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.