How Do You…Manage IT Department Overload?

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Business executives these days are in an innovation pressure cooker. Everywhere they turn, innovation is the buzz. Innovation makes headlines. Innovation captures investors’ imaginations. Innovation may bring in new types of customers.

Stakeholders aren’t immune to “innovation fever.” In addition to demand for steady, if not increased, profits, stakeholders may be adding to the executives’ pressure with a mantra of innovation, too.

If the C-suite responds by demanding of its teams short-term sprints to innovate, and pushing for the next new thing—especially in a sluggish economy—your company may be experiencing serious IT department overload.

In this article we explore some of the issues we see and you will learn

  • How to recognise the symptoms of IT Department Overload
  • What you can do to manage demand on your resources

 

Signs of IT department overload

Since every project, innovative or not, is likely to have an IT component, overlooking these signs that your IT department is overloaded may lead to failures such as drops in market share, lower earnings and profits, and unhappy customers, executives, and stakeholders.

1. The most obvious sign: critical IT-related turnover.

  • IT is fundamental to the success of every project in nearly every business.
  • There is a shortage of IT project managers competent in the range of skills required to manage complex and fast-paced projects.
  • There also is a finite number of the best of the best IT developers—so much so that IT Project Managers are sometimes pressed into filling this function as well.
  • If your IT department is losing great staff, it may be time to step back and ask why. Maybe IT project members are working 80-hour weeks to meet deadlines. Maybe key deadlines still cannot be met. Which brings us to…

2. The next obvious sign: slipped deadlines.

  • Is one project’s startup crashing headlong into another project that is still in the works, like a train wreck?
  • If that is occurring on a number of occasions, then planning or IT resources—or both—were inadequate.

3. A less obvious yet key sign: people pressed into performing tasks for which they lack skills.

  • Computerworld’s report on How to Prevent IT Department Overload notes that in a pinch, a company may resort to saying, “‘Let’s get Bob to do it. He’s in IT finance–that’s like a business analyst.’ And then Bob makes a big mess.”
  • Look at the frequency with which this type of stop-gap move occurs in your IT department and analyze the cost of doing business this way.

4. The ever-present sign: the size of your IT project backlog.

  • Computerworld states what should be obvious: if containing costs is a business priority while more projects are piled onto the IT department’s cart, the lack of resources will create a backlog in work or, worse, a backlog leading to high turnover, people pressed into tasks for which they lack skills, and slipped deadlines. Sound familiar?

5. A subtler but sure sign: reactivity, and a lack of demand management, demand planning, or any planning.

  • An unmanaged expectation that your IT department can and will handle whatever is tossed its way leads to working in a reactive mode in which the “squeaky wheels” get attended to and the rest get pushed aside for the moment—or chaos, IT-style.
  • If there is no IT map of the projects now in place and those in the pipeline, along with the timeline for each, and the IT resources—project management, realistic workhours per person, and equipment—that will be allocated to each project, then see points one through four, above.

Just say no?

Recognizing that your IT department is in serious overload, what’s next? Just saying no to new projects is unlikely to bring about solutions.

Rather, it will take aligning C-suite and IT department objectives, starting with including IT as a partner in strategic planning at the highest levels of the business, for the best long-range solutions to emerge.

Often turning to a demand management approach will provide executives with the information they need to prioritize their IT requests with a yield that will please stakeholders. As Zetlin states, “Managing the flow of an infinite supply of worthwhile projects through a finite IT operation takes finesse.”

What are strategies to manage the flow of IT projects?

1. Have a plan and protocol. There should be a written plan and protocol for how projects are submitted to the IT department. Everyone should not have equal access to them. The best strategy is to have all projects presented to one committee or person. That committee or person ranks the projects and one person decides who in the IT department works on each project. That way there is only one person assigning projects instead of lots of people.

2. While scheduling the IT projects, time should be allocated in sections. The majority of the time should be spent on scheduled projects in the priority the committee or person decided. But, at least 20% of each IT member’s time should be allocated to emergency projects. Every business has projects that need to be completed last minute. If that time is allocated, then it won’t feel like a crisis. If there are no emergency projects, then the IT member can work on the current project.

But, there is a caution to allocating time for emergency projects. The committee or person scheduling projects must be able to tell individuals which projects are or are not emergencies. Otherwise, some people will always classify a project as an emergency.

3. Consider Outsourcing. Sometimes the pressures are such that it is impossible for the business leadership to drop some projects in favour of others. Sometimes everything has to be done to effect a change in company direction or some other strategic transformation. In these cases consider calling on outside help. Augmenting your IT team with outside resources (e.g. IT Project Management experts) is a reliable and proven solution. You might also consider restructuring your team, outsourcing the non-essential workload, and focusing the team on the core strategic initiatives. However be careful choosing your IT outsourcing partner.

Learning People gives us additional strategies to avoid IT department overload:

  • Have a team decide on the timeline of projects. Individuals who are not in the IT department will not have an accurate idea of the time involved. The time decision needs to be a team decision.
  • Outsource some of the work. Have a few contractors who can do the work that takes the most time, yet affects the project the least.

IT department overload is a problem all businesses face. The IT department is usually in high demand, and many times, the demand is “urgent” instead of managed well. Using the strategies discussed above will help your business avoid the issues associated with IT department overload, which will result in more productivity and success.

Today’s businesses need high quality, high-functioning IT departments as partners for sustainable success. For more information about the tools to manage your IT department’s load in order to meet the IT challenges of today, please contact us.

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