Portfolio Management

I think the hardest problem in IT leadership is balancing the many needs against the limited resources and finding the best answers and path for the enterprise through this challenge.   In the IT space, there is far more to do than can really be done, yet CIOs and those in leadership positions in IT are asked to do everything with those limited resources.  Masters include different business units, different geographies, legal requirements, governance requirements, business continuity requirements, etc.  Finding the balance point is the central challenge of our jobs.

I think you have to do some of the following:

  1. Have a real business problem or opportunity that is being solved.   Not a fake one or one that can’t be quantified.  There is a book called How to Measure Anything that might help with this.  I like the Six Sigma problem statement approach of saying we are going to improve process X by Y% by a certain date.   It doesn’t work or fit for everything, but it will work for lots of things.
  2. Define a template to describe what is going to be done and why it needs to be done.   Require every project to address a problem statement, costs, timelines, issues, data definitions, disaster recovery needs, data center requirements, what is going to be turned off/on and when, and several other factors.  If you use a standard template, then all parties know the questions that need to be answered in advance and you avoid missing some important part of the decision.
  3. On the cost front, I like the book Payback:  Reaping the Rewards of Innovation by Andrews and Sirkin and their concepts around time and costs on projects.  Time to Market, Time to Scale, Costs to Scale and Annual Support Costs are the key elements.
  4. Work out a program review process with the senior leadership team.   Perhaps a committee reviews all programs over a certain cost or all programs that meet some strategic criteria.
  5. The committee has to think about the whole portfolio because you can’t consider programs one at a time.  Relative priorities, sequencing, dependencies, etc. need to be considered.    This is hard stuff.   It requires thoughtful engagement from the committee and the leadership team of the company.

This 5th step is the probably the hardest part to work out and to keep consistently of high quality over a long period of time.   This is one of the key places where the CIO needs engagement with the leadership team of the company and needs to be plugged into the strategy making of the company.   I’ll write more on this another time.

Also, there has to be a delegated process to review the programs below the committee approval threshold.  I saw a case study years ago of a company and their ‘model’ portfolio management process.  The key review point in their process was at $2.5M and everything above that price required senior level reviews in a certain committee.   In fact, they had a great reveiw process and I used elements of their process to modify our own.   However, it also felt that it ignored the problem of all the projects below $2.5M.

    Customer Service in Arenas

    Have you noticed that at large sporting and concert venues, you frequently can not access your mobile network due to the large number of people who are all trying to access the network at the same time?    At one venue where I attend college football games mobile phone access on AT&T’s network is almost an impossibility due to the number of people all trying to call, text, look-up scores, etc.   The inability to access the network means that one has to make other arrangements to connect with others at the event like we used to do before anybody had a mobile phone.   Like ‘let’s meet after the 3rd quarter…’

    So at these locations where people spend a lot of money on tickets to attend, why do you suppose that the stadium or arena doesn’t provide free wifi access?

    At one location where I attend games they’ve built a new $260M football stadium and they do not provide free wifi.   I sent someone a note about it during last year’s season and they said they’d look into it.   Nothing happened so this year, I asked about it again and I was told it was extremely expensive they would not be providing wifi access.    Extremely expensive?   Hello?  We have a new stadium and we didn’t plan to install wifi and it is too expensive to put in now?     I have it at my home.   I think I can get access at McDonalds and we have it at my church.

    If you consider that many at the games are trying to look up other scores or sending simple messages or uploading pictures, doesn’t it seem to make a lot of sense to put in a wifi network that would 1) delight those who could access it and 2) unload a lot of traffic from the mobile networks making it more usable to all?

    It seems to me that these organizations need to think differently and consider the ticket paying patrons in the stands who want to connect with others easily.   Putting in wifi allowing parents to easily connect with their kids, allowing businesses to connect with their clients seems like a customer service issue, not a technical issue.  It certainly isn’t a cost issue.

    Collaboration in Manufacturing

    The InformationWeek 500 review segregated companies into different categories and it was most interesting to me to see that the manufacturing sector led the way in deploying collaboration tools.   Companies have been working hard for years to tighten their supply chains, improve their design collaboration with partners and generally working to get things moving faster with less waste.  It just makes such good sense to see this happening.

    In the case of supply chains, all companies are buying from suppliers and selling to customers and everyone involved wants to have the best possible information about everyone upstream and downstream.   Faster communications and as much collaboration as possible is a plus for everyone involved in the whole supply chain.   It is just hard for people and teams and companies to get there.   We’ve all got to learn to work together differently to get the real benefits.  

    Collaboration tools are a natural in this space and it is good to see manufacturing companies leading out in this regard.  There is still much more to do however…

    Collaboration and Trust

    Trust in the Workplace

    There is a really good article at HBR about the value of Trust in the Workplace. I’ve written about trust in my other blog before as I think it is such an important component of people and groups working together. Trust is the foundation that you build everything else upon. Without trust, you can’t build much of value.

    I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several corporate adventure races(two in NZ and one in Australia) and they are terrific and amazing experienes. In those settings, you learn first hand about how important trust is for the team to succeed. If competing in a long adventure race, you will find that you and your teammates will all need to trust one another in order to be successful and in order to even complete the race. Each of us have strengths and weaknesses and by trusting one another and working together, we can achieve a better result than we could if we worked alone.

    I’ve seen teams that work well because they trust one another. I’ve also seen teams not work well because one or more of the team members can’t be trusted. Lack of trust completely undermines a team’s effectiveness. Completely. I’ve seen individuals who simply can’t be trusted and when they break trust with others, their effectiveness going forward is virtually destroyed.

    If you are working with others, think about trust in the group. Even if you are not part of a team today, think about your trustworthiness in all you do. Be a person who can be trusted.

    IBM CIO Study

    This new IBM CIO Survey looks to be most interesting.  The findings about much greater focus on driving innovation and growth is right on.   I find that my time is spent more on these areas than ever before with far less focus on day-to-day operations.   This goes right in line with the InformationWeek 500 comments about more face time with the leadership team and more involvement with the strategy of the company.   A big focus on analytics also rings true.     IT has been collecting data in our data warehouses for years and now we must harvest that investment with better and deeper understanding for the business decision makers.

    Operational excellence is a given just to be in the game.  The difference maker today is delivering real value to the company leadership, helping them solve their problems, helping the company move faster.

    I was interviewed for the survey and I look forward to hearing more about the results.

    Did You Know 4.0

    The new Xplane video, Did You Know 4.0 is out and it is about social media.   I’ve become a big fan of the social media ideas and tools for use in corporate settings and I’ll be writing about it a lot in the coming days.   I came across this video today by accident and wanted to pass it along because it talks to the heart of opportunities in this area.   Enjoy.

    Clever People

    When I was a young engineer starting out in the software business, I learned and deeply understood that really great programmers were as much as 10x better than good programmers.  There were certain people that I met along the way who were just that much better that everyone else.  They were the ones you went to with hard problems or to ask questions about how to do this or that.   Gary and Jeff were early ones that I knew.   Since then, I’ve met others people in other professions who were that much better than others in the same field.

    The book Clever:  Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People is about these people, these teams and these organizations.   Individuals and groups who are simply that much better than their peers and who deliver better results more often.

    There are great points in here about people having become more global and truly clever individuals are going to move to find the best things to do in the best locations.   “Global is the standard” and in my line of business where I work with people around the world, I know this is true.  Retention is now the key in HR.  The book identifies several characteristics of these people:

    1. Their cleverness is central to their identity.
    2. Their skills are not easily replicated.
    3. They know their worth.
    4. They ask difficult questions.
    5. They are organizationally savvy.
    6. They are not easily impressed by corporate hierarchy.
    7. The expect instant access.
    8. They want to be connected to other clever people and
    9. They won’t thank you.

    The book talks about how to lead these people with more guidance and trust rather than giving orders.   You want to point these people in the right direction.  One quote in the book is “My own philosophy to lead people that are smarter than me is to find ways for them to be more productive in what they want to do.”   It is about reducing friction in the workplace for the clever folks and everyone else.  Better collaboration tools have huge potential in reducing friction in any teams.

    The book talks about teams that didn’t work and things that cause these individuals and teams to fail too.

    If you are interested in this topic and looking to improve the workplace, this is a good book to read.  Recommended.