IT Service Managers, are you overwhelmed? Try Managing Up.

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Managing Up, IT Service Manager

As an IT Service Manager, are you in the painful situation of being overwhelmed, overworked, misunderstood, and stressed to the max?  

In these situations, isn’t it up to your manager to clear the way and create an environment where you have half a chance to succeed? After all, isn’t our #2 responsibility (after focusing on net profit) making sure the workforce has all the tools, training, SOPs, etc. that they need to succeed?  

Why is the reverse not true for us? Well it is, and sometimes it takes managing-up for our manager to manage us the same way that we manage our employees.  

Managing Up: A Hot Topic for IT Service Managers 

As we leave the “Aligning Service Manager’s focus with the Company’s #1 goal: Net Profit” six-article series, we thought it would be good to spend a moment talking about managing-up.  

“Managing your Manager” has been a constant running theme during the MSP-Ignite Service Manager Peer Group monthly conference calls. It has been brought up so often, that one member suggested it be a Group Discussion Topic at the upcoming 2-day Face to Face meetings.   

How “Managing Up” Can Help Common Workplace Issues   

The first time it came up, the Peer Group member received several good suggestions on how to manage-up. The result a month later – thanks to the input she received from her Peer Group members – was a compiled list of all that was on her plate. Here’s what she did next:  

  • Prioritized the list the way she felt was best 
  • Presented it to her manager for verification 
  • Asked for his input on how items on the list were prioritized 
  • Recognized the manager has the final say  

Using a priority list, in my opinion, is a great example of managing-up. But, it is not the end of the story.  

Several months later she was asked to engage in a new issue/project. Her response was “Great, love to, but where does it fit on my priority list we agreed to?” The result? The task was then assigned to someone else.  Stephen D Buyze | “Empowering Service Managers to increase profit”

 In IT, Managing Up Can Help Avoid Poor Customer Experiences                             

 Recently, another Peer Group member was discussing getting into new Customer on-boarding situations where the fit was not right. From my experience, when it is not the right fit, an excess amount of energy is put into helping the new Customer out.  

However, this usually results in us being perceived as the “bad guys” because we’re unable to give the new Customer a great experience. In both cases, it takes managing-up to avoid these situations in the future.  

As much as Service Delivery may grouse about on-boarding where the fit is not right, they do not have the power to convince Sales to walk away from a bad fit sales opportunity.  

It takes educating Executive Management with a rich Data Driven (keep in mind, I am a Resource Planning Analyst – and therefore always think Data is part of the solution) argument of the pitfalls of on-boarding the wrong fit Customer.       

The best time to have this conversation is right after the Company experiences the pain of a new Customer leaving. This is usually accompanied by a sour taste in their mouth, and the likelihood of them telling all their friends of the bad experience (since we tend to talk mainly of the negative and are slow to become promoters of great service or experiences).  

 Another Great Example of Managing Up from Our IT Peer Group 

A third example, from another MSP-Ignite Peer Group conference call, was managing up to gain support for a checklist as part of the handoff procedures from on-boarding projects to NOC support. It seemed the project team did not see the value in providing good documentation or a warm introduction hand-off.  

We experienced this problem years ago at Systems Engineering, and the solution was a living document NOC checklist done by the NOC team before acceptance and close out of the onboarding project.  

It is amazing how whatever is being monitored suddenly changes habits. Knowing that the project team’s documentation and other information was to be reviewed by the NOC before they would be released from the project changed 90% of the bad habits. The NOC checklist review is now light lifting and done in partnership between the NOC and project team.   

 So, What Are the Keys to Managing Up?  

Good, effective communication maybe? Go figure! Communications seem to be at the core of most problems we are trying to solve. A prioritized to-do list is a great start when overwhelmed. Validate the way the list is priorities, validate on agreement that his is what you should be working/focusing on, and respect that the manager has the final say.  Regularly scheduled 1 on 1 meetings are necessary.    

Data showing the negative impacts of decisions (or the lack thereof) goes a long way in gaining support for change. It is commonly known that gut-feel (instinct) is right 70-80% of the time. To build a managed-up case, data is needed to validate the gut-feel. Data gains managers understanding and support, as well as the impact of the issue.  

Put yourself in their shoes and alert them to pain points before they are aware of them.   

I am sure there are other tools that belong in a manager’s tool belt to manage up, but these are the two (well, three – if you include Communications in general) most common and effective ones that I know of.  


Stephen Buyze is a Resource Planning Analyst who is “Empowering Service Managers to increase profit.”  


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