4 best practices for running your IT department

Dan Toth

Running your own IT department can be a challenge. Many of us in this position have technical degrees and strong tech backgrounds, but we’ve had to learn the ropes of management and operations in the hard school of Experience. So to help you on your way, I’d like to offer some things I’ve learned in the form of Four Best Practices for Running Your Own IT Department.

Most of this is centered on a great little saying passed along to me by a mentor. Remember this; “What gets measured and rewarded gets done.” This little saying communicates big insight into human nature and if we can properly implement it, our departments will run smooth. 

1/ Make plans and communicate goals

Everyone needs to know what is expected of them. How can we reach a destination if the direction hasn’t been clearly marked? We don’t want to spend all our time in meetings or all our efforts on creating documentation, but we DO need to have efficient meetings that result in useful documentation so we all know what is expected.

We need big picture Workflow Planning that keeps a running list of any upcoming projects and due dates. This is how we make sure we have the resources to meet each goal without conflicts. Each of the individual projects also needs a project plan. We all do a project plan for a complex migration to update our core systems, but keep in mind that even installing a new printer requires planning. Consider questions such as “what capacity printer is needed?” and “when will be the least disruptive time to install it?”. The project plan can be simple, but it should never be absent.

Daily, weekly, monthly and yearly maintenance checklists are also part of planning. They lay out the routine tasks that can’t be forgotten.

2/ Never separate Accountability from Authority

This is an area where many organizations fall down. We should never hold someone accountable for something unless we have given them the authority (and resources) they need to accomplish the task. 

The idea that everyone in the workplace is a “customer” of the IT department is faulty. Our fellow employees aren’t customers; rather, they are partners in accomplishing the objectives of the organization. Otherwise people will sidetrack IT and dynamically change the scope of projects because “the customer is always right.” If you let that happen, you will not meet your goals. 

Every member of an organization needs to understand and comply with ITs’ policies and procedures. For instance, they need to use the ticketing system to open and track an IT issue rather than saying: “Hey, since you’re already here can you also look at this problem?” The IT policies and procedures are there to make sure that the organization as a whole succeeds rather than one department looking good at the expense of another. Above all, for each of your projects make sure to allocate what is needed in terms of personnel, hardware and software to meet the goals.

3/ Take time to make checks and make updates

On a weekly basis my IT team gets together and evaluates how things are going. Do we need to make adjustments or is everything going EXACTLY as we planned (yeah, right)? We also update our documentation now instead of later (we can always identify “now” but “later” never seems to arrive). 

We use a central repository of simple hyperlinked files for our documentation. Everyone on the team has access to read and update these. Did someone change the configuration on a server? Update the documentation. Did someone find a good solution to a reoccurring problem? Update the documentation. Did something change on our daily, weekly, monthly or yearly maintenance schedule? Yep, update the documentation. 

Our weekly get-togethers and our sharing of knowledge ensures continuity of operation should there be staff turnover. And yes, I do have that documentation automatically backed up each night just in case someone electronically loses some of it.

4/ Motivation and rewards

Finally, to close the loop, be sure to reward people when they do their job well! Where I work, part of our compensation is in the form of quarterly bonuses. This is a great practice and really helps out with this piece. If your organization doesn’t do that, think of something you can implement that goes beyond the yearly performance review. That by itself is never enough. 

Maybe you can get gift cards that you hand out for a job well done. Have a Pizza Party or bring donuts one day. Give them a certificate for a long lunch or an extra 15 minutes on their break. Whatever you do, you need to have some form of public recognition to let them know you see they are doing their job. Little things can make a big difference and make for a positive work environment. 

Remember, “What gets measured and rewarded gets done.”