Managing growth can mean living on the edge

Inside Track

Inside Track

David Taylor

In these days of rapid change and decisions that are made on the hoof, David Taylor talks to Guy Detering, IT director of Enterprise Oil, about why gut-feelings have a place in decision making.

DT What role does instinct play for an ITdirector?

GD I think there are very few decisions that can be made on pure "gut-feeling", but if instinct is defined as what you are born with, plus the benefit of experience, then this is an appropriate decision-making mechanism. As this fast-paced culture develops, we must delegate more decisions and minimise the process for achieving "sign off". IS management requires being given responsibility to make direct decisions.

DT Traditionally, IT and IT people, have been very structured - how well do you think people cope with the new "living on the edge" world?

GD Traditional IT managers do not necessarily make the best e-commerce leaders for precisely this reason. IT infrastructure and many IT projects still require the structured, methodical approach in order to be successful.

The typical e-commerce "animal" is more likely to be strong on creativity but not what might be termed as a "finisher".

Systems, even leading-edge e-commerce developments, typically go through the "competitive window" phase, where it's essential to get the system in and working quickly.

This is generally followed by a "core system" phase, where it becomes critical for it to be stable and resilient - this is where the traditional IT manager steps in.

DT Clearly, you believe that action is crucial, but does that conflict with the "Quality School of Thought"?

GD There are still two areas of operation for any IT function: a leading-edge approach, or a structure and stability approach.

The latter can be approached in the time-honoured, structured manner. Where leading-edge is required, new decision-making and project techniques come in to play.

This requires quick implementation of small chunks of systems, and adopting technology with a fast pay-back, which might be thrown away (or cease to exhibit a competitive edge) in a matter of months.

If Microsoft had released Windows 2000 as an e-commerce application, and taken a year-plus to roll out a bug-free version, it would have failed.

DT Do you think that instinct can be bottled or measured as a talent?

GD To some extent instinct is like any part of the management toolset and can be learned. It is, however, similar to creativity, in that individuals need a character or mindset which lends itself to this way of working. Above all, it requires self-confidence and self-awareness, along with the ability to take the rap for, and learn from, mistakes.

A key part of making "instinct" work well is risk management. IT requires awareness of risks, the ability to minimise them and knowing when to "pull the plug", if required.

Some can be taught and measured, but it requires a certain detachment, especially when it comes to admitting failure and call a halt to a key project.

DT Is the world more exciting now than it was five years ago - or just more stressful?

GD It is different! The stress side is more prevalent. But I believe it is something which should be managed - it just takes more conscious effort to do so than it did five to 10 years ago.

We have developed different techniques (such as prototyping and "fix on the fly") to cope with the new dynamic - so the tools are there to manage the problem.

The key for IT directors, and probably anyone in business, is to be able to master change. Change continues to occur with accelerating frequency, so making it work for you is the key to being a success.

The first step to achieving this is self-awareness and the be ability to make quick decisions where needed and to learn from your mistakes.

David Taylor's Inside Track: a provocative insight into the world of IT in business is part of the Computer Weekly Professional Series, published by ButterworthHeinemann. Tel: 01865-888180

Read more on IT risk management