"What are the main causes of wasted time and effort in a typical large IT department?" asked someone on Quora recently.
The online discussion was framed around several related questions, including one about how much waste most enterprise IT departments experience in software development, internal projects, and operations. (At least one poster estimated that 50 percent to 95 percent of IT's time and effort was wasted in large enterprises -- a range others on the thread disagreed with.)
In general, respondents to the first question blamed IT failure on one or more of the following issues:
Lack of goals, or the wrong goals. "I believe that the major cause of waste in an IT department is a lack of clearly stated objectives and goals," wrote an "IT Guy." When an IT department doesn't quite know what it wants, noted this poster, it hires "manageable" people who fit in with a set of prescribed processes without question, instead of "productive" people who can improve the project. The result is failure of the project and all the resources that went into it.
Too many meetings, paperwork, and bureaucracy. Respondents on the Quora thread condemned following procedure for its own sake. "Unnecessary meetings, meetings with unnecessary or >6 attendees, meetings without an agenda and a facilitator who sticks to the agenda" were cited by "tech veteran" on Quora as contributors to project failure.
"Principal Engineering Director" on Quora wrote:
An inordinate percentage of total project funding goes toward process, tracking, trading off this work item for that, and the worst -- lots of people debating at length whether to fix this bug or that -- rather than just getting the work done.
Poor project management. According to IT blogger Lance R. Vick (not on the Quora thread), software projects go wrong "[b]ecause they are not planned, managed, and delegated well."
The Quora threaders stressed the need to recognize and hire proven project managers. "Poor [project managers] are probably the biggest roadblock to efficient architectural/engineering success," wrote an "Infrastructure Architect." Skimping on salary and hiring cheap labor as opposed to qualified help can doom a development plan. "Two gurus can produce more and better outcomes than a room full of newbies," wrote "tech veteran."
One Quora participant mentioned several approaches to project management that invariably fail, including rewarding people not for the results they produce but for conforming to a set of prescribed rules, not allowing developers to "own" a project but demanding they follow written specs that may need to be changed, and divorcing the decision making about a project from the people actually working on it.
Poor vendor management. When a company hires outside help, equipment, software, or services, it's long been drilled into IT that service-level agreements and monitoring performance are musts. Still, enterprises continue to fall down on the job. As cloud services proliferate, it's more important than ever that enterprises watch out for potential problems. Failure to be conscientious about monitoring vendor performance can lead to re-doing vendor work and taking unnecessary losses.
Outsourcing and offshoring can also put too much distance between IT and implementers. "Yes, you get more people for your buck when offshoring, but you also get major headaches with requirements management, contracts and delivery verification," wrote "tech veteran" on Quora.
Blindness to practical considerations. Does it really matter if engineers work from home? Does your project manager have ready access to the team? Will everyone on your team be able to interact using their particular end-point devices? Is your equipment outdated, holding up developers? "The number of times I've seen a $1,500/day contractor sitting twiddling his thumbs while his ancient workstation struggled to compile a build... do the math," wrote "tech veteran."
These kinds of practical considerations can play into IT waste in several areas. Ensuring your gear is up to the task you've assigned to a development team will have an impact on the operational bottom line and help ensure that regular IT work proceeds efficiently.
These are just a few suggestions for areas where waste in IT can be spotted and controlled. Hit the board below if you have additions.
— Mary Jander , Managing Editor, Internet Evolution