This single-model, staff-augmentation mentality can be serviceable, but it can also foster a lack of project planning and focused initiatives.
“Too often, the needs of the day prevail; I call it the ‘tyranny of the urgent,’” says Bill Russell, executive vice president of Allegient in Indianapolis. “Instead of applying a project-oriented focus to maximize outside resources, the resources are expected to walk in the door and simply complete coding tasks.”
Smart Business recently spoke with Russell about alternative project models and how companies can best align internal assets with outside resources to bring about successful IT projects.
What indicators point toward utilizing outside resources?
The first indicator is the most crucial and may have nothing to do with required technical skills. Will the business and technical subject matter experts (SMEs) be available to carry their end of the project? You have to have people on the inside who really know the business process to define what must be delivered.
A second common indicator is that the existing staff doesn’t know about or have experience with a new technology. A third indicator that outside resources may be required is the speed or timing of the project. When projects are sole-sourced inside the company, they often cannot meet the speed requirement because projects often fall to second priority behind keeping the other systems running.
What are realistic expectations for SMEs?
Generally, companies overestimate how much time these subject matter experts can put into an initiative and they under-weight the demand from their daily responsibilities. These people have full-time jobs and they’re going to be constrained. There’s a survey by Forrester that says the biggest hurdle to companies’ IT initiation and delivery is due to SME constraints.
Some companies will utilize dedicated SMEs for certain strategic projects. For other projects, it is reasonable for SMEs to only be available 10 percent to 15 percent of their time with a maximum of 25 percent while maintaining their regular job. In high-growth companies, it’s unrealistic to expect an SME to spend more than 10 percent to 15 percent of his or her time on an IT project. This calls for consideration of outside resources.
What other resources should be considered for IT projects?
Companies should realize that all of their existing staff is going to be constrained. Generally, only about 25 percent of a company’s IT budget and resources are dedicated to accomplish new capabilities, so outside resources become crucial to amplify the available in-house knowledge and skills.
Outside resources are going to have the concentrated focus to bring the project together and manage it on a day-to-day basis. There are outside resources for project management, business process and requirements definition experts and development and testing that can be applied.
How are outside resources best aligned with in-house personnel?
A system of ‘shadows,’ or pairs, at the lead positions can be effective. A project manager, lead developer or test manager provided by the outside resource can be paired with and leverage the internal SMEs in these categories. In this model, SMEs can handle perhaps six or more projects, while the external team concentrates solely on the individual project it is trying to deliver. This pairing allows the outside resources to navigate through the company’s cultural policies and procedural items (SME assistance) while focusing on managing the initiative and the resources to get the work done.
It’s also extremely important to align the outside resources with both the internal business and IT project sponsors. This communication triangle ensures that the external resource maintains a tight collaboration between both the business needs and the IT group needs.
A key benefit to alignment is that it helps build knowledge transfer into the project plan. If an external team handles the entire project and then walks out the door, it does not leave the internal team in very good shape to continue to support the platform. A pairing system builds knowledge transfer into the process.
What alternatives to the pure staffing model should be considered?
Projects that are time-sensitive or unanticipated may require an alternative.
One alternative is to consider defining either parts of projects or entire projects so that outside teams can be brought in and held accountable. At the end of the day, inside resources simply cannot be held as accountable as outside resources.
Defining sharp boundaries that include specific requirements, timelines, budgets and deliverables allows the outside resources to focus on completing the project with little day-to-day support distraction for existing systems.
BILL RUSSELL is executive vice president of Allegient. Reach him at (317) 564-5701 or email@example.com.