Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Maintaining an Agile IT Organization

I tell my managers that their professional lives will be like a rotating lighthouse. The beam will pass each part of the landscape and sometimes you'll find yourself and your group in the beam.

As strategic plans change, compliance demands arise, and board level priorities create highly visible projects, each team will feel the spotlight and may struggle with timelines and resources. The beam may focus for days or even months on a particular group.

Since all IT projects are a function of Time, Scope and Resources , when the lighthouse focuses on a group, I'm often asked about increasing FTEs. Getting new positions approved, especially in this economy, is very challenging. I go through an internal due diligence process following the Strategy, Structure, Staffing, and Processes approach I use for all IT management.

Here's what I do:

1. Strategy - When IT groups are created and position descriptions written, it's generally in response to a strategic need of the organization or mission critical projects. Strategies change and projects end, so it is important to revisit each part of the organization episodically to ensure it is still aligned with the strategic needs of the organization. Imagine an application group created at the peak of client/server technology. When the spotlight shines on such a group to deliver web-based applications, it may be that the group was never designed to be an agile web delivery department. Thus, I look at the strategy of the organization, the current state of technology in the marketplace/in the community and, the level of customer demand. We can then re-examine the assumptions that were used to charter the group and its positions. For example, 2 years ago, the Peoplesoft team faced growing demands for application functionality and high levels of customer service. As chartered, our Peoplesoft team was a technology group without staff devoted to workflow analysis, subject matter expertise, and proactive alignment of new Peoplesoft functionality with customer needs. We re-chartered the group as a customer facing, business analyst driven, service organization backed by a world class technology team. Given the visibility of our financial projects at that time, the organization was willing to fund expansion of the team.

2. Structure - it may be that the team is not structured properly to deliver the level of service needed by the customers. Recently, I worked with my Harvard Media Services team to align job descriptions and hours worked with customer demand. This restructuring was entirely data driven and demonstrated that in order to meet evolving customer expectations we needed one person to work 4 ten hour days, four people to work 5 eight hour days, and one person to serve as a line supervisor, scheduling everyone and communicating to customers. The end result was a minimal increase in expense but a complete realignment of our organizational structure with the current needs of the enterprise.

3. Staffing - it may be that staff skill sets are perfect for their job descriptions as originally written, but they are no longer appropriate for the current state of technology. Training is critically important to maintain an agile IT organization so that staff can grow as technology grows. Based on expertise, levels of training, and capacity to evolve, staff in a group may be promoted or reassigned to best align them with the current strategy and structure.

4. Processes - it may be that customer service issues are related to less than optimal communication or lack of a consistent service process. In my blog about Verizon, a few cents spent on a sticker telling customers to call for router activation would markedly improve the customer experience. When the spotlight focuses on a group, I make sure we have optimized and documented our processes to serve the needs of customers.

CIOs should not assume their organization will be static. Technology changes rapidly and customer demands continue to grow. A healthy re-examination of each part of the organization to ensure strategy, structure, staffing and process are optimized will ensure an agile IT organization that grows and thrives over time. When the lighthouse beam shines on your group, welcome it as an opportunity to renew!
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