CXO

Not enough pizza? Why your tech projects are failing to deliver

Traditional approaches to IT project management are too much of a blunt instrument, it's time to introduce some finesse - and the two pizzas rule.

The IT department needs to change how it manages tech projects if companies want to remain competitive, CIOs have been warned.

After examining how more than 100 major organisations are run, Simon Wardley, executive researcher with the global research and advisory service the Leading Edge Forum, found that businesses that are getting the most from technology are turning their backs on the traditional approaches to IT.

The IT department, Wardley told TechRepublic, typically takes a blunt approach to managing technology projects. The department's or its suppliers' "one size fits all" management style, he said, is poorly suited to the complexity of IT projects.

Such an approach fails to recognise that within a single IT project many of the technologies and processes will be at different stages of maturity: some well-worn and predictable and others novel and liable to change.

Wardley gave the example of a project to build an e-commerce platform carried out using the Six Sigma methodology, which attempts to maximise efficiency by minimising process variability.

"That would be very effective for linear activities that are well-defined, but that method would also incur huge change control costs for all those activities that would change," said Wardley, who spoke at the recent Ovum Industry Congress in London.

Often there is no single methodology that will suit a project, said Wardley, but traditional approaches to project management don't reflect this fact.

"We do lots of Agile everywhere, or Six Sigma everywhere. That's either good at innovation and sucks at efficiency, or good at efficiency and sucks at innovation."

The answer, and what Wardley found works well for companies, is to break down IT projects into smaller and smaller pieces, until each piece represent a distinct and cohesive activity, for instance provision of computing infrastructure.

Each piece of work is then assigned to a small team made up of IT specialists and staff with other relevant skills, and completed using a methodology suited to the task.

"Amazon famously uses a "two-pizza" rule - where every project is broken down into services and those services are provided by a team that is no bigger than can be fed by two pizzas," said Wardley.

"By breaking down to the 'two pizza approach' you group smaller numbers of activities together so you're much more likely to have the right active processes applied to the activity."

Line managers are already choosing to form ad-hoc "two pizza" teams to work on tech projects staffed by hand-picked IT specialists and leaving the IT department out of the equation, according to recent research by Forrester.

Wardley predicts that this change in IT project management will gradually become the norm, replacing the traditional approach led by the IT department.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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