COVID-19: IT’s Fancy Fresh Hell

Posted March 26, 2020 | Leadership |
IT in the time of Coronavirus

When it is not being a public cesspool, the Internet is a great resource. As I was starting to write this note, one Shari Pinault provided a great lead-in, by paraphrasing Dorothy Parker:

This wasn't just plain fresh hell, this was fancy fresh hell.
This was fresh hell with raisins in it.

…thus describing every new day since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

I don’t have to tell you about the impact — you are feeling it. While we are all negatively affected personally, businesses are experiencing a spectrum of effects. Some are seeing an explosion of their e-commerce activities. Others are watching their business collapse as activities at all points in their supply chain slow down.

This variety of circumstance makes it hard to compose a “one size fits all” prescription. But much has been written about dealing with explosive growth, so let’s focus on the downside case. This is where organizations show their true character.

Even though this note is about IT, your first task is to keep your team effective. I didn’t say “whole.” Some of you will have to make hard choices about reductions in hours or whole jobs. Do that as quickly as possible, and with awareness of the pain your actions will inflict. Then, make it clear to your remaining staff that you care about their circumstances. I was heartened to see this on the front page of the 23 March Wall Street Journal:

A Seattle technology company chief spends the first five minutes of her remote staff meetings asking employees to describe their states of mind.

That’s one smart woman. Tweaking a marketing strategy or cloud infrastructure can’t happen if the people doing it are zombies.

With that idea always in mind, during a slow period, there are three activities I would recommend:

  1. Pay back technical debt. This is a great time to review and upgrade processes, architectures, and implementations. I took the opportunity last week to migrate a system to a larger cloud instance, confident that a minimal number of users would be disrupted, even if I hit a snag. It is also a good time to work the bug (or, for some of you, “issues”) list.

  2. Spend time anticipating/gaming the end of the crisis. You wouldn’t be working if you thought things would never get better. So, work with your team to imagine how your business recovery will unfold, and develop a playbook for the restart.

  3. Learn something new. Feed your head. There are a plethora of online resources available to learn new skills. I’m taking a virology course recorded by a Columbia University professor. Cost: $0. Knowledge: priceless. Not because I now know what reverse transcriptase is, but because I feel better back on a learning curve. You and your staff will, too.

A wise boss one told me: “Nothing is ever as bad as it seems, or as good.”

This too will pass.

About The Author
Lou Mazzucchelli is a Fellow of Cutter Consortium and a member of Arthur D. Little's AMP open consulting network. He provides advisory services to technology and media companies. He will lend his broad expertise (and considerable wit) to Cutter Summit 2022 as its Moderator. Recently, Mr. Mazzucchelli was the coordinator of Bryant University’s Entrepreneurship Program, where he retooled and taught senior-level entrepreneurship courses. He… Read More