Managing the IT Backlog

Welcome to a new year of creation, innovation, streamlining, and branch pruning, my fine-feathered fellow technology leaders. One of the challenges that many of you face this time of the year is dealing with the dreaded IT “backlog”. You know, that stack of projects that you commited your team to completing, but just haven’t been able to complete?

We all know the drill. Every department is fighting tooth and nail to fund their pet projects. Some of those projects are better ideas than others, but irrespective of their status, they end up piling up in the IT group, waiting for their turn in the queue. While you can’t be certain, you vaguely recall some of the ones at the bottom of the stack being placed there on or around this day in 1974. You stare at the pile of requests on your desk and you wonder whether it would be easier to simply flog yourself to death with a bit of wet luttuce.

All kidding aside, this is a very common scenario. Coming through the tollgate, all projects are on relatively equal footing. Ideally, they’ve been qualified, spec’d at a high level, and possibly funded. You simply haven’t been in a position to dedicate the time, resources, or funding to see them through to fruition. Having a strategy to confront the backlog on a regular basis is the ideal way to manage this beast.

Any backlog management strategy should start with a review. This review doesn’t have to be an in-depth Warren Commission type of affair. At a minimum, you want to get a feel for the size, scope, interdependencies, and business value of the projects in your backlog.

As you review the projects, do so with a eye toward streamlining the queue through removal, grouping, or splitting them as needed. Due to the ever-changing dynamic landscape of your business environment, you may find that some projects are no longer viable, necessary, or strategic in value. Those are the easy ones to deal with.

You may find opportunities to streamline the backlog by combining or grouping homogeneous projects. This grouping will most often be done on the basis of commonalities, or a similar set of architectural specifications, functional requirements, stakeholder involvement, alignment with various business objectives of the firm, and other such attributes.

It is entirely possible that you may find a set of projects that while previously unrelated to each other, they can now be grouped together. Grouping is also a powerful mechanism when there is a corporate shift to a new platform, architecture, or business model, as it gives you the opportunity to put these projects on equal footing from day one.

In some instances, you may even find value in splitting proposed projects up into discrete, smaller pieces. This can facilitate the grouping of projects as well. If you are migrating to a services-oriented architecture (SOA), then splitting projects may play a bigger role than in other situations, as many of the smaller pieces can be implemented as global services instead of monolithic, stand-alone applications.

The ideal deliverable from all of this is a streamlined project queue that represents the projects that will add strategic value to the firm. Outdated, outmoded, or non-essential projects should hopefully have been removed through the backlog review process.

Once you have arrived as a new pipeline of project work, you can then move to a prioritization and phasing exercise, whereby the projects can be intelligently mapped to a timetable and resource plan. If the projects are not funded prior to hitting your backlog in the first place, then the appropriation of funding should be included as part of this review process.

This sort of review should be performed on a recurring basis, and not necessarily just at the beginning (or prior to) each fiscal year. Ongoing reviews of projects in the IT portfolio will enable you to keep your organization’s technology efforts as streamlined as possible, while keeping them in a position to take advantage of emerging trends.

I hope this has given some of you the spark you need to jump in and grab your backlog by the dogears! Good luck!.



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