10 Things I wish I knew before I became a CIO

I’ve been a CIO for over a decade now, and have made virtually every mistake in the book. If I had known a bit more before I began, I might have avoided some of my more troubling mistakes.

Here are 10 things I wish I knew before I became a CIO.

1. Politics. OK, I knew that the CIO job would be political. But, I really underestimated how important being able to understand the people, the organization and its workings would contribute to my and my team’s success (or lack thereof). I wish I began the job without resentment of the politics of the office, but in respecting the politics and to look for ways to use it to make sure the right things happened. Like any complex system, politics can be mastered if you continue to educate yourself.

2. Tough Clients. When I began my job I disliked the tough clients. I really just wanted them to go away and let me get to my work.  I didn’t know then that it’s the tough clients that can push me and my team to the upper limits of performance. If you can please your tough clients, you have begun to do a good job as a CIO.

3. Barometers. There are people in your organization at all levels that are barometers of your team’s performance. It took me some time to learn to identify them and to create relationships with those that would tell me, honestly and frankly, how my team is doing. I wish I had the skills to do this before I became a CIO.

4. Sweat. Sweat the small stuff. I wish I had realized then that the smallest stuff is the stuff that sometimes bites you the biggest.  Focus on excellence in all areas, particularly each and every Service Desk interaction.

5. Team Dynamics.  One bad apple spoils the whole bunch when the bad apple is in a management position in your department.  I wish I had realized before I became a CIO, that you need to act quickly when a manager doesn’t provide the kind of leadership to their team that you know is necessary for success or if they don’t have the talent for their position.

6. Empower Your Team.  I wish I had realized that in giving control to your team members (instead of trying to control all details), you are not creating risk of poorer quality or poorer performance, you are creating a resilient organization that can deliver high performance and high quality over and over.

7. Coverage.  I wish I had understood the concept of coverage before I became a CIO.  Coverage in terms of ensuring available skilled resources at all times to handle emerging issues, and in cross training skills and knowledge.  I still have scars.

8. Think Life cycle. I wish that I had realized earlier that every single technology adopted or purchased will need to be replaced, and that I need to plan for it.  If you buy 300 new computers because you have budget this year for them, make sure you have enough budget to replace every one of them 4 years from now.  If you can’t, reconsider your approach.  If you build an ERP costing $3M, you will need to replace it 7 years from now.  And it will cost you the same or more.

9. Project Management. Just about everything is a project.  Every initiative has a recurring, predictable pattern.  I wish I had seen this earlier, and began developing project management capabilities on my team much earlier for greater project and organization success.

10. Nothing EVER goes as planned.  I wish I knew that before I took the job.  Then I would have had fewer sleepless nights, and would have spent more time preparing for (not worrying about) possible eventualities and setting appropriate expectations, for my clients, my teams and for myself.

If I had known these things, I would have avoided some of the more serious problems I created then had to clean up. I suspect though that if you had told me these things then, I would not have listened thinking that I knew better!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Stephen Abraham
Stephen Abraham
Stephen Abraham is the CIO and IT Director for the Medical Council of Canada, the organization that issues Licenciates for Physicians practicing medicine in Canada. Mr. Abraham has been a CIO for a decade. He has made many mistakes during his 30 years in IT, and has learned a few things along the way.

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