Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

While doing some contracting lately for a fairly large company that handles its IT internally (mainly with younger technical staff who don't have the experience to deal with hierarchy), I came across what must be a common situation with regard to the board level not really understanding the ethical considerations of some of the things that they require from the technical department.

As an example, board level members seeing software which "would be nice to incorporate into our platform" without due consideration to licensing ("well, why dont we just remove the licensing and ship it - who will know?" etc) and sales people promising highly problematic features and deadlines that the technical team now must keep because the client is a large one. The standard issues in large companies...

As a "disposable" contractor, I raised this with the director that brought me on board, and he asked me what the best way was to resolve said issues without causing major battles between the various people involved...

So, one thing led to another and to my surprise I found that my suggestion of an internal advisory body from the pool of general employees was taken up by the board - and I was given the task of implementing it.

The board have committed to having one representative from this committee at every board meeting (with special dispensation for confidential discussions allowed) for the next year, as a trial measure - the representative is to take note on current discussions and report back to the committee, and make advisory notes to the board.

Has anyone else done this? What advice can people give? Is there anything to watch out for?

My idea has gained wide support with the general employees of the company, with many people wanting to put themselves forward for it, so acceptance doesn't seem to be an issue.

share|improve this question
1  
I like what you did there, however, that actually should not have been necessary. Where I used to work, which is a pretty large company with an internal IT Development team, there was a especific person assigned to reviewing licenses and making sure everything was correct. This is not for the protection of the developer, but for the company itself. And was an integral process in compliance with certifications. –  AJC Sep 15 '11 at 13:36
add comment

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

migrated from stackoverflow.com Sep 15 '11 at 13:21

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

1 Answer

This is an unusual solution to the problems you've listed. Typically, companies will hire someone to be at the VP level, with authority, knowledge and experience required to deal with these problems properly (or, at the very least, a Product Manager, with the authority to veto suggestions and responsibility of making sure that anything he doesn't veto, is doable/legal/appropriate).

It looks to me like the choice of who will be sitting on the board meetings as the representative is the most crucial component here. S/he'll be the one who, in the eyes of the decision making people, will prove whether this was a good or bad idea; so, I'd say, it's crucial to end up with the correct person in that position. The representative will have to watch out for:

  • Authority The representative will have to be able to speak with authority to the board. He'll have to be knowledgeable, liked (or at least accepted) and respected by most if not all the IT team (or be able to get there very quickly). Specifically with IT/programming departments, this requirement can be difficult to fulfill at the same time as the other two, since authority and respect in IT departments tends to be heavily influenced by technical ability, rather than other skills below.

  • Executive ability These types of positions have the potential to be stepping stones towards a move into an executive position. Whoever is in this position is going to have to provide optimized solutions which both satisfy the rest of the IT team, while delivering enough to the board/other departments so they can do their jobs effectively. From the boards' point of view, he'll have to be someone who gets shtuff done.

  • Politics Whoever is going to be in the advisory position is going to become involved in politics at the highest levels of the company. A good portion of their ability to make a difference will be based on their awareness and ability to navigate the political landscape.

Depending on the composition, culture and history of the company and IT department, encourage the formation of a committee which is likely to be able to include this kind of individual in it, and be able to have him or her as their representative. This might be a matter of asking for enough volunteers, or enforcing a system (say, setting up a kind of election) or just crowd-sourcing it (getting everyone interested in the same room at the same time and letting them figure it out). Or, alternatively, maybe the committee members interested in being representatives to the board end up going through an interview process with board members or executive level people at the company interviewing a short list of potential candidates.

Since you've pointed out that most of the composition of the IT department is young and inexperienced with hierarchies, it's also crucial that the committee and its leader find a set of advisors and/or mentors to assist with the process. Ideally, try to find one (or more) trusted, experienced, person in an executive position at another company to occasionally sit in on the meetings, or, alternatively, meet on a semi-regular basis with the representative, and advise.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.