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Here’s how you can successfully manage up in the world of IT management

(Image credit: Image Credit: Bbernard / Shutterstock)

Managing up is a very particular skill many IT pros haven’t yet mastered. We typically spend our time during stand-up meetings complaining about managers’ lack of technical expertise, instead of spending this time doing something more useful: namely, educating and informing those people who may not know the intricacies of designing, deploying, and maintaining monitoring solutions.

With this in mind, we’re casting aside the snark to embrace the far healthier practice of sharing tips for how IT pros can answer the technical questions managers have. By following these suggestions, IT pros can help ensure managers—who lead and represent boots-on-the-ground monitoring engineers—have the knowledge needed to drive business success, both now and in the future.

Common issues and misconceptions

It’s important to begin with a point that may seem obvious, but often gets lost in potentially tense interactions between IT pros and managers: always remember to treat each other with respect and understand you’re both working towards the same thing—the health of the company. It’s easy to forget this when it feels like you’re tackling potentially conflicting requests from the same person, who may be struggling to accurately explain precisely what it is they want from you, but allowing frustration to bubble over is never the answer.

With that out of the way, let’s touch upon one of those potentially conflicting requests. Often, IT pros face a request from managers that may seem like an oxymoron. The most common example of this is a manager requesting a high-level overview of very detailed information—expecting both a brief summary and an in-depth explanation of an undoubtedly complex part of a business’ IT infrastructure. To overcome this potential stumbling block, openness of communication is vital, as is willingness to meet the request halfway.

For example, if a manager requests a dashboard detailing a lot of information, be honest and explain the usefulness of the dashboard would be compromised by such an overwhelming amount of data, and it would be far harder to glean actual insight when sifting through vast reams of figures. Instead, why not suggest building a report in an Excel sheet that can be emailed to them, with only 20 information boxes on one page, drawing out the useful metrics to help inform managers’ decisions. It’s vital for IT pros to remember managers don’t typically want to see everything—just the important things that can help improve the running of the business. 

Being open and honest and delivering clear feedback about how and why you’ll provide the information requested can help you manage up and eliminate the frustration of a seemingly conflicting request, while also ensuring a manager has the information needed to perform their role to the best of their ability.

Find a common language

For IT pros communicating with managers, it’s important to remember you won’t necessarily be speaking the same business language. An IT pro discussing the merits of a monitoring system is unlikely to point to it increasing revenue (for several reasons), whereas a manager will point to increased revenue as a key business goal and want to know how a monitoring tool directly contributes, to justify investment in this solution. 

With this in mind, it’s vital to find a common understanding when discussing the value of IT solutions and the work of the IT team. As an IT pro, you have an opportunity to help bridge this communication gap with your manager—so, when the IT team says a monitoring solution helps proactively catch issues, it’ll reduce downtime. As a result, this will increase cost-efficiencies that will, yes, increase revenue.

It’s important for a manager to know, while you may not be speaking exactly the same business language, you’re still driving towards the same business goals, and the right tools can make a vital contribution in achieving them. 

By acting as a translator between IT and managers in communicating this value, IT pros will see requests become clearer, and managers understand more clearly the importance of the tools deployed throughout the business. 

Being clear about the strengths and limitations of monitoring 

For all the managers who have somehow found their way to this article (welcome!)—monitoring is nothing more and nothing less than the regular collection of data and metrics from a set of devices. However, IT pros will often find the conversation around monitoring will quickly evolve into one around automation and a manager’s desire to introduce it. 

For IT pros, this scenario will likely induce a knowing nod in recognition, and a slight headache at some of the roadblocks that quickly become apparent when this transition is requested. Surprisingly often, IT pros will investigate a supposed monitoring project from managers, only to find it’s a project related to business processes and optimizing them.

Here, it’s important to clearly lay out exactly what monitoring means for managers. Monitoring is the collection of data, with alerting added, that then gets reported upon. Tweaks, of course, can be made: if a manager doesn’t want a node down alert for a system that will occasionally go down, but it isn’t too much bother, this is absolutely something the IT team can do. Working with a monitoring solution, the IT team can introduce values or tags put on devices to identify them as something less important or intended for a separate group, ensuring the centralized help desk doesn’t get the alert. 

This is just one example of the optimizations that can be made with the right monitoring solution. Ensuring managers know the strength of your monitoring solution, while also being clear as to where its capabilities end, will ensure better outcomes and less time wasted. 

Really, it’s all a question of communication. Being open and honest with a manager and understanding alignment is in the best interest for both parties and can help ensure IT pros, managers, and the business can thrive.

Sascha Giese, Head Geek, SolarWinds

Sascha Giese is a Head Geek™ at SolarWinds, based in the company’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) headquarters in Cork, Ireland.