The art and science of management

* Management tools aren't just about technology

IT management can be approached from multiple perspectives and levels. When looking at the reality and vision of the approaches there are two particular aspects that are interesting: the art and science of management.

The science side of management tends toward the analytical, as well as relying on technology. Technologies such as root cause, statistical analysis that is used to predict behavior, the likelihood of something happening, or filtering out extraneous data, are all part of the science of management.

We can be thankful for the technological advances that management vendors have brought to IT organizations. Advances such as analytics and built-in intelligence have added sophistication and automation to their tools.

However, some management solutions are somewhat hamstrung because they are stuck on a path that may have been influenced by the legacy of their products, or sometimes developers can get stuck in a certain mindset. And that is where the art in management can step in.

As IT administrators, you delve into the art of management every day. One aspect of this art is the "gut-feel" method of diagnosis. Experienced administrators just have a knack for knowing where and what to look for and to quickly remedy a problem. So yes, one aspect of the art in management is in the people. And from a process and consistency standpoint, having the ability to capture the "art" that is in people's heads is another challenge that many management tools are looking to solve.

Another aspect of art in management is taking a creative approach to developing management products that takes an out-of-the-box approach to solving a problem. The creative design of management approaches has also been responsible for innovation in management.

User interfaces are another area where creativity can change the way that people do things - in a positive manner. For example, instead of presenting data in random and sometimes familiar ways, designing the interface so that it makes the user more efficient and effective takes creativity. Such interfaces can't be so different that users have a longer learning curve to train to use it. Nor can it force the user to totally adapt their own processes to a prescribed process that is dictated by the user interface, unless there is a specific reason for doing so.

So these are just some examples of how art can be used in management, and I'm sure that there are many more. But the point is that many times, the focus of the engineers who are designing management tools is on the technology. While technology has brought good things to management, I contend that the combination of science and art can be more powerful.

For example, architecture of management products is one area where one assumes a heavy emphasis on technology, and rightly so. However, like building a house, before I design the architecture, I have to find out how the people who will be living in it are going to use the house. What is their lifestyle like? Do they have hobbies that require special details added to the house? And what are the people's preferences? Finding out this kind of information out prior to designing the house, I would consider as art.

So in designing technology, vendors need to do the same thing so that what they design fits the user in every way - how it will be used, other purposes that it must serve, and more. Then the architecture is designed using a combination of art and science - using creativity to design the architecture in such a way that optimizes the use of technology. In this way, the combination is much more powerful.

So as you evaluate management products, be sure to consider the technology as you normally do, but go beyond the technology to see how the vendor has applied the combination of art and science in its solutions. It can be very enlightening.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.