The Business-Technology Weave

Jul 31 2011   9:45AM GMT

Frankensteins, Pt. III – A Simple Assessment to Setting Structure

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott


[Please see Part I and Part II of this series if you haven’t yet]


Let’s discuss some specifics in determining whether your IT structure is optimal, and if not, how to get it on the right footing.  Essentially, you should be able to perform a review according to the simple model below.  You can extend and apply this view to your own organization’s IT structure.  Look for any misplaced work, gaps, uneven distribution of load, and general inefficiencies.


¨      Assess current positions by relevancy and number.

¨      Match your positions to standard “field definitions.”

¨      Eliminate, add, combine, or separate positions as necessary.

¨      Adjust individual positions as necessary.

¨      Redistribute work as necessary.

¨      Ensure a balanced load.


Let’s take a more detailed look at each of these:


Assessing current positions by relevancy and number:  Positions should be surveyed against organizational needs, and against the positions’ standings against standard field definitions.


You, or someone prior, may have apportioned specific duties and loads based on something other than an optimal structure for your particular organization.  Often times the original reasons for distributions of effort no longer apply – if they ever really did.  It’s important to fix any imbalances and inequities.  Compounding problems can sneak up on an organization over time.  Not only do the internal requirements change: the outside field of IT itself evolves around you.  Coming will be new scales of computer hardware and architecture, supporting ever more powerful software applications; new leveraging of the Cloud; entirely new focuses and disciplines.  Evolving supports and disciplines are not only enabling, they establish dependency and vulnerability, and therefore burdens of support.  Too, other equipment or products may reduce or otherwise shift burdens.


As the climate of business changes, your organization’s burden in meeting outside expectations can change radically.  Your environment will need new scales of skill, talent, and imagination in maintaining your environment.  There will be an immediacy that makes new demands of Business – and thus Business’ demands of Technology.  We’ve mentioned the Five-Year Plan in these regards – it should have a template item regarding your evolving burden and type of work, and its influence on your positions and support posture.  You’ll then have a proactive collection of salient facts, coming into sharper relief as the years click forward, and you’ll be less reactive and far better situated to make necessary job and position changes. 


Match your positions to standard IT definitions:  Try to keep your position descriptions within the bounds of accepted IT standard job definitions.  This creates efficiencies in managing and supporting your IT environment and business environment.  It also lends to efficiencies in managing the structures of jobs themselves, and the people in them.  You have ready reference on the Internet to a variety of job descriptions for known job categories, and these can serve as your templates as you fine-tune your own internal job descriptions.  You’ll also have ready access to the standards to which these jobs should be performed – and, you’ll have matching professional training resources for when you need to send people to training.  Too, it becomes easier to replace people as they exit the organization, or move up.  Interviewing candidates for positions is far easier when your positions adhere to known, “industry”, standards.  Staffing is a smooth, efficient, process.  In the modern organization, this must be a tenet:  That which can be routine, must be made routine.  Anything less is inefficient, and therefore, expensive.


The positions should fit together like puzzle pieces to create a seamless structure of support to the Business environment.  Over time, you may start to experience gaps between the pieces (the positions); that’s when you determine the correct course of action to close the gaps (to cover the new area[s] of support):  either through assignment of the work to an existing position, creation of a new position, or the determination that the work belongs in the Business sphere. 


Add, eliminate, combine, or separate positions/duties as necessary.  Take a careful look at each position in IT.  Compare the described duties within each position with standard job definitions.  Many of us have seen network managers who were performing programming on behalf of programmers, seen HelpDesk technicians tuning databases, seen programmers performing HelpDesk calls – not as an overlapping backup between positions, but as a matter of routine. 


A lot of times this happens because individuals within the user body start to develop “favorites” – people whom they prefer for support.  This favoring is independent of what a support person is supposed to be doing in the larger sense, and may mean that the support person has to dig for details or knowledge that are already known by the appropriate support person.  It’s tempting to go to your favorite IT person with every request, whether that person is the primary responder for the type of assistance you’re seeking or not.  This can exert a slow gravitational pull, whereby everyone in IT begins to assume a “jack of all trades, master of none” kind of posture.  SMB are particularly vulnerable here.


Business leaders should help to ensure that calls for help by staff are made through the appropriate avenue.  They should call a HelpDesk number, as opposed to specific individuals, and the HelpDesk can dispatch appropriate help, or escalate the issue as necessary.  The IT leader has to fully explain the process to Business, and the IT leader has to enforce the discipline necessary to ensure an efficient use of support resources. 


At the same time, work may be flowing against the grain of your position definitions for very valid reasons.  Work may actually be settling into a correct alignment, but across the lines of positions (even departments on occasion).  You may very well determine that the manner and flow of work needs to be codified as it is, with new position descriptions that reflect the correct order of things as they already informally stand.  As necessary, get the primary responsibilities where they belong, and defined correctly, so as to manage, document, acknowledge and reward people properly.  This will become increasingly important as each job position takes on new responsibilities within its specific scope.  I aids in planning the future of the position, in seeking better cost efficiency, in contributing to security, and so on.


There does need to be an effective overlap of some knowledge between jobs, obviously – but not to the point of diminished returns and inefficient redundancies. 


We’ll wrap up in the next article.


NP:  I Remember You, Coleman Hawkins,

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