5 ways to improve your IT department's workflow

5 Tips To Eliminate the Pain Points from IT Workflows
Combat the chaos

The month of October was designated as National Work & Family Month by a Resolution of the United States Senate in 2003. It was conceived to raise awareness among employers about the value of a healthy work-life balance.

But the hard truth is that still, two in three workers say they don't have enough time to get their work done. When there are many dragons to slay, it seems like others don't care that in IT budgets are tight, resources are limited and work requests come fast.

Let's take a look at the pain points facing IT today and identify five ways how we can all manage and solve these workflow crises. Here are some tips on how you can terminate workflow problems – with extreme prejudice. (Any "Apocalypse Now" fans out there?)

This means war.

1. Keep state of play updated

Make status updates less boringly repetitive and more real-time.

Walk into any IT department and you'll instantly feel the buzz of activity. Phones are ringing, keyboards are clacking and whiteboards are full of scribbles. Everyone is working hard, but do you know if they're on track and on budget?

Providing status updates can be the bane of your existence. You know it needs to be done and you spend hours doing it, but providing real-time updates is next to impossible, and your status reports are already outdated by the time they're presented to management.

On average, two in five projects do not meet their original goals, and half of those unsuccessful projects are related to ineffective communications. To be on the right side of that data, here are a few suggestions:

  • Reduce the resistance – Develop a process that allows the entire team to collaborate on deliverables, review requests and check statuses, all from a single location. This eliminates information overload by reducing the disparate email chains, deleted voicemails and forgotten hallway conversations.
  • Make status updates a value-add – When team members miss your meetings and don't respond to emails, it may seem like they don't value your communication. And maybe they don't! Sitting through an hour-long meeting only to provide a two-minute update is definitely not worth their while. When it's easy to update information about work requests and tasks, they will be more apt to do it.
  • Provide customised communication – Different stakeholders have different things they need to know at different times. Management may need budget information. Staff need to understand what is coming their way and when. Project managers need to be able to use data from one project to more accurately estimate another. Take the time to pinpoint your stakeholders' exact needs.

2. Communicate

Stay on track with project communication to avoid getting overwhelmed.

In the information-overload age, it is more difficult than ever to catch and manage all incoming work requests without mixing up priorities, missing deadlines and wasting resources.

In the continual flood of requests from emails, meetings, hallway conversations, sticky notes, phone calls and text messages, it's nearly impossible to keep your head above water.

In the constant barrage, what takes precedence? Software upgrades, user management, hardware maintenance—these operational duties must get done even while you are working on new development tasks.

With new work requests arriving every day, sometimes it's easiest to just start with the one assigned by your favourite co-worker.

The consequences of this approach, however, are that the work that needs to be done isn't necessarily the work that is getting done. In fact, just one in 10 workers feel their work has a strong link to their organisations' top priorities.

To regulate the shower of requests raining down on you and your team, here are a few suggestions:

  • Align projects with business goals – Every new request should align with business goals that are part of strategic initiatives. That means weeding out the ""cool"" ideas from those that contribute directly to the goals of the enterprise.
  • Understand the tradeoffs – New work requests don't wait for current tasks to be finished and can interrupt work in the pipeline, causing unnecessary delays. Every new request has a domino effect, so it's imperative to understand the downstream work impact.
  • Empower workers – Every team member needs to be empowered to say "no" (and be able to explain why) when the request is not aligned with strategic objectives, won't turn out acceptable ROI, or if there are simply not enough resources.

3. Prioritise tasks

In IT especially, there are always many more projects than there are resources and funds. They range from large-scale corporate initiatives to small enhancements. And while each project has its own priority, there can even be task priorities within the project.

Just like the blocks in Tetris, it's critical that all the moving parts fit together to ensure high priority projects are delivered successfully.

Without proper and continual guidance, workers will use their own approach, putting the pieces together as they see fit rather than the proper order. This means working on their favourite projects or responding to whoever yells the loudest, especially when every stakeholder thinks their project should be top priority.

When priorities conflict, aren't well communicated or aren't even set, it can mean the difference between business value and costly delays.

Stephen Covey once gave some sage advice: "The key is not to prioritise what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."

Here a few suggestions to create a prioritised workflow: