by Mike Sisco

Drain the swamp: an IT management model

Oct 17, 2018
IT LeadershipIT Strategy

Focus on eliminating the sources of problems in IT, rather than simply reacting to them.

alligator camoflauge
Credit: Thinkstock

We’ve heard a lot about “draining the swamp” in U.S. politics, but this phrase has been around a long time, especially in management circles.

I created a management model titled “Drain the Swamp” in 2002 when I wrote my book, IT Management Models, but I heard the phrase many years before that.

Drain the swamp goes like this

All too often IT managers find themselves so busy with problems or hot issues that pop up during the day that they don’t make progress. In other words, they are so busy fighting alligators that they forget to drain the swamp, which will eliminate the alligator issue altogether.

Pull yourself back away from the chaos and evaluate whether there are things you can do to eliminate the source of your IT support problems. Find a way to attack the source of the issue, not simply wrestle with the problem.

I hear things like the following all the time:

  • ”I’m too busy to take time off to attend a training program I know I need.”
  • “I don’t have time to plan.”
  • “We can’t build an IT strategy because our company has no strategy.”

When I hear things like this, I have to chuckle inside. These are reasons people are in such a reactive mode; they don’t take the time to get out of it, so they try to work harder.

These are simply excuses, not the real problem. Working harder is not the answer.

Stop fighting the alligators and “drain the swamp.”

Eliminate the source of a problem and you eliminate the mundane issue that causes you to lose productivity and be ineffective. “Fighting alligators” is the wrong focus, plus it’s easy to get hurt fighting an alligator.

Let’s dive into this challenge a bit with a few points that I include in my “drain the swamp” management model:

Reactive managers get lost in the shuffle of supporting technology

Most people tend to react because it’s easier than being proactive planners. Reactive managers get lost and stay lost in the day to day support issues. The issues of the day tend to fill these managers’ and their teams’ productive hours, and as a result they don’t make very much real progress.

Clearly define your objectives

Define your objectives and target your efforts for higher achievement. Take charge of your life and what you want to accomplish.

Always seek the source of problems and attack them aggressively

Learn where the source of your problems is and attack them with vigor. Eliminating the source can be a real boost to your team’s productivity and remove a lot of headache for your client. This can improve client satisfaction significantly. Lots of upside here.

Find ways to execute your plan, even when you have to fight an alligator

You may have to fight some issues while trying to eliminate the source of the problem, i.e., “fight an alligator in the midst of draining the swamp.” If so, always try to find a way to work toward achieving the real objective while dealing with the immediate problem.

Fight the alligators only as needed to continue moving forward

Totally avoid dealing with the problem if you can while you focus your effort on eliminating the problem source. If you have to fight alligators, only fight them to the extent required to get by while you deal with the real problem. Remember, the alligator is not the problem; it’s the swamp, so focus attention on the real issue.

Stop fighting the alligators and drain the swamp

Focus on eliminating the source of problems versus fighting the problems and you will find your team will be much more productive and will achieve more. Your team and your client will appreciate your wisdom on such matters.

The bottom line

Draining the swamp is all about focus and putting energy into eliminating the source of problems rather than simply reacting and fighting the problems. Focus on preventing problems and it will set you apart from other IT managers.