Five steps of IT leadership

Will Conaway is CIO of Prime Healthcare, which has 40,000 employees, 45 hospitals, and healthcare facilities in 14 states, and a professor for Cornell University’s Industry Labor Relations master’s degree program. His courses include organizational strategy, change management, psychology of leadership, and healthcare certificate programs. Will’s dual existence running IT and teaching has given him a unique perspective on what makes CIOs successful. Conaway has turned this perspective into a list of the “Five Steps of IT Leadership.”

Step 1. Ask the right project definition questions

Can you state with confidence that everyone on a project team understands the scope and target outcome of a project? If not, your project is likely to fail.

“Whenever we launch a new initiative, I go around the room and ask everyone to define the project,” says Conaway. “If even one of the team members has a different understanding of the project than everyone else, we are not ready to start.”

At one point in his career, Conaway and his team were asked by the Employee Health division of his company to build a customer help desk solution modeled after IT’s own service desk. What the IT team heard was “we want you to replicate the tool,” and that’s what they delivered. But what Employee Health required was something quite different: a tool customized for their needs.

“Because we did not drive for total clarity on the request, we did not get the solution right. There was the simple miss of asking what adds value for the customer,” says Conaway.

While Conaway’s team was able to deliver the right solution, the experience reinforced to him the need for IT leaders to ask the right questions before moving forward. What’s more, “by asking the right questions, you encourage people to think analytically, to take ownership for a project, and to limit scope creep,” he says.

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