May 7, 2008

Controlling Your Destiny in a Slow-Growth Economy

I’m seeing lots of articles in the trade press on reductions in IT spending as growth in the overall economy slows. You’ve probably seen them too.

CIO magazine says IT Leaders Can Slash Nearly 40 Percent of their Spending while ComputerWorld gravely announces 2008 IT spending forecast again cut by Forrester.

Many of the measures that CIO Magazine recommends are focused on operations – reducing telecom spending, renegotiating IT operations outsourcing contracts, and data center consolidation. But they also recommend improving the “efficiency of application development and implementation processes.”

In our work with clients, we’ve found many ways to improve the efficiency of application development, regardless of how the economy is doing. That’s the big advantage of iterative and rapid methods like agile development.
If priorities change in the middle of a project (like when the economy turns South and budgets get cut), you can go back to the Four Dials Exercise and change your priorities. And if that means modifying the project deliverables and schedule, here are some ways that agile methods make it less painful:

  • Focus on strategic elements. Essentially, this means you’ll have to generate a list of requirements and then carefully prioritize them.
  • Work on your highest priority items first. It will limit distractions. Resist the temptation to make everything a number one priority. By definition, only one priority can really be number one. Figure out what it is and then stay focused on getting it done.
    Adjust priorities. Periodically look at your priority list and make adjustments. Some things may become more important to do, others less so depending on business needs and what drives your organization. Elapsed time can also factor into your prioritization. Keep focusing on the top priority items and make sure they are done before you move on and look at the list again.
  • Remove waste from the process. For each task at hand, focus on what needs to be done to make that task successful. Make sure the requirements are defined and all the inputs needed for success are satisfied. If you don’t know exactly why the team is doing something or don’t have the inputs needed to make it successful, then stop that task and do something else. Ask if the task is still needed and what needs to be done on the input side to complete the task on the second try. Make sure your team and outsourcing partners have clear direction and know what they need to do. Spend the time to make sure questions are answered promptly so that efficiency is kept to a maximum. Driving efficiency and productivity through good management are key to removing waste and squeezing the most out of your resources and time.

Eventually the economy (and your budget) will pick up again. When it does, you can re-examine the items that were postponed and evaluate whether it makes sense to bring them back into the project.