Aligning IT Staff with Projects

© 1999 Johanna Rothman. Originally published in Cutter’s Business-IT Alignment E-Mail Advisor, Feb. 3, 1999.

Many IT managers are juggling too many projects and not enough staff. How do you make sure everyone’s focused on the right project?

First, decide what’s most important for the business right now. Just because something was important at one time doesn’t mean it will retain the same amount importance for its lifetime. If you can’t get a project done by a certain date, it’s possible you shouldn’t even attempt it. For each project, ask these questions:

  • What business need does this project fill?
  • What is the effect of finishing this project on time, not finishing this project on time, or not finishing the project at all? What ripple effect does this project have on others?

Each project exists in an environment. As the IT manager, your job is to understand that environment and how each project interacts with others.

Second, rank each project, and publish the ranking of your projects. Often, when executives ask for changes, it’s because they don’t know what you’re working on or when you expect to get to their particular project. Here are some guidelines for project ranking:

  • Ask the appropriate executive if you’ve captured what he/she needs done.
  • When you publish the ranked list, include the expected date of the next project ranking.
  • Don’t change the list for at least three weeks. Let your staff make progress on their projects.

Third, track how often you change rankings. If you change rankings frequently, there’s a misalignment between what the executives really want and what your staff is focused on. Your job is to seek out the reason for the misalignment.

Once you know what the company wants, you can work with your staff to accomplish it. Here’s how:

  1. Talk to your staff. Use one-on-one meetings to make sure people are working on the projects you want them working on. Use group meetings to see problems related to project interdependencies.
  2. If your staff wants to do lower-ranking projects, learn why. They may understand more about the business of the company, or they may just want to play with some snazzy technology. Find out which is the case.

Once your staff is focused on the most important projects, they’ll spend more time completing projects and less time “shifting gears” from one project to another.

Like this article? See the other articles. Or, look at my workshops, so you can see how to use advice like this where you work.

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