By Steven M. Baule, CIO Advisor
Nearly as soon as I got to my desk on a Monday morning, my executive assistant darkened my doorway. Her message was that the deputy police chief wanted to know if he and the chief could come over to see me in about 10 minutes. That is a request that you always say yes to, so I did. I started to go through my head who was on the substitute list that morning and would be the most likely object of the forthcoming conversation. As it turned out, the two command officers of the police department simply wanted to inform me directly about a relatively minor change in their overtime policy that would affect the school resource officers and other extra duty officers we used for events. I told them I had assumed one of my staff was sitting in their lockup and that early Monday mornings shouldn't be used for that type of spontaneous meetings. They laughed and understood.
Timing is everything. A call from them on Thursday at noon wouldn't have elicited the same response.
In the same way, your IT staff has to time when it rolls out new programs or upgrades software. Historically, school IT staff can make major program upgrades three times a year: over the summer, at winter break, and at spring break. Changes at any other time are usually considered too disruptive and even those that could be done over break are put off until the summer if they impact the instructional program in a way that students or teachers would have to adjust to a new version, etc.
Recently, an automated notification of a new application for a vacancy came across my computer screen about two minutes after a different candidate withdrew from an interview. The subject of the notification should have played the lottery that day because her timing earned her the recently vacated spot in the interview lineup. Timing really is everything in many cases. Asking for senior administrators or Boards to green light even the most necessary and important projects can be a difficult sell, depending upon what other issues are being dealt with at the Board and cabinet level.
Always try to time your requests at the right time, whether for staff, equipment, or other services. It is best to always provide more lead time than you think they will need so they don't feel pressured to act immediately. Besides, you may not be fully informed as to the other issues that the Board and senior administrators are dealing with at any given time. If the superintendent normally requires information be provided two weeks before the Board meeting so s/he has time to review it and package it for the Board, try to provide the information to him/her well before the deadline.
Articulate the same thing to vendors, but realize that they seem to like to wait until the last minute to do almost everything. It is a good practice to always provide yourself with a buffer when it comes to vendor timelines. If you tell a vendor that you need a quote for a Monday, April 8 Board meeting at 7:00 p.m., you risk getting a quote at 6:45 that evening and the vendor will think s/he is being timely. If you want it for that meeting, tell them you need it by March 25. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, vendors love deadlines. Particularly, they "love like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."
Remember timing may not be everything all of the time, but it is an essential component in many executive decision-making processes. Being aware of that is essential for the CIO to have the greatest impact and success.
Steven M. Baule is superintendent of North Boone CUSD 200 in Poplar Grove, IL. He has written several books on aspects of library and technology management and planning. Follow North Boone on Twitter @NBCUSD200.