According to Robert Lee, CIO of logistics solutions provider Bibby Distribution, to manage your time well as an IT director you should start out with a good idea of where you’re going.
“You need a roadmap that clearly ties in with the corporate business plan,” he says. “Then you just adapt it as necessary. Having a long-term plan is great, and it certainly steers you in the right direction. But you also have to be fleet of foot enough to react when business circumstances do change, and new opportunities arise.
“At the highest level we produce a roadmap: what we’re going to do, why we’re going to do it, and what the costs are. That gives you the underlying framework.
“In our case, we’ve made several acquisitions recently. This means we have to make changes to our roadmaps. That’s the nature of our business. This doesn’t mean that having a plan is not a good idea. It simply means you have to make changes to it as the world around you changes and as you learn more,” he explains.
Having a map to work from and knowing when you’re prepared to vary from that, is fundamental.
Lee adds that another key principal of time management is to have a good team around you that you trust. As the saying goes: “Why have a dog and bark yourself?”
“If you have good people you genuinely trust,” he says, “you don’t need to do everything yourself. You can agree what needs to get done and what tasks need to be carried out to accomplish that. You have confidence that those people will deliver it for you. That means not having to spend a lot of time following up and controlling.”
Rather than send a lot of emails, Lee does most of his follow-up on the phone.
“It’s a trusting environment,” he says. “If they tell me it’s done, it’s done. I do not have to see it myself. Delegation is easy once you’ve established trust.”
Delegation occurs in all directions: up, down and sideways. Spend time building a network of trusting relationships. Be prepared to lend a hand and make sure people know they can count on you. This will make it easier for you to get help when you need it most.
Roadmaps and trust are certainly two things to spend time developing. What are Lee’s other tips on time management?
“Heading off problems early is also important,” he says. “Try to automate what you can. We tend to use a lot of monitoring and management tools, so we can see the problems before they come.
“If you put it in right and monitor it well, a lot of things will run along, and you can address the issues that arise. Usually you get good warning that something is about to occur, so you don’t have to lapse into crisis mode.”
Along those lines, Lee says he’s a firm believer in doing things right the first time. His rule of thumb is it will cost you 10 times more to re-engineer something.
“Plan it right. Build it right. Then you don’t have to spend the extra effort to do it again in crisis mode. If you solve the underlying problems rather than focus on the superficial things, you won’t have to do it twice.”
What about communicating with his internal customers?
Wherever he can, Lee tends to use rapid application development, often referred to as Agile.
“It’s much easier to remain close to your customer with ever-increasing proof-of-concept work, rather than having a long period after which you come back with an allegedly-completed piece of work. We find this more effective than the more classic methods of delivering,” he says.
“If you give people a lot of documentation, they struggle with it. Whereas if you give them successively more developed mockups you get better feedback. They can visualise what you’re doing.”
Lee wraps up the discussion on time management with his ideas on getting away from it all. “It’s important for me to get thinking time. You can work seven days a week, but you can’t do it for very long before it has a major negative impact. I have on occasion worked that hard, but I try to do it as a real exception.”
“You need some down time,” Lee insists. “You need a decent amount of sleep. You need recreation. I happen to like the gym. I find that very therapeutic. I find that on a stepping machine, my legs do the work and my mind gets very creative. That’s a lot of bang for the buck. It’s good for the brain and good for the body.”
Pat Brans is author of Master the Moment: Fifty CEOs Teach you the Secrets of Time Management, and is visiting professor at the Grenoble Graduate School of Business