What factors are impacting IT's effectiveness?
by Rania Kort
AS THE INFORMATION AGE matures and the influx of IT demands continues to increase, IT managers are pressured to improve their operations and adapt to the new pace at which businesses need to operate. However, in order to improve the overall IT delivery process, you must first understand the working relationship between IT and the business community; and the impact one has on the other. Without addressing these challenges upfront and aligning the processes of both organizations to work hand in hand, you will not be able to optimize IT effectiveness.
Forget that old business side/IT side division: you can't afford it anymore.
There is a growing perception that slow software development hinders businesses from gaining competitive advantage and that poor software quality impedes the production of high-quality products and services. These perceptions exist because IT projects often come in excessively late; are over budget; do not fully meet business demands; are dropped or cancelled because of too many open issues; fail before completion; or because the company is not satisfied with the volume being delivered.
These perceptions, and the reasons for them, have been well known in the industry for many years. With the growing complexity of technology and the integration and interdependence that exists these days, the issue has become more pressing. In response, a variety of approaches have been developed to support the application development effort and provide solutions to these challenges: software development methodologies, project management best practices, total quality management principles, the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) framework and guidelines, ISO 9000 standards, program management, and the latest evolution of the project office.
Although these approaches could improve an organization's operation in theory, the problem isn't easily solved. Either not enough companies are utilizing these approaches or the implemented approach is not returning the promised gains. Despite the many attempts made to analyze the problems surrounding IT productivity and effectiveness, the mode of operation continues to be predominantly at the “chaotic” level, according to the Software Engineering Institute's five-level CMM.
Most organizations continue to operate in an ad hoc environment, with few defined processes to follow. In fact, it is the lack of processes and structure in organizations—not the technology itself—that is the primary cause of this crisis. Moreover, companies struggle to manage enhancements and modifications to their legacy systems because they are not being submitted and controlled through any type of structured approach.
Rania Kort ([email protected]) is a director in the New Jersey office of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Solutions Thru Technology Practice. She has experience in all aspects of project management and has been involved in assessing clients’ operations, implementing management structures, and developing process improvement programs in IT organizations. She is a member of PMI's New Jersey Chapter.
Efficient project management practices should be in place within the organization not only to manage new projects but also to manage ongoing changes to existing systems. The ad hoc approach to implementing changes to legacy systems becomes very costly because:
The ad hoc environment brings with it a code-and-fix approach, which results in poorly designed, inefficiently coded systems that are difficult and expensive to maintain.
Without a management infrastructure in place to control changes in priorities and scope, requirements are a moving target. As long as changes are not controlled, costs can't be controlled either.
Without paying close attention to the business value of the requests being made, the organization can never be sure it is working on the right business priorities.
The less of a structure there is, and the less control on the input, the less productive the output will be. This means that, in such an environment, productivity goes down and ultimately less gets done for the business because of ineffective utilization of resources.
Without having a process in place that measures your results in specific categories, you may never really know in which areas to improve.
The theory behind using well-defined processes and productive measurements is that companies can improve efficiency and produce consistent, reliable and well-engineered products. Through this increased productivity, companies can recover the hidden costs that are inherent in their operations and achieve some of their cost savings. This provides part of the necessary framework for corporations to maximize their profits and competitiveness.
Software Capability Maturity … or Lack Thereof. That said, the question is: “Why are so many companies still operating at the lowest level of the software maturity scale?” Why have they not gotten on this bandwagon of improvement? Is it because the economy has been on such a rise that this has not been a priority? Or is it that companies are still shell-shocked from the PC revolution that both raised users’ expectations and increased the demands on IT so much that the code-and-fix approach was the only way IT could keep up? While these social factors may be “macro” drivers behind the problem, there are other issues more close to home. Here's a list of contributing factors on the “micro” level:
Incomplete or changing requirements
Lack of project management experience to thoroughly plan, control scope, and effectively coordinate interfaces from end to end
Because each organization is different, there's no off-the-shelf solution to IT woes that companies can “plug in and play.” The solution lies in good process management and good project management principles.
Lack of clearly defined processes in place that are repeatable and that specify the required tasks and management controls
Lack of authority or experience to successfully implement or enforce processes, standards and procedures
Absence of standardized tools to help track and manage the process from inception to deployment
Lack of education of both business and IT organizations in the expectations of roles and responsibilities
Unqualified resources assigned to required positions due to the IT labor shortage.
What Should be Done? Addressing these factors requires a concerted effort to invest in a process improvement plan. Such an effort takes resources, time and dedication. Too many times, the energy needed to implement a process improvement program is lost because the level of effort and expertise required to effectively enforce it is underestimated. The goal-setting process for improvements must address both individual and organizational needs. This involves formulating a strategy that combines goals from both parties and creates an action plan that links personal success and business results through ownership and accountability. Developing and enforcing this kind of structure requires discipline, persistence and commitment from all levels of management, starting at the top.
The effort to improve the mode of operation must also be viewed as a partnership between both business and IT management, not as an IT effort alone. In order to be successful in improving IT's effectiveness, you cannot assess the software development process alone; you must also assess the overall process of structuring how corporate strategies and ideas are planned and deployed. Implementing a software or quality process alone is not enough. The process that needs to be implemented must have equal responsibility and accountability for both the business and IT organizations for it to be successful.
The business community cannot view the software development effort as IT's problem. The demands that the business imposes on IT, as well as the changes that are continually introduced, impact the way IT operates. This requires a close look at the business process to determine how it can be improved.
The strategic planning process and overall business goals have become so integrated with the delivery of automated processes that the decision-making process can no longer be completed without IT's involvement. Although this is still an evolving synergy, IT's role as a strategic and operational partner and an equal in the company must be embraced. IT—like accounting and marketing—has become an integral part of corporations, and CIOs are being charged with building a bridge between IT and the business in order to bring together business goals that require systems solutions.
Because each organization has different needs, there is no off-the-shelf solution that companies can “plug in and play.” The solution, in fact, must center on the concept of good process management and good project management principles.
No matter how skilled and qualified people are in managing projects or developing software, there is always a need to support their efforts by providing them with a clear set of organizational standards and guidelines to use and execute. Without such support, a lot of effort either goes into reinventing the wheel every life cycle of a development effort or in sacrificing quality and productivity through lack of controls and best practices. In either case, this is very costly for the company in terms of excessive labor costs associated with rework and other wasted efforts; the corporate liabilities and customer impacts associated with poor quality; and employee turnover due to a lack of structure, self-development and contribution.
IT Process Improvement Tips
Obtain the management commitment necessary to drive the change.
Construct a detailed implementation plan that defines the approach.
Have the organization assessed to identify the needs and the issues.
Review the current process and identify the gaps.
Develop a solution that incorporates the findings into a customized process. Ensure the process builds in the necessary controls, procedures, efficient communication channels, defined roles, responsibilities and key measurements for both the business and IT.
Identify the necessary support tools the process needs.
Devise a strategy for rolling it out.
Align resources with the new process.
Communicate and sell the benefit to impacted groups and continually reinforce the goal.
Choose a pilot group for the first implementation.
Train the pilot participants in the overall process, including details on their new roles, responsibilities and overall expectations.
Refine the process as needed during the execution of the pilot.
Measure the results of the pilot, and use the results/measurements as internal benchmarks for future comparisons. If there were no measurements in place to use as a baseline, use the first pilot measurements as your baseline.
Tie employees’ performance appraisals to the process.
Stick with the program!
Providing employees with structure and consistency in their roles, responsibilities, deliverables and guidelines optimizes their level of performance and greatly improves morale. If employees know what their company stands for and which standards they are to uphold, they are much more likely to successfully support those standards and feel as if they are an important part of the organization. This also builds and establishes a strong corporate culture based on pride in quality, ownership and accountability. It fosters a productive and creative environment that results in more than one kind of payoff.
Process Improvement and the Corporate Culture. Management's role in implementing improvement programs is critical. Whenever you introduce modifications to existing processes, you impact people's work habits. When you impact work habits, you introduce change. And when you introduce change, you can expect a certain level of resistance because you are dealing with the psychological aspects of human behavior and the influence of the corporate culture.
This is where corporate culture makes a difference and where the effort and expertise of change management comes into play. Change is necessary for rapidly growing companies and highly competitive industries. It should be considered a skill-building effort that improves the overall service of the corporation. The role management plays and its view of change will greatly influence—either positively or negatively—the implementation of the change effort. Companies that get the higher rewards are those whose culture values the concept of continuous improvement and copes well with a changing environment.
Setting up and supporting a process change in the management infrastructure is like managing an end-to-end development life cycle utilizing the same principles and phases of project management. The change process should be treated as a project—a process-improvement project—that requires resources, dedication, time, and, above all, higher management commitment and support in enforcing it and in viewing it as an investment. Additionally, establishing a process that incorporates its own review and improvement on an ongoing basis is key in keeping it dynamic and successful.
SOFTWARE QUALITY DOES NOT hinge only on implementing good processes. The nature of the requirements requested by the business must also sufficiently meet competitive market demands. In addition, they must be proactively defined and prioritized by the business so that they are implemented within the time frame necessary to develop them. This, combined with tight controls, a solid management infrastructure and the required technical expertise, contribute to the overall quality of what IT produces.
When launching a process improvement project, make sure you have the right approach planned and the right people executing it. If you do not, your process improvement may become one of the many failed projects you are attempting to fix.
Reader Service Number 030
June 1999 PM Network