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The Basics of Management: Five Phases

The traditional formula for effective systems management of any system, process, or activity comprises five phases. These phases were identified based upon close examination of the key issues faced by managers:

  • What activities must be performed everyday?

  • How do we know these get done when they're supposed to?

  • Who is responsible for performing each activity?

  • How do we know if it's being done effectively and efficiently?

  • Who tells management how it's going?

  • Who gets blamed if things don't go right?

  • How can you improve what you're doing?

The five phases of management activity related to systems management are described in the following sections.

Phase 1: Setting Objectives

The first and most important phase is setting objectives. Here we determine the requirements of the business and end users. Without properly determining what needs to be achieved, it's nearly impossible to execute the other phases effectively. You must understand user objectives, so your plans and activities support them.

Alice in Wonderland provides a wonderful lesson. Lost in the forest, Alice came upon a fork in the road and asked the Cheshire Cat which road to take. The Cheshire Cat's answer, in paraphrase: "It doesn't matter which road you take if you don't know where you're going."

In mature IT organizations, setting objectives often takes the form of defining Service Level Agreements—enumerating the various services to be provided to the users, and corresponding attributes such as performance, availability, and features.

Phase 2: Planning

In the planning phase, based on the objectives determined above, you define a plan to meet those objectives. This plan usually covers the resources to be deployed, the activities to be done, the measurements to be tracked, the tools to be used, and how the people are to be organized. Again, we cannot overemphasize the need to address the four elements of systems management: process, data, tools, and organization.

Phase 3: Execution

In the execution phase, we actually perform the steps that were planned in Phase 2.

Phase 4: Measurement

In this phase, we record relevant data regarding the execution of the plan. Many different measures can be tracked, falling into categories such as performance (speed of execution of a task), capacity (number of concurrent tasks executed), failures (number of problems, frequency of problems, areas affected by problems, number of repeat problems, number of detected problems, and so on), and recovery (problem resolution time).

Phase 5: Control

The control phase gives the manager a means to correct the first four phases on an ongoing basis. In this phase, you can verify whether the measurements meet your objectives. You can reexamine and refine your plans to more effectively support achievement of your objectives, and eliminate execution problems. You can review how you execute your plans, to ensure that the execution has not caused availability problems. Finally, you can reevaluate your objectives to determine whether they should be upgraded or downgraded, to more effectively balance user requirements against what can actually be achieved.

Phase 5 never ends. Rather, it circles back to Phase 1, giving the manager necessary information for revisiting phases 1 through 4, and creating a closed-loop process. If you skip any of these phases, your management system is likely to become obsolete quickly.

The control phase is crucial to ensuring that the system is consistently managed well. Many IT shops develop excellent plans and objectives, and perform extremely well when they first implement their plans. But because they fail to check on what's happening, changing technology, environment, and user requirements leave their management systems behind.

All five phases are interdependent. If you fail to get an accurate picture of user requirements in Phase 1, your plans will be misdirected and insufficient. If you skip planning in favor of early execution, your activities will lead to resource conflicts and poor performance measurements. If managers fail to monitor the process, they can't determine its ongoing effectiveness.

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