Whether you're clearing a year's worth of cruft or consolidating systems, data sets often end up with duplicated customer records, multiple product entries, or even conflicting sales data. There are tools and processes for eliminating redundant information from a data set, or de-duplicating (de-duping for short) those data. An equally valuable process is to occasionally de-dupe your organization.
In extreme cases, organizations have multiple, disparate teams performing the exact same project, or perhaps similar technology is deployed to solve the same problem. For example, after working with a massive global company for only five days, I identified four teams pursuing a similar project to what I was charged with, each consuming time and money, and each exploring similar territory.
So nice, you're paying twice?
Like most projects, duplicative efforts are generally started with good intentions. In large organizations, the metaphorical left hand may not be aware of what the right hand is doing, and it's easy to have projects launched by different groups that ultimately have similar objectives. Alternatively, a project may identify a key dependency, and begin working on the dependency when there's another project afoot that specifically targets that area.
This can even occur in small organizations. Perhaps a project is launched on the business side to improve marketing analytics, which then identifies data quality issues. Being a team of high performers, they absorb the scope to fix the data, unknowingly duplicating the efforts of an existing data quality project.
What's insidious about duplicative efforts is that you're essentially doubling or tripling the cost of an initiative or technology. While two projects may not have the exact same objectives, they are likely placing demands on similar organizational resources and asking similar questions of the same people. Depending on how broad the scope of the project is, the organization is significantly impacted as demands are placed on support resources that impact their regular jobs.
Another significant source of duplication is when projects are launched on the IT side that mirror a project launched on the business side. As IT has permeated all aspects of most businesses, it's likely that IT projects will be launched with business objectives, and business projects are launched that have a significant technical component. In organizations where these two groups are disparate and fail to regularly communicate, these duplicated efforts can continue for weeks or months.
How to find duplicate projects
Portfolio management applications exist that claim to solve this problem by serving as a repository of an organization's projects. This is a nice concept, but rarely do organizations have a cross-organization repository that grabs every single project, from massive IT endeavors to the projects launched by a middle manager with her own budget.
Rather than attempting to apply technology and significant organizational change to this problem, simple listening skills are one of the best tools for de-duping efforts. As you speak to peers, you'll likely hear reports of people in their organizations being asked similar questions by disparate groups. Ask your own staff to listen for these clues as well, and raise them to their leadership.
Internal and external consultants are often great sources of information on duplicated efforts. Since these people generally don't know the nuances of your organizational structure and politics, they're liable to create unorthodox relationships and cross internal boundaries as they seek information, thereby uncovering duplicated efforts that would have otherwise remained hidden.
1 + 1 = 3
Once you identify potentially duplicate efforts, strive to combine the best elements of each team rather than simply terminating one effort. Most business problems have a combination of technical, process, and strategic elements, so you'll likely have resources that are strong in one or two of these areas, but weak in another, on each of the disparate project teams.
While it will take deft political dealing and debate over project ownership and budgeting, consolidating disparate efforts into a combined project team often creates a far more capable team. Departmental squabbling over budgets can be partially resolved by noting the savings to the broader organization, or possibly by combining a portion of competing budgets to fund one combined team.
Think of the money you will save
As the calendar year draws to a close, there's a temptation to launch all manner of projects to utilize remaining funds or accomplish an unfulfilled objective. With some organizational detective work, you can ensure these projects are executed effectively, and ultimately avoid spending new money to achieve the same objective.
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Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent over a decade providing strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com. All opinions are his and may not represent those of his employer.