Making the move from IT operations to the applications group

With a few adjustments and provisions, a manager can successfully transition between the two groups -- here's how

Dear Bob ...

I'm either being promoted or punished. I'm not sure which.

[ Also on InfoWorld: In the fast-moving world of high-tech, you have to weigh the pros and cons of making a tech career change. | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

Through the end of the week, I'm managing IT operations -- a team of about 20 system administrators, network admins, and so on. Monday I start my new position, managing the applications side of the house.

Our IT organization has the normal level of rivalry between ops and apps. The good news is that there's no overt hostility between the two groups. The bad news is that the outgoing head of applications was popular with the staff but not with the rest of the company.

The bad news and good news are closely related. He was everyone's buddy (including mine -- I liked the guy), which meant he didn't hold anyone's feet to the fire. The result was a poor track record of delivery, which is why he's no longer with the company, though the CIO didn't publicize that tidbit, of course.

Do you have any advice to give me, so when I step into his shoes I don't step in anything else?

- Switching Sides

Dear Switching ...

First, the basics: You're leaving a world in which invisibility is the measure of success and entering one in which both successes and failures have bright spotlights aimed at them. In case this point isn't clear:

  • The IT operations team succeeds when all systems are available and performing within acceptable boundaries. When they are, nobody notices, and they go about their work. It's when they're slow, out of capacity, or entirely unavailable that people notice, which is why invisibility is the highest aspiration of IT operations.
  • Application development succeeds when it delivers working software on time and within the planned budget -- software that doesn't just meet the specifications and "requirements" (a term that's outlived its usefulness) but that enables and supports a planned business change. Whether the software delivery is a small enhancement or the result of a large, multiproject initiative, it gets attention because it changes an element in the business that somebody cares about.

Given this level of visibility, whoever heads up the applications side of the IT house had better devote a lot of time, energy, and attention developing and managing interpersonal relationships throughout the business. You want every executive and middle manager to know who you are, like you, and trust you. If they do, they'll forgive the occasional bump in the road and work with you to fix it. If they don't, every problem will be magnified. Worse, every problem will be "your problem" rather than "our problem," which means they'll become unfixable.

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