After 15 years in different businesses across Europe and having come across hundreds of CIO role descriptions I dare say that relevant skills underestimated, at least in my book, are Performance Management and Operational Risk Mitigation.

This article with present an introduction to Performance Management - in the first of a two-parter which will also look at operational risks - using relevant examples to highlight why it is important for CIOs to master these disciplines.

Performance management and creating a winning culture

Let us use a sports analogy; imagine a football game ready to start in a filled stadium. Players, coaches and referees are ready for kick-off. Fans are exited and eager to watch their team win. Now, imagine that the number of goals scored were not counted! Such football would not attract too many spectators, media or sponsors.

Still, this is how many IT organisations are managed; few, including CIOs, really know the overall performance in IT. The' question I want my teams to ask themselves, every day, when leaving the office, is: "Did we win the game today?"

The reality as CIOs is that we are extremely busy managing business as usual, constant fire fighting, delivering projects and putting up with new demands from other sides of the business. The good news, however, is that there are ways to quickly capitalise on this opportunity to start building a competitive and winning culture in an IT organisation.

Done correctly, applying performance management by continuous improvement, will free up IT management time as it creates more of self-managing teams and ultimately drives your organisation towards excellence.  It will also help build a stronger rapport and obtain better buy-in from stakeholders.

Performance Management definition

One way to define Performance Management is to use the Balanced Scorecard concept as introduced by Kaplan & Norton several years ago. I would argue it is less relevant what you measure as long as you start to measure. The initial metrics will most likely be fine-tuned and over time replaced by more relevant ones. The trick of the tail is for IT to follow up on a daily basis and when needed resolve issues identified. Collect data and create suitable tables, graphs or illustrations that allow you to see trends and follow progress (or regress). Overall outcome should be reported across the entire organisation on a regular, monthly or quarterly, basis.

Let me give one example of how powerful a simple metric can be; a few years ago, as interim CIO with a listed blue chip company, I noticed some IT operational disturbances – nothing critical – but severe enough to get my attention. We did at that point leave the daily performance management and monitoring of HW and NW availability to the supplier we had outsourced IT operations. We were quite happy with SLA fulfilment and the vendor's performance in general.

However, looking closer at trends I found some irregular disturbances going back 12 months. Therefore, we imported the daily data the vendor had supplied us with into Excel. I could now see the trends. Analysing the root-causes it was evident that most of the incidents were caused by identical problems related to faulty processes and human errors on the vendor side. This was not possible to distinguish without proper Performance Management. I called for a management meeting with the vendor allowing them to resolve the situation. Since the vendor now had our tool to follow-up and control service delivery, they were able to improve service, reducing our operational risks going forward.

Basic? Definitely! Performance Management is nothing complex, it is all about attention to detail, continuous improvement and about building a winning culture.

So how create the optimal metrics allowing staff to focus on the right things and go home as winners every day of the week? Obviously there is no sliver bullet here. It is all about finding the best measurements for each part of the IT organisation; e.g. in operations you may want to measure percentage up-time displayed as green (red) bar charts, QA might want to look at number of performed test cases versus plan, Service Desk perhaps want to follow the number of closed versus open tickets and average time to resolved, projects benefit from traffic light reporting and so forth. There are Lean, Six Sigma and White Board methodologies you can use. The latter is great for short, daily team meetings across the IT organisation. Key is not to observe the outcome, but to mitigate the underlying problems on a daily basis – i.e. continuous improvement and then acknowledging success as it becomes measurable.

It is all about communication

Finally, I want to stress the importance of communication. As CIO I have always tried to secure a communication resource. The advantage with a communication expert is that they master conveying IT messages so that also non-technical people understand.

Always communicate IT success! Do it across the business, to Executive Management and even to the Board of Directors. For some reason CIOs tend to not tell the world about what is going on, e.g. that IT are about to start a major system upgrade. Communicate your plans and why before you start, report on progress during, and be explicit and celebrate the results after completion. Equally important, when incidents occur – communicate! Tell the organisation exactly what happened, why it happened, about the plans to resolve and, most importantly, inform them immediately when service is back to normal.

Bottom-line, as I see it, unless we communicate, we don't exist and hence we cannot expect to be regarded a winning team! Why? Because the outside world won't even know we played that game and wouldn't have a clue whether we won or not.

Bjorn Ovar Johansson is a Manchester-based interim CIO with a background in Senior IT Leadership roles across Europe