a "little scratching," and decide to blame the department's dysfunction on its leader. And then, what, call it a day?

    Presumably you have lots of expertise in running an IT department yourself, or else management would not be paying you the large consulting fee they're giving you for this job. They are paying you a large consulting fee, right? They are giving you access to all their monthly reports, their ticket database, interviews with the employees, and weeks to do the analysis, right?

    My quick read of this situation is that either management doesn't really care about root causes and just brought you in to give them some political cover to fire the guy they want to fire, or you accepted a difficult consulting job you're not qualified to do. My advice is to tell the company you made a mistake taking this assignment and run, don't walk, out the door. Or, go ahead and recommend firing someone after "just a little scratching" while collecting a paycheck for a job *you're* incompetent to do, if that's the kind of person you want to be.

  • Given that his fifedom is blowing the budget by 100% i would say not.

    Is stuff getting done?? on time ??

  • I worked at a hospital and the two head IT managers were stuck in floppy disk and DOS land. They had no idea what modern technology even was or how it worked let alone why it should be used by us. Some of their comments were so inaccurate and misinformed, I didn't even know how to respond. Now I'm 25 and I'm the head IT manager at a new company. Shocker, we're operating flawlessly and under budget.
    The real problem is HR. They promote someone based on how many years they've been there. That's great fo
  • If Dilbert hasn't been able to do it in twenty years, you won't be able to either. Here's how it works: the incompetent IT manager comes in; screws everything up; then leaves for another company right about the time that upper management gets the idea he/she is incompetent. Then they hire a new incompetent IT manager. Lather, rinse, repeat.

  • What they're looking for is an objective third party to confirm what they know. Focus on what matters to management: cost, productivity and effectiveness of the department. Tell them that when you see this kind of pattern, it's caused by ineffective department management. Interview individual contributors and ask them how decisions are made in their department and what role their manager plays in operations and decision making. Also, ask the IT people what they're working on and how they're going about

  • "IT group is ineffective, loathed by all other departments, and runs at roughly twice the budget of what the CFO has deemed appropriate for the company's size and industry."

    The CFO already knows that the manager is incompetent, as evidenced by him calling in a second party to look into it. Theoretically he has already asked the IT head what the problem is, and got an unsatisfactory answer. I really do not see you obtaining any more evidence about his incompetence than already exists.

  • First, your IT Manager doesn't have to have any technical skills to be competent in his job. Some of the best managers I've had have had no technical skills. They just need to know how to manage, know when people are being strait with them, know who to fire and who to hire... oh, and stay out of my way.

    Second, stay out of it. You're not doing yourself any favors by talking shit about your manager. Your job, believe it or not, is to make your manager happy. Make him look good, and he'll make you look good. I

  • I was a contractor for over a decade as a "hatchet man" to come in when large projects were in serious trouble, fix the project and then usually do an after action report which many times included firing people.

    My recommendations:
    1.) Hire someone like me to do this and completely side step the politics and anger that will come with dealing with this. Trust me on this. Get as far away from this as possible.
    2.) On the question of evaluating IT budgets... current thinking is about 5.2% of the yearly gross of t

  • Why did you take this job if you can't answer this question yourself? Sounds to me like you oversold your skills.

  • Having been in such situations, when any sort of lower/middle manager starts using $20 MBA buzzwords such as "The Cloud" or "Webinar" (that one is like nails on a chalkboard to me), be afraid.

    A better way is to read Dilbert on a daily basis. As soon as you start to think Scott Adams works at your company, you're in for a rough ride.

  • by luis_a_espinal (1810296) on Monday June 10, 2013 @10:38AM (#43962419) Homepage

    How Do You Prove an IT Manager Is Incompetent?

    You don't. You walk away. That has always been my suggestion whenever someone has to come to a point of having to prove his/her manager is incompetent. OTH, your situation is quite unique because you have been tasked with root-causing an IT department's woes. That is quite a pickle you have there.

    "I have been asked by a medium-sized business to help them come to grips with why their IT group is ineffective, loathed by all other departments, and runs at roughly twice the budget of what the CFO has deemed appropriate for the company's size and industry.

    Based on what? Your description of the situation hints to some very interesting, poisonous dynamics within that company. Sounds more like scapegoating that problem solving to me.

    After just a little scratching, it has become quite clear that the 'head of IT' has no modern technological skills, and has been parroting what his subordinates have told him without question. (This has led to countless projects that are overly complex, don't function as needed, and are incredibly expensive.)

    Well, this will also tell me that the subordinates are incompetent either. Subordinates should be competent enough to provide sound technical advice. They might not have the middle-to-upper company view to make IT and enterprise architecture decisions (which can lead to unnecessary complexity at the "macro" level.)

    However, and barring significant managerial interference and politics, they should be competent enough to keep things efficient, workable and sufficiently simple within their own silos. Rarely you will ever see a situation as the one described being solely the result of an incompetent IT manager.

    One could argue that the "parroting" was in essence supporting what his subordinates were passing to him. True that a manager of IT should be capable to tell from the technical factual to the bullshit, at least from a 10k foot view. But he is also expected to rely on his (supposedly) trustworthy subordinates.

    IT manager -> strategy.

    subordinate -> tactical.

    Doesn't matter how good an IT manager is. If the subordinates are shit, no manager will ever be able to compensate for that (and viceversa.) I'm not saying that the IT manager in question is worthless. I'm saying that if the inherent complexity is due to him parroting what his subordinates passed to him, then the subordinates are shit as well.

    SORRY. IT. TAKES. TWO. TO. TANGO.

    How can one objectively illustrate that a person doesn't have the knowledge sufficient to run a department?

    You are going to have to prove that key (and yet poor) decisions have been made by this person consistently and continuously. Decisions that are/were self-evidently poor ones. Passing/parroting poor decisions all the way up should be enough to illustrate that. The corollary of this, however, is that you will also be demonstrating that incompetence runs vertically deep.

    How can you salvage that. I don't know. But if you lay the blame sorely on the IT manager, then you are not solving, you are scape goating.

    The head of IT doesn't necessarily need to know how to write code, so a coding test serves no purpose,

    No. If you think that, I don't believe you are technically competent to make these kind of evaluations. You might not need to know to develop software with the specific stacks being used. But you have to have some type of development knowledge (either from direct experience as a developer or indirectly as, say, a DBA or network administratior, for example.)

    but should be able to run a project.

    Here we are conflating the role of head of IT with the one of a project manager. This is ok for small companies, but for mid-size companies and up, you better separate the two. If this mid-size company does n

  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday June 10, 2013 @12:06PM (#43963593) Homepage

    First off, the budget should be a non-issue. All the CFO's saying there is "IT's more expensive than I think it should be.". Well, that's usually the case. Not because IT's spending too much, but because non-IT management often underestimates how much IT really costs. And in any case, budgeting is the CFO's field. He shouldn't need to be bringing in outside consultants to handle that. I'd push that part aside for later.

    As for the head of IT lacking technical skills and "parroting" what his technical people tell him, WTF? First, the head of IT isn't a technical person. He can't be completely oblivious, but his job's mostly organizing things and interacting with management. He has technical people under him who know the technology and are supposed to be giving him advice on the technical details. And it's considered a problem when he's listening to them and taking their advice? Sorry, as a technical person my first reaction is that the problem there isn't with the head of IT, it's with the outsider who's saying the head of IT should be ignoring and not trusting his own technical people.

    Now, the IT department being ineffective, that's a valid point to look at. But by what metrics? What are they being expected to do, what resources are they being given to do it, and where and how are they failing to get the job done? If the CFO's moaning about costs, have you considered that the IT department may be being asked to do a lot and then not be being given the resources (budget, staff headcount, training, software packages, documentation, support contracts) needed to do the job? All too often I've seen IT departments where management's cut staffing by 50%, doubled the amount of work they want done, and then been shocked when projects don't meet deadline or fail completely. If the head of IT's really responsible for the failures, you should be able to lay out the resource allocation vs. the project load and show the failures. That's where I'd start my research. And I wouldn't start by assuming any particular cause, I can't judge that until I've gotten the information laid out.

    As far as the IT department being loathed, again I'd start by asking why. More often than I can count I've found myself on the receiving end of vitriol from other departments because I'm forcing them to get work done by the deadline they promised when they really don't want to do it. I've also found my self on the receiving end of similar vitriol when someone in Marketing has promised a new feature or product and I won't back down from a position of "We're already at 150% resource allocation. If you want this new project done by the deadline you specified, we need to postpone at least 3 other projects to free up the needed time and resources. Which 3 do you want us to postpone?". If IT's loathed by other departments, first start by figuring out whether they're loathed because they're being jerks, or merely because they're doing their jobs and other departments don't like it when they don't get their way. If it's the former, then HR and not the CFO needs to be involved. If it's the latter, then it's the other departments that need talked to about what their responsibilities and obligations are.

  • by shentino (1139071) on Monday June 10, 2013 @04:54PM (#43966911)

    Chances are this IT boss is being protected somehow.

    I know of one guy who got a new car every time he got a complaint of sexual harassment. He basically bullied the company into coughing up a car by threatening a lawsuit for slander/libel if they didn't make it go away. He gets a new car and the complainer gets fired.

    As a consultant you should be thankful you're not in the chain of command.

    Please, use your position of safety to be candid and ruthless in your evaluation. Document whatever you can and leave it in the hands of whoever hired you. This director needs sacked.

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