Leadership

Doing more with less has limits

Doing more with less has become the phrase of the times as companies struggle to meet financial goals. The story below from Benny Sisko is hardly uncommon anymore, but is a healthy reminder that the "work box" is only so large. Hard choices will have to be made. Read on.

I was having a lunch conversation the other day with a CIO friend of mine across town.  He was lamenting YABC - Yet Another Budget Cut.  This time around, he lost a staff person - his shop had eight people and now seven.  Demands from his users - about 1,200 in all - have skyrocketed, equipment is failing due to a previous regime's failure to adequately plan a replacement cycle - a mess he's been working on cleaning up, his team has had to assume responsibility for telephony because of another team's failure, and his CEO wants IT to play a strategic role in redeveloping the way the business operates; in short, he wants top-to-bottom process modifications to increase the overall efficiency of his business.

Now, don't get me wrong - my CIO friend is very experienced, has a ton of drive, likes his job and the company and works hard.  However, it's apparent to him that he and his team are quickly approaching a breaking point.  When does "doing more with less" become a recipe for failure?

The fact that his CEO has asked him to lead the process review is a good sign for my friend; if his CEO was unhappy with IT or with the CIO, leading that effort would easily fall to another executive.  However, because of budget issues, it's been made clear that additional resources won't be coming.  My friend knows that the value that can be wrought from business process changes is huge and can have major cost avoidance implications for the entire organization but without additional assistance, his staff is pretty well mired in the day to day operations leaving little time for new efforts.

His plan right now is to do the following:

  • Tell his CEO that it will be slow going (and during heavy times, no-going) due to resource limitations.
  • Request an increase in his consulting budget in order to be able to acquire skill sets when needed.
  • Make small, incremental improvements and give up on the overarching "turn it all upside down in a day" approach to revamping processes. While the CEO would really like to see fast turnaround on these items, my buddy understands "Good, Fast, Cheap - pick two".
  • Take a really hard look at the services his group is currently providing and make a decision as to whether or not they're all really necessary. He's going to be up front with his CEO. His team (from what he said, most teams in his company, too) is stretched to capacity and beyond. His people are working extremely hard so in order to fit new stuff in, something has to go.
  • Meet with other areas to determine where their staffing woes lie and, together, develop a plan of action that could result in hiring an additional IT staffer to help address the pain being felt across multiple departments.

I feel for my friend; his organization is really good and will survive the downturn, but they've had to take draconian measures to stay within budget.  His story is becoming more and more common these days as the markets continue to bleed and people feel the pinch.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

19 comments
Systems Magician
Systems Magician

We all agree, there is only so much a person can do. The CIO is on the ball with his game plan. It is reasonable action plan to get things turned around. I would suggest that after a review of the IT projects, assess which ones will give the best ROI for the company with the shortest time to complete and review with the CEO so the IT goals are in line with the CEO's objective. Then you can set with the CEO, timetable for projects to be started, say in 3 months, 6 months. Important projects today may not be important in the future because business dynamics has changed. You can also look at phased-in project approach where you can build/utilize the projects you complete today as the building block for the next turn around project. I always like the idea of turning around a company in phases where you can gauge the result and make corrections along the way. Good Luck.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

In the pre-Ronald Regan years, "Doing more with less" in the military wasn't a discussion - it was the way of life. Two quotes come to mind that are germane today: "I don't mind that we're expected to do more with less. What bothers me is that we're supposed to do everything with nothing." - AF aircraft mechanic, who was spending money of his own pocket to maintain his fighter. "If you do more with less for long enough, you reach a point where you can only do less with less" - an AF general office, in either a public statement or to Congress.

Jfitzsr1
Jfitzsr1

Based on what I know about Buckminster Fuller, who coined the phrase of doing more with less, did so by pointing out that it can be done if we apply expanding scientific knowledge of materials, mathematics and nature to find new materials & processes that are cheaper, stronger and more efficent than what we are doing now. Staying in a shrinking work-box is only doing less with less and won't be very economical.

Steve Romero
Steve Romero

I would not have anticipated that using an 8-person IT shop as an example of how to address the "more with less" dilemma would be very helpful. The theme is the same, but the measures you need to take will not necessarily be the same in a large or even a medium-sized IT organization. I think the challenge is much greater in the smallest organizations because they are likely to already be running fairly lean. That being said, I really like his plan. I hope it works in this small-sized example. It is the larger organizations that provide the most opportunity to do more with less - simply because of the decades of wasteful IT spending and inefficient business practices. I was asked a very similar question yesterday as a Panel Member at the CIO Academy held in Sacramento for State IT Leaders. The question was, "Where are we going to find the time and resources to make these "overdue" process improvements while we are cutting back staff and asked to continue to meet current if not increased service levels." My answer was fairly simple: 1) The most immediate gains will be from establishing the IT Governance and oversight to quickly and effectively identify those IT efforts that should be stopped (think Portfolio Management). Many organizations have IT departments serving multiple masters. In such a situation there is a high likelihood of unnecessary, redundant and even conflicting efforts. By advocating and fostering collaborative decision-making, organizations are far more likely to use highly constrained IT resources on the efforts that best serve the overall enterprise. (And identify those efforts that should be killed.) 2) If enough efforts cannot be immediately stopped, it may be necessary to endure a small, temporary spike in resources to get the process-improvement ball rolling. Identify as many "quick hits" as possible in these efforts to provide some immediate value back to the enterprise. Frankly, I was impressed by your CIO-friend's plan in this blog posting. I am not sure how well these steps will work in such a small organization, but they would be great recommendations in a large organization. I obviously agree with his plan to determine what is really necessary and I especially liked the concern regarding the desire to "turn it all upside down in a day." Process change is incredibly difficult and it takes time - even if you have the very rare knowledge and experience in the widely neglected discipline of process and organizational change management. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist http://community.ca.com/blogs/theitgovernanceevangelist/

kenr
kenr

Unfortunately you really need to do this before the budget is done, but... Identify all the "projects", and the costs (if you wish to be cunning identify payroll and "everything else" separately, and identify options for such projects as you can). Don't forget to incorporate a contingency fund on each project. Map all these projects against two weighted matrices - corporate goals and corporate departments. Rank the projects based on the weighted total "benefit" and then draw a line where the budget stops. Then find a pet project of your boss which is under that line, and go see him about which services to drop because you have two different lists and you know he has an interest in one of the projects that is likely to be cut. Go in the guise of seeking advice from a more senior manager, and you get to make your point without offending. You can also go to (other) impacted corporate departments and let them know that significant projects of their's are likely to be cut unless you can find additional funding and can they make any suggestions to avoid cutting these projects. If none of these work, scale back the scope of "projects" - you can typically deliver 80% for less than half the cost of delivering 100%. Again make this approach public before you do it, so it's not a surprise (and others might get involved to prevent it happening).

ludek.slegr
ludek.slegr

It is often very difficult to reach common understanding and acceptance where the limit actually is. Both parties tend to play games and it takes real professionals to come through this successfully. There is always space for optimization but we have depleated it many cases already.

gometrics
gometrics

Can only run an engine so hard no matter how fine tuned before it blows a gasket. Your friend is wise to speak some realism into the plan.

jelle.de-vries
jelle.de-vries

A lot of Sr. Managers try to steer on finances, that is similar to steer by turning gauges themselfes (and increase damages). This CIO understands that focus on the throughput is the best way forward and as a result the finance gauge will change. Good luck.

swpro
swpro

Sounds like your friend's organization would benefit from SaaS solutions to provide the business process changes that the CEO needs.

jdines
jdines

That is my life almost to the tee. I wish I had an answer. We don't like to say "we can't" because we are afraid we'll be the next one out and we really want to be the hero... So what is the dialogue to help everyone understand what it takes to just keep day to day ops going in IT and how much effort these "small" projects really take?? I am trying to develop understanding internally but I feel I just sound like I am whining...

mykmlr
mykmlr

Somehow, there was always an extra 1.8 BILLION for DIVAD (which never worked), 3.5 BILLION per YEAR for "Stealth research" (which has worked SO WELL against an enemy that does not exist), and 18,000 U.S.D. hammers. Ronnie came along, and guess what? All the above AND 33 BILLION for the never-worked-as-advertised B-1. Face it, the only reason maintenance has no money is that the officers are promoted for creating pork barrel projects, not for keeping them flying.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

A: It never listed the problems. B: How will SaaS solve an unknown problem. So please explain?

Brent V
Brent V

I believe this is a common theme right now. I am in the same boat. Lots of small projects, several large projects, bla bla bla. Fully staffed we could 'do' the job and follow all procedures to meet daily operation needs. I am a realist. We are getting the job done being down two bodies but long term we are shooting ourselves in the foot by not following the proper procedures and cutting corners where possible. It is unfortunate that we have to cut corners since my team has spent a lot of time refactoring our processes to make them as efficient and economical as we could. Just a day in the life of IT Operations. Until next time....

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

In the vernacular of WWII... "Republicans buy the toys, Democrats take care of the boys." During the Reagan and Bush administrations, we got new equipment. During the Carter and Clinton administrations, we got better pay raises. It's not quite that simple, but it sure looked like it when I was in.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Username: swpro Job Role: Sales / Marketing / Business Development

sunshine
sunshine

See above ... just change the name to mine!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

How can you possibly need more people? We're automating so you'll need less. Besides, everybody knows that Baker cells never break! ;)

desertdiv
desertdiv

Ditto, I am living the same story in a healthcare setting! They want more and more automation but no additional manpower to support it.

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