Posted by Ancestry Team on February 5, 2014 in IT

As I described in the introduction of this series, taking an IT function to the next level is a complex journey involving the maturation of several disciplines. The first section we will deal with the need to have several key individuals who act as change agents and can drive maturation in a disciplined way. In my experience, I have found that thought leaders in the following areas are absolutely critical to success:


Technology Thought Leader – internal thought leadership in technology can take several forms depending on the industry you are in or if there is a particular problem you need to address immediately. Think about the most pressing technology problems your line of business has and choose thought leaders in those areas FIRST. It is likely that as your business evolves, you will need other tech leaders with different skills – but this is about who you need first. This advanced tech skill set should include deep experience (“we’ve already done this”), experience with and access to key vendors and partners, and most of all access to a talent pool that can jump start your technology vision.

  • If you are in a financial or other highly regulated business, it is possible that security, or compliance, or 5-9′s availability is critical – and as such you need a deeply technical, rigorous and unrelentingly driven IT performance leader.
  • Or, if you are an e-commerce SaaS company, you may need a forward thinking technologist to design and engineer new hosting platforms and supply chain models that position the business for hyper-scale growth.


Work Execution Thought Leader – thought leadership in this area is critical and it has several components:

  • Build an effective, open, transparent and collaborative engagement model for working with your internal customers and partners. This is about understanding clearly what the business wants IT to do, and how you measure its success. If you build trust through open engagement right away, that will go a long way to paving the way for success.
  • Ensure detailed and rigorous control over all work, with appropriate approvals for changes, projects, design decisions, etc. It is critical that this is an internal IT control – not extending beyond IT – don’t apply this externally. Remove chaos, remove multiple channels to request work, remove back doors and close the windows. If you do it right, work will get done more quickly even though you have reduced lanes on “work request” highway.
  • Execution – unrelenting focus on getting it right the first time. Put the right IT hygiene in place to reduce rework, speed up deliverables to have it be clearly visible that life is getting better.
  • Communication – if you want people to know things are getting better – TELL THEM. Tell them what you are going to do, do it, then tell them you did it. And this means your team, not the whole world. This is measuring your
  • SAY : DO ratio. If you say it, be darn sure you mean it. Because you NEED to do what you say. This is about building confidence in the team, reinforcing the positives, the improvements, and the value to the business. If you do all this right, you won’t have to tell the business things are getting better. They will know.


IT Business Decisions Thought Leader – thought leadership in how IT decisions are made is critical in driving to achieve the technology vision and enabling the business. Business decision thought leadership is charged with balancing the four major and sometimes opposing forces in IT. There are many sub-categories to each of these four, and we will discuss them in future posts.

  • Business Requirements – stuff we need to build and operate so that businesses and people will want to buy your products and services.
  • Security/Compliance/Regulatory Advice and Constraints – these sometimes seem to act in opposition to business requirements – or they limit the number of choices we have in implementing a solution for a business requirement, but they are admission tickets to the commerce we want to conduct. So get over it and be creative and compliant.
  • Technology Solutions – the landscape of options in technologies, vendors and services is immense and needs to adjust to the constraints provided by the other factors, all the while enabling the business. Good Luck!
  • Financial Influences – capital and operating expense are enablers to the technology vision. But it is part art and part science. Financial guidance challenges us to design the “best” solution for the business. Think – “affordable” – not necessarily the best available technology. But how do you generate investment capital when your current budget just lets you keep up with today’s demand? We will go through this later as well.
    • Functions That Need Structure – demand planning, capacity management, vendor management, IT financial management, and IT analytics are all functions that will need structure, process and skill.


Culture Thought Leader – like it or not, this is YOU. If you do not drive the right culture, it won’t happen. All the other thought leaders need to be aligned to your cultural model. Some of this is motherhood and apple pie – but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Remember, your staff will end up either wanting to work for you or wanting to NOT work for you. So the culture you drive is more important than how smart an engineer you are; it’s more important than any other aspect of your job. This is a great responsibility. Take it seriously. We will get into culture more later.


COMING SOON… Skills: what do we have and what do we need? Yikes!


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