Ask the IT Director: The Late Pile

Shoreline Stones

Dear IT Director,
My company is growing, and we got behind on orders. We have been doing a lot of work to catch up, but it is hard to tell if we are making any headway. My boss asked me if I have any ideas.
Confused in Cincinnati

Dear Confused,
Increasing late orders is a tough situation to be in, especially if revenue is growing. We have to deal with more orders than we have ever seen, and we need to catch up on late orders. If you focus on one of those, the other gets worse. Customers get cranky. When you hear about businesses not surviving their own success, this may be part of the cause.

I suggest the concept of Late-Days. This provides a single, trackable number that quantifies the size and age of the late pile. For each order, add up the number of days late. If you have variety in the size of your orders, you can tweak this by multiplying by the dollars or quantity of the order. As a bonus, we can use this concept for other late things besides sales, hint – how is your IT to-do list?

Before we get to an example, why is Late-Days useful? In my experience, not all overdue is created equally. Since there is never one silver bullet to fix overdue, we need to approach each situation differently. Ten orders that are weeks late differs from fifty orders that are days late. The solutions you try will be different in each case. Late-Days quantifies that for us in a way that helps us understand if we are making a difference.

While the number of late orders is the primary metric, it doesn’t really tell much of a story about what those lines are like. Days-Late gives a little more information.

First, the math. The simplest way is to add up the days late for each late order.

OrderDays Late
A12
A24
A35
Late-Days11

As I mentioned before, you can add a dollar or quantity multiplier if those vary in your situation. I’ll also remind you that no single metric holds all the answers. Late-Days is a simple metric to add to your mix of metrics.

How can we use Late-Days to monitor our progress?

Let’s look at the scenario I mentioned above: ten orders that are weeks overdue and fifty orders that are days overdue. We might have a Late-Days of 357 for the first and 128 for the second. By themselves, these numbers are not helpful. But when you track this metric over time, you will see changes. And that tells you if you are winning or losing.

Track Late-Days every day and work to make the number lower. The goal, of course, is zero.

The hard part is figuring out how to ship all those late orders, AND to ship all new orders on time. Late-Days provides a useful number to know if you are making progress.

Good Luck Confused,
The IT Director

IT Leaders: Managing Ourselves

judgement scale and gavel in judge office

Managing ourselves can be harder than managing others. In related news, doctors and nurses make terrible patients. I’m married to a nurse, so I know this to be true. It is easy to wave it off, convinced that we are in good shape and don’t need any help.

Improving as a leader is a lifelong journey. As a leader, we are never as good as we think we are. But take heart, because we probably aren’t as bad as we think we are.

Portions of this article are excerpts from my book, The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook, available in paperback and ebook from fine bookstores everywhere.

IT Leaders Handbook front cover

There are four things that are necessary to be a good IT leader. There are other important leadership skills, of course, but these are ones I believe are specifically helpful for IT leaders. Here is a brief explanation of the four.

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Ask the IT Director: Finding Time To Improve IT Processes

Dear IT Director,
Help! We are running around with our hair on fire, working on too many business projects. Our IT processes need help, but we don’t have any time to improve them.
Overwhelmed in Omaha

Dear Overwhelmed,
I feel your pain. The list of changes the business needs is long and you want to get it done faster. At the same time, you and your team know how to improve your processes to become more efficient. But there is no time. How do you stop working on the business tasks to improve IT?

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Focus & Finish: The Challenges and Solutions

In a previous article on Focus & Finish, I covered The Myth of Multitasking. This article goes into some detail on how to make Focus & finish a reality.

When I first proposed to the team that we needed to only have 1-3 active Change Requests at a time, we all struggled to make it happen. We kept getting clogged up with too many active tasks.

After looking closer at the problem, I identified some challenges and solutions. Here are a few.

Portions of this article are excerpts from my book, The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook, available in paperback and ebook from fine bookstores everywhere.

IT Leaders Handbook front cover
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Ask The IT Director: Cantujust Dilemma

Dear IT Director,
People seem to think that IT has an “easy button”. That we can just make simple changes and slap it into production quickly. How can I respond to this nonsense?
Frustrated in Fresno

Dear Frustrated,

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Focus & Finish: The Myth of Multitasking

black and gray lantern

I stared at the list of requests the team was working on. Seven people, ninety-three active requests. Over ten active requests for each person. The team was working hard, but it felt like we weren’t making progress. Requests were not getting completed, and it felt like we were the bottleneck.

The IT department’s to-do list is always longer than its capacity to complete those tasks. This is intentional. A properly managed company will not have excess capacity in its service groups like Finance, HR, or IT. I have yet to discover a company that does not have an IT backlog.

Portions of this article are excerpts from my book, The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook, available in paperback and ebook from fine bookstores everywhere.

IT Leaders Handbook front cover

Getting that work done is a challenge. There is always pressure to do more. Those with requests in the backlog will keep pushing to get their requests completed. We complicate this by having too many projects or tasks active at the same time. We are always multitasking, trying to keep all the juggling balls up in the air.

All too often, we fail.

The answer is to have fewer tasks active at a time and make sure that they get completed before starting something new. Let’s start with the real problem: multi-tasking.

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Technical Debt

The concept of Technical Debt has been around for decades. Originating in the software development area, Technical Debt describes the accumulation of “we should probably fix that” places in the code. However, Technical Debt does not just apply to software, it applies to the entire IT world. Hardware, software, infrastructure, security, and applications all have their technical debt.

Technical Debt is a little like Schrodinger’s Cat, as it may or may not be there. Some technical debt is never a problem. Some of it blows up spectacularly. Some assumptions we make are fine. Others aren’t.

Portions of this article are excerpts from my book, The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook, available in paperback and ebook from fine bookstores everywhere.

IT Leaders Handbook front cover

Here are some well-known examples:

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Now For Sale! The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook

IT Leaders Handbook front cover

The paperback & Ebook versions of The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook is now for sale on Amazon (US, UK, Canada, etc), Barnes & Noble, and fine bookstores everywhere.

Whether you are a current IT leader or hope to lead an IT organization in the future, this book will be useful to you. This book is a collection of the scars and skills that I have earned over the years.

From The Introduction:

Organizations structure themselves, in part, to manage people (HR), money (Finance), and technology (IT). These departments understand the details of their areas and how their work contributes to the success of the organization. The Information Technology (IT) department lives at the intersection of the organization and the technological world.

It is often a thankless job. The criticisms are many. IT is too slow to roll out changes. IT is too rigid with its rules and processes. IT is too expensive. IT has a huge backlog. IT is working on the wrong things.

Or so the organization believes.

As leaders of the IT department, it is our responsibility to run the department to meet the needs of the organization. Unfortunately, even with the best of efforts, the perception of the organization never matches our own. Even worse, sometimes the perception is correct.

There are a lot of books, magazines, websites, and individual postings aimed at the IT professional. But few of them address the larger problems organizations care about. There is significant information about specific technologies, but not much on how to lead an IT department.

Since I couldn’t find such a book, I wrote it.

Monkeys Everywhere!

Be careful about taking tasks accidentally…

In the classic Harvard Business Review article Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?, William Oncken, Jr. and Donald L. Wass present the idea that tasks can be considered as monkeys sitting out our shoulder. We have to feed them and take care of them. The more tasks we have, the more monkeys on our shoulders. As leaders, we need to be very aware of our team’s monkeys and make sure they don’t jump to our shoulder.

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The Customer is Our Only Customer

invoices-customer

Ever since there have been internal departments like IT (and HR and Finance) there has been a drive for those groups to call the rest of the business “customers.” I believe this is a bad idea and hurts the organization. Let’s start with the sentiment:

  • “We need to take care of our (internal) customers.”
  • “We need to treat the rest of the company like customers to have the proper service attitude.”

Portions of this article are excerpts from my book, The I.T. Leaders’ Handbook, available in paperback and ebook from fine bookstores everywhere.

IT Leaders Handbook front cover
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