Doing more without getting more

I work for a corporate IT department as a development manager. We are a company that grew fast, kept up with some things and are seriously behind on others and, of course, have way more requested of us than even 2 departments of our size could complete. No one can endlessly hire new people so what do we do?

Well, if I had the magic bullet answer, this would be a book instead of a blog post and my house would be a nice mansion with a water view instead of a rental house 🙂 However, I think there are a set of concepts we need to bring into departments like mine.

Direct the why, not the how and maybe not even the what

Ensure everyone in your department knows the guiding values, principles and/or mission for the department and how that aligns to the same for the company as a whole. We need to understand this like the back of our hands. This will allow us to add value with new ideas that are on target, make decisions that have less risk and be more engaged in what we do – which we all know means better things for the company as well as the individual.

 Validate that effort aligns to the why

If we are doing something that doesn’t further the guiding values, principles and/or mission for the department or company, why are we doing it, especially if you are already out of balance with supply and demand? If you are dying and call for an ambulance, you don’t want it to be out handling someone with a broken finger, right? Handling broken fingers doesn’t align to the core purpose of an ambulance service.  They can only handle so many customers at once so they know that they better spend their time on the most emergent situations. They stick to their guiding principles.  At work, you are a critical resource. Why should you or your department deviate from your mission? What will your company gain from it?

Understand Cost of Delay in cold, hard cash

In my early management days, we got along with just classes of service. However, grouping work together in common pools reminds me a little of the flaw of averages. There is value in understanding the real numbers. I’ve been through many exercises in which you have a lot of info and you think you make a good decision, but when someone tells you the real cost of delay, the picture completely changes. Don’t fool yourself that ROI on its own can replace CoD. We need to see cost aligned with a timeline. Time, not money, is our scarcest resource.

Visualize the portfolio

It is so easy to look at work as a series of individual requests. You can continue to do this, but if you visualize this as a portfolio of work you begin to see patterns and problems emerge. Apply The Kanban Method to your portfolio as a whole. When you focus on flow of your portfolio across a department instead of just flow of an individual small team, you begin to truly realize the value of flow-based processes and continual learning. The true gains in value of optimizing flow happen in the connections between teams rather than in the teams themselves.

Manage the dependencies across the portfolio

So often we see resource managers from different groups saying “we will need Joe or Sally or Sue for 20/40/60 hours for this project. I think he’ll be able to get that done in the timeline of this project.” And we see this pattern repeat with every resource manager involved in a single project. However, I don’t often see explicit dependency management that works to ensure that the right people are available at the same time in the project so that they can work with the other people on hand-offs or integrations. We end up with a lot of churn. This makes our already slow department slower.

So, if you have specialists on multiple projects in the portfolio, recognize that they will need more slack than the rest of the people in the system so they can respond to changes in the project timelines and still be available for the hand-offs and integrations when needed. Any waiting on specialists will change your project timelines.

Remember: the more specialization you have, the more slack in the system you need!

Decentralize decision-making

If you have done as mentioned above and really instilled the values across your department, then you can have a higher level of trust that the correct decisions can be made by a wider set of people with lower risk. When people understand the goals, they can better ensure they make decisions that will further those goals. There is perceived risk in letting everyone make decisions vs funneling through a small set of people “in the know.” I don’t buy into that perceived risk. I think its riskier to limit your options to what can be conceived by such a small set of people. When you direct too much (and this ties into the first item in this post), you get exactly what you ask for. When you allow yourself to let others contribute, a world of possibilities opens up. Yes, maybe you could have made a better decision in a single situation. But, across the whole you’re more likely to get a lot more than you knew to ask for. Also, who says even that small set of people make perfect decisions all the time?

I’m working on talking through these items with my leadership. What are you doing at your large company? Anything to add? Any disagreements? Share here or on twitter to @everydaykanban!