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Managing In Difficult Times November 14, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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Difficult times call for exceptional leaders.  It’s easy to lead when times are good.  Plentiful budgets, lots of staff, willing business partners: who couldn’t be a good CIO in that kind of climate?

It’s when times get tough that real leadership shows itself.  For lesser CIOs, the easy way out is to simply buckle down, cut back on everything, and ride out the storm.  You manage to a reduced budget, defer all your projects, and hope to regain ground when the business climate improves.  When the business complains, you can shrug and point to the economy, promising solutions when the managing gets easy again.

Alas, the easy way out is the wrong way.  When times get tough, a good CIO focuses on how to keep moving ahead in spite of limited resources.  In good times or bad, new challenges will constantly confront your company.  You must respond to them, deliver solutions, and find ways to help your company succeed.

Instead of pulling back on everything, review each and every project in your portfolio.  There will be a small group of projects that are mandatory, without which your company will fail or suffer dramatic setbacks.  You must fight for these projects and ensure you have the resources to deliver them.  In most cases, it is easy to make your case: corporate failure usually gets the attention of senior management.  Some level of funding or support should follow; you’ll need to make do with what you are allotted.

Beyond the mandatory parts of your portfolio, there is a second set of projects that are not mandatory but that will deliver significant immediate value.  These are the projects that you must embrace and fight for.  Often, they fall by the wayside as budgets are reduced, lost in the clutter of projects that really can be delayed or canceled.  In fact, these high-value initiatives are the ones that will help your company succeed in difficult times.

A good CIO will find a way to sell these projects on their merits, justify the investment, and deliver on the results.  Especially in tough times, those new tools and processes that reduce headcount, improve efficiency, and drive value to the bottom line are critical to your, and your company’s, success.

Proactive portfolio management is the key to delivering this kind of value.  Even when times get better, be aware of those projects that are the real winners.  You’ll be able to respond to business needs faster and react to changing conditions more effectively.  And that makes you and your organization more valuable in good times and bad.

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