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Eliminate IT Distraction Work

By Don Desiderato  |  Posted 11-08-2011 Print

Once you understand the full scope of what is being worked on, the next step is to ensure that this level of work--and the specific items involved--are agreed upon by the enterprise. This step depends on the
elimination of distraction work, which is accomplished in two ways:

  1. Create a prioritization committee.

  2. Limit entry points.

Your prioritization committee is a cross-functional group of business and IT executives who are empowered to make prioritization decisions. The group will collectively assign business owners to projects, assess business benefits, and then track and report on progress. It is here in the prioritization committee where even discretionary IT projects are approved. This committee is also accountable for ensuring that the business benefits are achieved after a project is completed.

Criteria used to filter whether a project is approved or not can include items such as cost reductions, potential revenue enhancements, regulatory concerns, compliance-related issues, operational improvements or pure technology needs. A common technique for a prioritization committee is to break projects into categories, for example, by using total cost of the project:

  • Large: greater than $1 million in projected cost

  • Medium: $500,000 to $1 million

  • Small: $100,000 to $500,000

  • Very small: less than $100,000.

The rationale for breaking initiatives into categories is that the committee may want to allocate small amounts (e.g., $50,000) to a business leader (e.g., head of operations) to spend on multiple bug fixes. The dollars can then be managed in the aggregate by a business owner. In addition, there may be a greater degree of business justification required to get large, multiyear initiatives approved versus medium-size or small projects.

In the event a prioritization committee is deadlocked, there must be an escalation process in place to send the question to the executive leadership team. In addition, while the CIO normally chairs the committee early on, long-term ownership should be placed in the hands of the portfolio management office or a senior business leader.

As far as the process of limiting entry points is concerned, it's important to note that, in a typical IT organization, it is quite common for a programmer to receive a phone call from an associate in the business asking for a "favor." Programmers, being problem solvers, usually agree. While the request is important to that one associate, it may be complete distraction work--or, worse, a feature with which others may actually disagree. Business associates may like this instant access to IT, and IT workers may relish the opportunity to help a colleague. Nonetheless, this is inefficient and can result in frustration for business leaders who expect a strategic use of time.


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