Johna Till Johnson: How to build a better telecom organization

I have an inner gauge for how well a telecom department – or an IT department, for that matter – is run. Within two hours I can usually tell whether an organization is efficient, productive and cost-effective.

And that assessment tends to be a pretty good proxy for the company: chaotic, ill-run companies tend to have chaotic, ill-run IT departments and vice versa.

What do I look for?

Structure. A well-run IT department is generally organized along the “design, build, operate” paradigm. Most organizations recognize that it takes different skills and focus to create a brand new architecture than it does to ensure 99.999 per cent availability. And virtually every company has merged its voice and data WAN unit in recognition of the fact that the distinction between voice and data services is rapidly blurring.

Organization. A particularly good indication of an effective telecom department is that meetings begin and end on time, with clear agendas, well-articulated goals and a coherent progression of events. Projects have a well-defined scope. Managers provide regular status reports and updates. This organized approach pays dividends – even during the most critical projects, people can put in eight- to 10-hour days, instead of the 12- to 18-hour days that are all too familiar to most of us.

Culture. The term “culture” is often used (and misused). A cornerstone of culture is open, honest, regular communication. Specifically, people should proactively keep each other informed about critical issues and events. Too often, turf wars and ego battles lead to “information silos” that result in wasted effort.

Focus. A telling sign of a well-disciplined organization is that IT initiatives are consistently expressed in terms of the core business. Performance isn’t measured in milliseconds or availability. It is measured in revenue gained or costs avoided.

If the description above fits your telecom organization, congratulations and keep up the great work. Most likely, it doesn’t. Only about five per cent of the organizations I talk to regularly meet that description.

If you feel your department could use work, here are a few tips:

– Start by looking in the mirror. IT executives are more responsible than they realize for “setting the tone” for those around them. Make sure that you personally instantiate the structure, organization, culture and focus that you expect from your peers and supporting staff.

— Then take a critical look at your team. Too often, organizations keep prima donnas on board far too long, for the wrong reasons. You know the folks I’m talking about: those individuals who are abusive, secretive, disorganized and generally tough to get along with. The excuse for keeping these people is their talent (real or imagined).

Prima donnas destroy far more value than they deliver. And if you really think that talent is so hard to find, check out the resum