I think you are missing the point…

A brief story….

A team found that many of their impediments and problems with delivery were caused by a lack of access to IT operations or lack of responsiveness, they requested a member of the IT operations team be co-located with (and become part of) the delivery team. This was approved and trialled as an experiment.

From the perspective of the development team this was a major success, delivery times improved, delays were reduced and the major constraint to delivery was aleiviated. In short software projects were delivered sooner and with less complications, the overall cost of delivery went down dramatically.

However, the management team decided to remove the IT ops team member and retrurn them to their old team on the basis that they were not being fully utilized.  The notion of a human resource not being fully utilized was too much for them to bear.

[Please note when I say utilization – that is on IT Ops tasks – they were using ‘slack time’ to support the team in other ways]

When I challenged this decision, I was told that they were unable to increase headcount for IT operations staff unless it could be demonstrated that existing resources were more than 100% utilized on IT Ops tasks over the course of a normal week.  So anyone not 100% utilized was considered a problem for them and became a burden on other team members.

This same IT operations group has a huge backlog of work and lead times were extremely long, they were a major bottleneck for almost every aspect of the business operations.  Sadly the management team did not see any correlation between the absence of slack time and the long lead times.

Too often the dependency on IT Operations and their perceived hindrance to business operations, leads to unnecessary conflicts and frustrations. Usually felt by the staff on the IT Ops teams. But it is because IT Operations are so important that they get this reputation.

How can you justify extra resource if you are not fully utilizing the ones you have?

I have no doubt this is a common story, “how can you justify extra resource if you are not fully utilizing the ones you have?”  In principle this would appear to be a perfectly reasonable and logical statement, and I can understand why many management teams fall into this trap. But it is the wrong question.

What troubled me most was that we had demonstrated that the impact and delays suffered by the delivery team in just this one example were actually costing the organization so much that they could easily pay for 5 or more additional IT operations staff with the benefits gained. And more so that this situation could be repeated all over the business.   The response from the IT Ops manager was that I was missing the point, and they couldn’t justify underutilizing staff.  Their measure for success was maximizing utilization of staff, and not supporting business goals, like say profitability.

I see this mainly as a failure of the business, for not making clear to management where they contribute and how they impact on the larger business objectives. That combined with a manager that either doesn’t see or doesn’t challenge this omission leads to perpetuation of dysfunctional behaviour.

Managing resources effectively not efficiently

I apologize for comparing people to resources, but in this context it is applicable.

Could you imagine if that same principle was applied to other resources?  Your PC would be taken away if you didn’t use it 40 hours a week, you would be forced sell your car because my guess is that you only use it 10% of the time. You would wear the same clothes every day.  Cooking would be a nightmare if you could only have food where all ingredients took exactly the same amount of prep time and cooking time.  I’m getting silly now but it is the same principle, by totally ignoring the reason why we have a resource and focusing entirely on maximizing it’s utilization we behave in really rather perverse and contrary ways.

In any other context the notion that anything less than 100% utilization prohibits buying a second item (regardless of how beneficial) is plain nuts.

Please do not misunderstand, I am not encouraging waste by this, I am encouraging understanding of how resources are being used. When you are meeting the business goals and your flow is optimized, that is the time to look at whether reducing waste is possible but to do so in a way that ensures that any reduction in waste is not hurting business goals.  It may turn out that just like your car, the optimum utilization is less than 100% and availability and responsiveness are valued higher than utilisation.


Summary

In this situation, I am very proud to be “missing the point” and I wish far more managers would take the time to understand how their role impacts the larger business and perhaps they too will miss the point and start asking important questions. IT Operations in particular are the lifeblood of so many businesses and their actions can make or break a business, understanding all the areas of the business that IT operations supports and how the cost of delay is often significantly higher than the individual cost to operations of that task or that ‘resource’.  The ability for IT operations to prioritize and  react promptly to the needs of a business is a far better measurement than measuring utilization of staff.

I’d highly recommend that anyone in IT Operations reads the book The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, and ensure that anyone that benefits from the service they provide also read it.

Understanding how you contribute to the goals of the business is so important, and if after that you truly believe that your role should be maximizing the utilization of resources and not supporting the business achieve it’s goals, then I would suggest it may be you that is missing the point.

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