The Game of IT Management

Opinion: Here's how to avoid hearing, "You sank my IT project!"

A couple of games designed to help developers learn the ins and outs of good coding have recently been released. This is a great model, as games can be terrific learning tools. But it did get me wondering: Why hasnt anyone developed such a game for IT managers?

Ive taken it upon myself to fill this gaming gap with the new, semi-official eWEEK Game of IT Management. (Im working on a better name.) The point of this game is to start an IT project and to guide it through all the usual (and sometimes not so usual) ups and downs.

To show you how the game goes, I had two volunteers, Ken and Martha, play through a round. Heres how the game went for them.

Martha goes first, moving her rack-mount-server playing piece three spaces—oh, she landed on the space "Write an RFP," which will cost her a turn.

With his laptop playing piece ready to go, Ken rolls a six. All right! He lands on the "Your product launches, have a drink!" space. Ken rolls again. Another six! He lands on "IPO time." Stock up on those options, Ken.

Martha goes again and rolls a one. Oh, no. "New CFO has been hired." I guess she wont get those new servers she wanted. Now Ken rolls a three. Uh-oh, "Holes in system found." Ken has to fork over some serious cash for a patch management system.

Marthas turn: "A core product on which you built your system has been acquired." Martha loses a turn while she waits to see what happens to the product. Ken goes and, darn, "Major server crash." He loses a turn, too.

On Marthas next roll she lands on "Product gets a major new customer," earning her a pat on the back from upper management. Kens not so lucky, landing on "Multiple product updates," which empties his budget.

/zimages/1/28571.gifIT managers say all of the evidence they have seen points to more complexity, not less. Click here to read more.

Now were into the final stretch. Martha rolls the dice and, look out, "Company stock has gone down." Martha has to lay off a big chunk of her staff. Ken does even worse: His last roll lands him on the "Your job has been outsourced" space.

And the winner is? Well, thats the problem: I havent figured out a way for players to win the game. So far, there are only varying levels of losing and just getting by.

Of course, an old-school board game probably wont teach anyone much about IT management, other than to remind them of all the bad things that can happen. But one lesson that can be learned is that a lot of random things can happen to a project, and there usually isnt anything a manager can do to prevent them.

For example, you might be worried about picking products from a company that might be an acquisition target, but do you really think that you can predict what companies (or company divisions) will and wont be acquired? Im sure there was a fairly large number of people who thought they couldnt go wrong with buying IBM systems but were then surprised to end up being Lenovo customers.

The same goes for almost every other problem that can set back an IT project. With security problems, you have to prepare as best as you can, but its impossible to build a bulletproof application. And if you could figure out all the trends and movements of the business market, youd probably be doing something much more lucrative than IT management.

Thats why the best method with any IT project is to simply stay focused on what works best. Dont pick products based on what vendor you think is going to be around; just pick the product that best fits your needs. With customer-facing projects, do a lot of upfront work on capability requirements and objectives. And, of course, invest in the recovery and backup systems that will let you weather the inevitable storms and crashes that will affect your project.

Or, you can just roll the dice and pray.

For those who actually want to play the eWEEK Game of IT Management, Im putting together a printable version of it. When it is ready, youll be able to find it at our new eWEEK Labs resource site,, which also includes blogs, testing tools, tips and inside info from our staff.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at