It's a common problem: business managers overwhelm IT staffers with nagging, small support requests—everything from changing the graphics on a Web site to setting up a personal iPod. At Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the $4.6 billion, Miami-based cruise line, one-third of IT's time was being spent on such small fixes. So Richard Shapiro, the company's manager of program administration, created an ingenious system to manage those requests—the Sponsor Checkbook.
Think of it as a debit card for basic IT support services. The concept is relatively simple: Each business project has a sponsor who oversees multiple projects each year. Shapiro assigns each sponsor a predetermined number of support hours based on the historical trends of the projects under their management. Then he posts the master list of sponsors' balances on the corporate intranet for all to see.
Sponsors use the system like a regular checkbook. For every support request that gets fulfilled, time is debited from the overall balance. The checkbooks are updated weekly, and a report automatically tracks each sponsor's "burn rate"—how quickly they're using up their hours. If, for example, you're using up your hours too quickly, your name is highlighted in yellow. If your account is overdrawn, your name shows up in red—often triggering a call from your manager.
Shapiro says the process, implemented 14 months ago, was originally designed simply to track how IT was spending its time, but quickly blossomed into an important governance tool. "What's really at work here is self-regulation and peer pressure," he says. "As names go yellow and people see their burn rate going up, they self-regulate."
Not all employees are wild about the system, Shapiro admits, but he can live with that. "It's powerful, and it's effective," he says.
It's so effective, in fact, that some sponsors end up donating excess hours to fellow colleagues whose projects require more time than originally allotted—thus giving Shapiro a better understanding of how to set balances for the coming year. "In reality, we don't care how you spend those hours, as long as you stay within your limit," he says. "People are empowered to make those decisions."
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