Summary: CIOs and IT leaders face a daunting task. Gone are the days of simply supporting the business. These days, the expectations placed on the IT department are at an all time-high. CEOs and business executives now demand more business value from the IT department. But, most IT departments are already overworked and understaffed. How can the modern IT department meet these changing expectations using their current resources?
The modern IT department is under more pressure than ever before. They must move quickly. They must shift from a back-office role into a technology driver. They must become a true business partner.
The problem: Most IT departments are already overworked and understaffed. They’d love to move quickly, but they’re constantly putting out fires. They’d love to become a technology driver, but maintaining existing technology and supporting the business keeps them busy already.
The question: How can your IT department become more productive using your current resources and skills? How can they do more with less?
Now, before we get into the different ways to accomplish this goal, let’s clarify the concept. For many, doing “more with less” holds bad connotations. It means cutbacks and extra hours. It means decreasing quality.
That’s not how I define “doing more with less”, and that’s not the point of this article. To me, doing more with less is not about making employees work weekends over mandatory overtime. It’s not about overworking your current staff until they burn out. It’s not about cutting corners that impact the quality of your products or services.
Rather, doing more with less is about taking steps to work more efficiently. It’s about getting more value out of your current resources, without sacrificing quality. It’s about becoming a far more productive team.
So, how can you do more with less? Here are 5 ways:
1. Eliminate the clutter
It happens in every business. Over time, certain tasks become a habit. Maybe they were important at one time, but now employees just do them because “that’s what we’ve always done.”
If you want to do more with less, you must first identify these areas. As explained in this article it starts with asking the right question:
“Over time, we tend to layer “things” on top of each other, such as adding steps to an existing process or increasing the number of layers in the organizational structure. Even when we are required to tighten our belts, the question usually is “How can we cut back on what we have?” instead of starting with a clean slate and asking, “How can we provide value to our customers/clients most effectively?”
How can you eliminate the clutter? Take an honest look at your current processes. Ask yourself a couple of questions about each one:
- “Why are we doing this?”: If you don’t know the answer, or if the answer is “That’s what we’ve always done,” eliminate the task/process.
- “Is there a way to do this better?”: If the process serves an important purpose, analyze your methods. Is there a way to do it more efficiently?
Chances are, you’ll identify tasks that you can eliminate or improve. This will free up valuable time for your team, giving them the chance to work on more important tasks.
2. Insource research and business analysis
It’s no secret that communication between IT and the business is a major obstacle. Not only do they seemingly speak two different languages…they often don’t speak at all!
This creates major roadblocks during projects or technology implementations. What happens? Sometimes the users expect the IT department to read their minds. Other times the IT department (incorrectly) assume they understand the requirements.
The result: Projects take far longer to complete than they should.
Now, some companies have business analysts to address this problem, and bridge the communication gap. But, what if you can’t afford a business analyst? Are you stuck with poor communication? As explained below, there’s another way around this problem, without the need to bring in more employees.
“One way IT departments can improve efficiency and improve the quality of its deliverables is to insource (or outsource) the research and business analysis role and responsibilities of a major project or initiative,” says Josh Rosenzweig, Founder and CEO of WibniLabs. “IT departments often rely on engineers and developers to source functional requirements from the project’s stakeholders and end-users. This not only adds additional responsibilities to their role, but many engineers and developers lack the skill set to adequately capture the important business information. This results in projects that go over budget and under deliver.”
“Some IT departments may not have the need or budget to add a full-time business analyst role, so by sourcing talent from the organization’s own personnel to fill the role, the IT group can quickly establish credibility and free up the engineers and/or developers to focus on their project tasks. For example, if IT is working with the Finance department to implement a new accounting software package, IT should look to identify an individual within the Finance department to temporarily join the IT group for that project as the lead business analyst. This individual will presumably already have the relationships and contacts with the relevant stakeholders/end users and have a detailed understanding of the business needs.”
3. Take the time to document processes and train your team
In any IT department, different employees are experts in different areas. The problem is, they’re often the only person in the company that do what they do.
This creates two problems. First, it creates a bottleneck. Because they are the only ones who can do their job, projects often get stuck with that employee. The rest of the team must wait around until they have time to complete that portion of the project.
Second, it’s a risky proposition. What happens if that employee doesn’t show up one day? The business must scramble to replace those skills, and may lose irreplaceable knowledge.
What’s the answer? As explained below, take the time to document good processes, and train your team on different skills. While it takes time upfront, it leaves you with a more efficient team that doesn’t depend on a single person.
“Almost all the IT departments I see are understaffed and under-budgeted, with a few exceptions,” says Oli Thordarson, CEO at Alvaka Networks. “Getting more done with less comes down to streamlining and documenting good processes and then training all who need to know. It seems counter-intuitive to slow down and figure out good processes and then document them, but that is the discipline that must be followed.
Once this is done, then the person with the lowest requisite skill can perform the task, fast, frequently and flawlessly. But this is a tough pill to swallow as most IT departments have a few really talented people at the top who feel they can’t take the time to document tasks thoroughly, test the process and then train junior staff. In other cases the problem is more insidious as the top talent does not want to document and train other people. Whether this is done by design or unconsciously, it has the same result of making the company an IT hostage… or at least hostage to those few people.”
4. Embrace new technology
It’s a problem I see far too often. In an effort to save money, companies give their IT department inadequate tools (or none at all). Then they wonder why there’s bottleneck.
In reality, the money saved by avoiding new technology is often lost through inefficiency.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should go out and spend your whole budget on new technology. However, when some businesses cut back, they freeze all technology purchases. The result: They miss out on new tools that could save time, improve processes, or help them do more with less.
“Even with the technology that surrounds us, there are still areas that many IT groups have not yet taken advantage of to improve business process, drive down cost, and eliminate waste,” says Dexter Siglin, Vice President, Marketing and Business Development at Net(net) Inc. “One example is around the RFx process. Many companies we work with are still using Microsoft excel and word, and relying on email alone to manage the sourcing of strategic technology. We’ve found that in most cases, that traditional path extends the time each project participant has to spend on rudimentary tasks, increases the rate of errors in the process, adds layers of complication for both buyer and seller, and is open to inconsistency from one project to the next. A technology platform that can centralize this process in one place for buyers and sellers, takes all those risk factors virtually off the table and lends consistency and transparency that all projects are sourced around an agreed to governance model. This is just one example and area where technology enablement can vastly improve the process and give back time to an IT group.”
5. Automate manual processes
One of the biggest productivity killers across the business world stems from a lack of automation. In companies around the globe, employees waste their time performing manual tasks that could (and should) be automated.
What types of tasks can be automated? While it varies by company, here are a few questions to ask:
- Does IT still handle end user reporting?
- Do you manually enter data into your system?
- Are workflow processes still completed manually?
The list could go on, but it’s a topic covered in more detail in this article. Make sure you regularly analyze your processes, and explore ways to automate these tasks. While it requires time up front, this will save weeks of time going forward, and let you accomplish more with your current resources.
These are just 5 ways that IT leaders can do more with less, but the list could certainly be much longer. If you would like to add anything to this list, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share in the comments.
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