Today many IT professionals are expected to do more with less. This means there more pressure with less time, more work with fewer staff members, and more control with less tolerance for mistakes. All of these can put the business at risk unless processes, plans and monitoring are put in place to handle potential problems.
The solution to the problem lies in using a proactive management style instead of reactive management. You can use the proactive approach in nearly every area of IT. It is about controlling risks, controlling costs, and eliminating or reducing the effects of problems that do arise.
Advantages to Proactive Management
- Plans are in place to handle most known risks and problems
- Costs are reduced because planning was done using good data
- Quickly identify causes and shorten down time
- You control a crisis instead of it controlling you
Proactive management involves anticipating what can happen and having a plan in place to handle it when it does. It is about controlling a problem instead of running around trying to solve it based on your gut instinct. It is about monitoring for potential problems so they can be dealt with before they become problems.
Steps to Becoming a Proactive Manager
Identify Every Key Business Area
Examine your organization and identify the key areas to the business. Rank them on the importance of being able to continue business. In IT these will be the key systems, services and personnel needed to maintain business continuity. These will be the areas you need to start with.
Assess Your Risks and Potential Problems
Evaluate your key IT systems and services by looking for potential risks. Think outside of the box for areas that you have not previously identified. Sometimes it is useful to bring someone not directly involved with the assessment team onboard to act as a set of “fresh eyes”. They may see things that have been overlooked.
Once you have identified risks look for any you can do something about now. If you can identify a risk that can be removed, such as an outdated server, the proactive approach would be to replace it. Any remaining risks need to be planned for.
Develop Plans and Processes
To be proactive you must develop plans to handle each of the risks. Restoration plans should have step-by-step instructions for IT staff to follow. System failure plans need all contact information and instructions to restore service. Plans should be step-by-step and continuously improved. Also consider that the person or group who normally handles an area may not be available. Backup personnel should be trained.
Look at your recurring problems and incidents. Use incident management and problem management skills to identify the cause and make sure a work around is already in place to handle them. A work around is a temporary fix. To prevent future problems a permanent solution must be found.
Develop a Proactive Organization
Train your staff in proactive management. It should be built into the culture of the organization. Processes should be put into place where incident management and problem management will spot trends in incidents and fix them to prevent future incidents. From upper management to the help desk all staff members must know what their proactive role is.
Monitor your services, systems, projects and every area of IT so that you become aware of potential problems before they can cripple your business. Monitoring tools for networks and data centers should be installed. You are monitoring not just for failure, but for trends and performance thresholds being crossed where you can proactively eliminate a risk before it becomes a problem.
Proactive management does not happen overnight. It is a long-term initiative that will improve daily productivity and ensure business continuity.
Reactive Versus Proactive Management
Let’s explore the philosophies of these two management approaches in different situations.
Something Goes Wrong
The reactive approach is to go into fire fighting mode. (i.e. handling emergencies, service interruptions). In fire fighting mode you are reacting to something that was not planned for. You try to get the problem under control and restore services or get back to a normal operating mode as soon as possible. You method for doing this is usually to just “wing it” based on your knowledge and experience.
The proactive approach is to plan for and control situations. Planning involves looking for every potential risk to a system, service or project. By looking for risks before they happen you can use strong problem solving and risk management techniques to create processes and plans to put into place when they occur. When a problem occurs you then have a step-by-step plan for solving it. More importantly with proper monitoring you eliminate the risk before it ever becomes a problem.
Planning By Instinct or Using Data
The reactive approach to planning can be summarized as going with your gut feeling. You know what needs to be done and you plan it out with notes and conversations with others. After all you did something similar to this two years ago and it went well.
The proactive approach is to collect and analyze as much information as possible. Your planning uses a process based approach to take the data, analyze it and produce a controlled plan of action. This plan is now based on facts and is less likely to run into problems. Your plan is also based on the current data for your systems and services.
Not Monitoring Versus Monitoring
The reactive approach does not monitor systems, projects or other areas of IT for potential problems. The philosophy is that proactive management is a waste of time and money. You just deal with a problem when it happens.
Proactive management fits well into today’s world of doing more with less. Since you have less time, less staff and a lower tolerance for mistakes a proactive approach allows you to put into place solutions to most risks and problems that can arise. By evaluating potential risks, planning for them with step by step processes and monitoring for potential problems you will greatly reduce the potential damage and further risks to the business.