10 must-reads for IT managers

A reading list culled from the bookshelves of government CIOs

You need only visit your nearest bookstore to see the plethora of management books lining the shelves. But as a federal information technology professional, which ones should you read? We asked some IT managers which books they would recommend and why. Here's what they said.

1. "Sun Tzu's The Art of War for Managers" by Gerald Michaelson

Description: This book imparts the knowledge and skills used by ancient Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu to beat adversaries in war.

Ira Hobbs, chief information officer at the Treasury Department: "Our business involves and is defined by strategic thinking, and [Sun Tzu] excels in defining the way of peaceful warriors. I enjoy it because it allows for creative thinking yet [provides] practical application in our management world today."

2. "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done" by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charam

Description: The authors explain how to build an "execution culture" in an organization by understanding how to link people, strategy and operations.

Robert Carey, the Navy's deputy CIO for policy integration: "It is an easy read and hits right at the heart of a lot of IT issues ...delivering on the [return on investment] promised."

3. "Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage" by Nicholas Carr

Description: Carr argues that IT has been transformed from a strategic investment that can give a company an edge into a commodity that should be managed for lowest cost.

Bruce McConnell, president of McConnell International LLC: "The bottom line is that IT does matter, but Carr's arguments have value. Today, government and business executives demand that CIOs and the IT industry provide a cost-effective, predictable and secure environment. If they don't, they won't be able to convince them that IT innovations — even if they could support strategic, transformative changes — are worth the price."

4. "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations" by James Surowiecki

Description: Surowiecki argues that "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent and are often smarter than the smartest people in them."

Kay Clarey, director of information systems at Treasury's Office of District of Columbia Pensions: "I'm a proponent of chaos theory and nonlinear thinking. We need to be more inclusive and diverse to continue to be successful in this fast-paced economy/ world."

5. "The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering" by Frederick Brooks

Description: In this book on software project management, Brooks says large projects suffer different management problems from small ones because of the division of labor.

Roger Baker, vice president for federal civilian operations at General Dynamics Network Systems: "The wisdom imparted from that book is critical for anyone managing IT projects to understand, including such gems that are so often ignored as, 'Nine women cannot have a baby in one month,' and, 'Adding staff to a late project makes it later.' If you don't understand the fundamentals of this book, you won't understand why your projects keep failing."

6. "Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company" by Andrew Grove

Description: Grove, chairman of the board at Intel Corp., reveals his strategy on how to manage and capitalize on massive changes that affect businesses.

Charles Havekost, CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services: "Grove discusses what he calls 'strategic inflection points,' change events that dramatically affect the core business of an organization. We can learn from the book how to embrace and leverage the forces that bring about such change."

7. "Going Wireless: Transform Your Business with Mobile Technology" by Jaclyn Easton

Description: The author shows how wireless technology is transforming businesses, both large and small.

David Sullivan, CIO for Virginia Beach, Va.: "This book does a great job of giving executives an overview of wireless technology we can use to help reinvent government processes and citizen services. The business case examples she provides will amaze and, many times, surprise you. These examples should easily trigger great applications and business reinvention ideas for the enlightened government IT leader."

8. "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide" by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever

Description: By looking at the barriers that hold women back and the social forces constraining them, the book shows women how to reframe their interactions and accurately evaluate opportunities.

Gene Bounds, chief operating officer at Robbins-Gioia LLC: "It draws on research to help us identify differences between men and women in their propensity to negotiate for what they want. From my perspective, negotiation as a workplace skill is seldom addressed in terms of cultural and gender differences that managers should understand and value. I am finding this book to be helpful."

9. "Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies" by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras

Description: The authors delve into what makes some companies exceptional and stand out above the rest.

Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and IT at the Office of Management and Budget: "Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' work helps us navigate the big, hairy, auspicious goals of government IT."

10."The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society" by Norbert Wiener

Description: The author focuses on the implications of cybernetics for education, law, language, science and technology as he examines the enormous impact the computer has had on our lives.

Fred Thompson, practice director of Unisys Corp.'s Federal Government Group: "As IT professionals, we are frequently challenged by the concept of when it is appropriate to automate a process and remove human judgment, and when it is not. Norbert Wiener spent his life trying to get machines to act creatively like humans and concluded that it was inhuman to have people do mechanical processes that machines could do and that it was a mistake to take human judgment and experience out of processes where there is a need to constantly evolve to face new and unexpected situations. Machines and people need to do the things that they each do the best."

O'Hara is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.

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