Successful management of an information technology laboratory
When you are asked to take on the role of lab manager, you must be ready to act as a lab counselor and friend in addition to performing the duties of a typical lab manager. As a lab manager you are usually in a position to add great value to the users of the lab. However, making your laboratory intuitive and user-friendly is only half of the battle. The other half of your job is to make the lab look and feel like a ‘real’ lab in the eyes of the managers who fund the lab. In some cases, it is not just your immediate manager, but everyone in the direct chain of management above you. Why is this? In IT, getting to see the results of a successful project is sometimes not possible. The solution may be implemented at a customer site in which case, only the implementing engineer will experience the gratifying results of a successful IT project and receive the accolades. Unfortunately, the technical managers who may be wonderful engineers usually don’t get to take part ‘in the glory’ once they accept the title of manager. One way they may receive immediate technical gratification is to have their thoughts/intelligence and desires expressed through the laboratory that they fund. Because of this, the lab manager has to balance the true functionality desired by the lab users with the perceived functionality of management. Think about it… how many times you have been working in your lab and your manager, or your manager’s manager, walks through your lab with a group of dignitaries. In some cases, the only contact that managers have with a lab is through their lab inspections and through guiding lab tours. What brings them pride in the lab has to do more with esthetics and perceived functionality versus ease-of-use and true user functionality.
How does a lab manager convince a funding manager to spend money on something that has no visual or intellectual ‘sexiness’? How does a lab manager convince his/her lab users that management really cares about their success and making their lab time more efficient? What if your manager thinks that adding the head of his latest trophy buck to the wall of your lab is a sign of dedication and hard work that should inspire workers and impress lab guests? What if your lab users want, but can’t get, a cool new power strip with retractable cords and enough network cables do make their job easier? In a case like this, compromising with having power cords and networking cables coming out of the orifices of the newly mounted mammal cranium on the lab wall may not be the best solution. What is a lab manager to do? They must counsel (listen, understand, and re-frame perceptions), teach, and negotiate. Usually, this entails getting to know their audience. Look at the manager and lab user’s office, listen to them, and see what is important to them? Try to find common ground and mutual values and/or perceptions. Form a relationship that rewards the other person for who they really are (if they will let you). This way you will be listen to and your needs (the needs of your users) will be more readily heard and taken more seriously. Who knows, you may even enjoy your job more and make some great friends in the process.
-Randy Trahan, PEI