Enterprise Software

Increase staff capacity without adding new resources

When you can't afford to add staff, you can follow these tips to get the most out of what you already have.

How do we get more accomplished with existing resources?

It's a common question these days. In this article, I'll share a few techniques I've used in the past to get more from my existing resources without "squeezing" them. For this discussion, I equate "resources" to IT staff.

The productivity factor

Obviously, one of the ways any manager can accomplish more with existing resources is to improve the productivity of those resources. Improving your staff's productivity is an ongoing effort and one that's important for the employee, your company, and for you as an IT manager.

Improving your existing staff's productivity can be accomplished in several ways:

  1. Train and develop your employees—Target specific training opportunities for each employee that helps him or her do more. The training can be internal programs that cost little to nothing other than time from one of your senior people. Or, you can use outside vendor programs that can teach specific skills to the employee that improve his or her production capability.
  2. Coach and focus employee efforts—Too often, we allow our employees to "find their own way." Being more proactive in delineating employee responsibilities, focusing their efforts on important tasks, and coaching them for higher productivity is a good thing. Expect higher productivity and you will often get it.
  3. Give them tools—Our IT employees want to be productive and to produce quality results. Invest in your employees by giving them the tools that boost their productivity.
  4. Incorporate a quality improvement program—Often, employee productivity is hampered by poor quality in the delivery of their efforts. More than not, they can't see the problem; it's the "can't see the forest for the trees" issue. For example, if your programming staff has to fix lots of problems that are discovered after software enhancements are put into production, you have both a client service problem and a productivity problem.
    Implement a quality improvement process that delivers higher quality code. You will initially see your programming output drop, but it will soon increase and your productivity will improve considerably.
    Every time I have implemented a quality improvement program, I have met resistance from my senior people. Only after showing them the numbers before and after the quality program do they actually believe it improves the team's output.
  5. Give extra incentives for more work—In a couple of situations we had an inordinate amount of programming backlog. We needed to reduce the backlog level, but didn't want to hire more people. To attack the problem, I offered our programming staff incentives to work on extra projects "on their own time," which meant outside of normal hours.
    This type of program can be very effective, but you have to be careful to avoid creating an impression that you are paying for overtime. Hourly people get overtime, not professionals. You also only want to authorize the additional work to those who are doing an acceptable job; in other words, the way to qualify for the incentive work is by doing your normal job well.
    I tend to use a program like this only in short spurts, say three to five months, versus allowing it to become a normal work program.

The perception factor

Improving your staff's productivity can actually be accomplished by changing the perception of the team's productivity. I'm not advocating any type of deception, but there are things you can do to make the team appear to be more productive.

  1. Organize for client service —Create a structure and implement processes that help your employees quantify issues, implement change in an orderly manner, escalate appropriate issues, and follow up consistently. Improving client service automatically makes your team appear to be more productive.
  2. Manage client expectations to your capacity—If your team is overcommitted to the capacity of what they can deliver, the natural conclusion will be that they're not getting the job done. Manage your client's expectations to your team's actual capacity for delivery and it will appear that the team is more productive. We should be managing this way anyway, but it's easy to get overcommitted.
  3. Filter the IT request backlog—Review the requests coming into your programming support and desktop support organizations. Quite often, requests are made for items that are not necessary or that do not provide real value to the business. Reducing the backlog and establishing more stringent approval requirements for new requests can create a perception of improved response.
  4. Overcommunicate—Or, at least, communicate the status of outstanding issues more than you have been. Nothing makes a client feel more frustrated than not knowing the status of a support problem or outstanding request. Keeping your clients and users "in the light" creates a perception of being more productive and improves client service.
  5. Overdeliver—Coach your staff to take the extra steps in supporting your clients. Little extras go a long way toward improving client service, and higher client satisfaction creates an image of responsiveness and productivity.
  6. Publish your team's accomplishments—You might be surprised at how much we all forget about what we accomplish every month. It's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day issues and problems that we forget to reflect on the things that were completed in the past. Start tracking your team's accomplishments and publish the highlights monthly. If we forget what we accomplish, I can guarantee that the clients don't know all the things we do. Share this knowledge with them, and you may find that clients really are interested and that their perspective of how busy you are in IT goes way up.

Before you start trying to improve the productivity of your staff, conduct an assessment to determine how productive they already are. If possible, establish a baseline and measure the improvements as you implement specific actions that either improve your team's real productivity or the perception of its productivity. Capturing real data in key areas will help you substantiate what's really happening.

Mike Sisco is the CEO and founder of MDE Enterprises. For more of Mike's management insight, take a look at his IT Manager Development Series.

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