Home > IT Management > Run for the hills! It’s company plan time!!!

Run for the hills! It’s company plan time!!!

It’s that time of the year for me – company plan period, IT planning and budgeting, TCO reduction etc. It is enough to make strong minded folks weep for the excruciating pain that goes into this process that often feels like Groundhog Day (see the movie).

Some random forces of evil creating pain for me revolves around the usual:

1. Reduce costs! IT costs are running amok! (Yes, and maybe yes)

2. You need to have an IT strategy to plan! Where’s your IT strategy?! (Yes, and well… I will get to this one later).

3. Sweat the IT assets – reduce your projects!

So for the next 2-3 months, my IT organization will bend over backwards trying to make sense of a process that is by its very nature, like an Escher-like workflow diagram. Working in an enterprise organization and sharing information about budget information and project portfolio without tools is the ultimate in mental masturbation.

Jim MacLennan classic post Five More Realities for Driving Business Value from Technology has an excellent point on managing TCO. Personally, I believe that TCO management is a relatively simple exercise, but it’s the fact that organizations go nuts over seemingly increasing IT costs, want to slice and dice the IT numbers ad nauseum that creates a process monster that chews up time and people. The key is budgetary transparency, which more process isn’t going to help transparency ironically but lost in the shuffle of papers and Excel files flying through email. Unsurprisingly, in my experience, Finance folks appreciate us IT guys who give the numbers straight and unadulterated. So long as the category descriptions are meaningful to a non-IT person and numbers that don’t look like they come from the Gamma quandrant, the good people from Finance stop being Gestapo storm troopers. Well why not, treat them as business partners interested in strong operational management and risk reduction (i.e. “gotchas”) like yourself and all’s well.

The IT strategy part I mentioned above, now this is a bit of a pet peeve. The fact of the matter is that no strategy ever got achieved without people. So when people blather about strategy and needing a strategy, it’s like putting the cart before the horse. Your IT capabilities are only as good as the people you have. So if you don’t have people because you’ve just gone through a re-org, or people left as a result of the re-org, or your re-org created a skills and capabilities gap between new functional needs and old staff… it just doesn’t matter what kind of IT strategy you have because it simply could not be achieved. Naturally, I exclude those managers who think that by simply talking about strategy, the strategy will magically happen.

Now “sweating IT assets” is an interesting topic because it hits on so many nerves. It can of course affect one’s IT strategy – meaning usually that it doesn’t fit because sweating IT assets means that your IT strategy is all about implementing sexy projects, big budgets, and many resources resulting in the proverbial white elephant. Now what makes this all the more interesting is that one’s successful IT career is often about white elephants because it creates perception amongst the IT person’s peers that the strategy is working, the IT guy is a forward thinker and leader whom the organization should promote, thereby fulfilling yet another cherished corporate principle – the Peter Principle.

This is dangerous though because IT projects isn’t about implementation. It’s about the project’s benefit to the organization. Most of the time, projects are evaluated against time, budget and quality. So after implementation, we duly hold a project review meeting to check against this and see how we all did. Unfortunately, the question of project benefit realization falls by the wayside as no one is around to ask this question and check to see if the investment made actually resulted in a benefit. A few people such as Jim MacLennan and Mark Kozak-Holland make the point that project reviews should be done at some point during the operational phase, after the “go-live” point, to allow for this analysis. See Mark’s excellent approach to project management lessons and best practices: Lessons From History.

As the world turns, we plan ahead for future capabilities and thus, future projects…

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  1. July 14, 2008 at 1:52 PM

    Great article. I have also had to fight against the “less cost, less headcount, get more done!!!”-style of planning. It never works. It is not based in reality, but in wishful thinking by management.

    I find that project management and planning can really help combat it. I lay out all the things that the company wants done for the year. Estimate high-level costs and time frames. I then ask for an appropriate budget, based on those goals.

    At first the finance folks yell and scream, because it is either much more or much less than what they expected. Then we have conversations with senior management about what to add or drop to the list of goals for the year.

    By the end, the finance people are often my best ally. They recognize that their past budgets were based upon guesswork and were hopelessly imprecise. They realize that they never anticipated major, one-time costs like hardware and software purchases in the past. They see that I can actually tell them, “On June 30 we will incur a huge software license renewal fee, and you need to have cash on hand to pay it.”

    It may take a few years, but I believe it is possible to put an end to the unfortunate cycle of “less cost, less headcount, get more done!!!”

  2. Lui Sieh
    July 14, 2008 at 3:01 PM

    Hi Alex,

    Appreciate the comments and I agree with you. I’ve found that the structure and discipline that project management provides, especially good project portfolio management, makes the finance people quite interested. And as a result of these insights, it’s quite easy to build in good operational discipline – cashflow, meaningful measurement of actuals, improved planning etc – which helps finance people manage their part of the business better.

    This intersection of IT and Finance through project management is an often under-explored option to build better cross-functional relationships. Probably a good topic to further look into at some later point in time – such as in Project Portfolio Management or PMO.


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