Apr 30

The Strategy of Development

As part of the series discussing potential organizational strucutres for IT, the Development organization must be understood as a strategic partner to the business.  One way to think about it is that Operations is focused on the immediacy of today while Development drives the effectiveness of tomorrow. Development keeps the business in tune with the market and the company’s future direction.

Superficially, this can make it sound like Development is simpler to manage than Operations, but it requires a different mindset than found in many Development organizations.  Many either isolate the developers from the business (to keep them focused on that all-important code), others fracture the development staff so that they are almost part of the lines of business and are ultimately reactive.  In my view, developers should be organized into functional groups that either support each line of business (silos) or by technology (such as a Mobile Applications group and a Portals group).  Each has its benefits (discussed below).

How does this not fall into the two traps I mentioned?  By adding a Portfolio Management Office function.  The weaker the PMO, the more strongly aligned to the business the development organization needs to be.  With a true center of excellence in portfolio management, the development silos can break down and become technology centers of excellence.

Chart of Organizational Structure

Potential IT Org chart

My diagram shows Portfolio, Program, and Project management.  So, just what is the distinction?  Project and Program management is fairly commonly understood – the simplest definition of a program is a series of projects.  But it has been (well) said that the distinction between Project/Program management and Portfolio Management is the difference between doing things right and doing the right things.   The PMO also contains Business and Systems Analysts who drive the acquisition of requirements from the business units.  There will be more in a later post that I will devote to the PMO.

Enterprise Architecture is what prevents the rest of the development groups from devolving into silos and fiefdoms.  This group drives down the accumulation of technology debt by preventing bad decisions, promotes reuse and modular architecture, and ensures that systems have broad use across the enterprise rather than serving the needs of a narrow constituency.

A word on frameworks at this stage.  Just as Operations is the “home” of ITIL, CMMi, and Six Sigma, Development is the home of PMI’s framework (in the PMO) and TOGAF (in Enterprise Architecture).  More on this later as well.

An obvious question at this point: Agile or Waterfall?  This post is already too long so I will address that in another post.  Purists will be disappointed.

Let me pose a question to the audience: Should the development staff be organized along lines of business as subject matter experts, or by technology competency so they provide shared expert services across the business?  Conceptually, I favor the latter, though I have only seen it work properly in software development companies where they produce software for sale.  In that case, technological talent is more important than deep subject matter expertise – it is the designers who must understand the business, not the developers.  Is it impossible to use this model where IT supports the main function of the business and is not producing the product for resale?


Apr 28

Blue Grotto Restaurant

We took some out of town friends to this restaurant last night and once again, it did not dissappoint.  Blue Grotto is a surprising find in a strip mall restaurant. The food is very creative and excellently prepared.

The restaurant calls itself a Sushi and Tapas restaurant – an odd combination.  Finger foods from Japan and Spain?  Actually, they are from all over the world and excellently done.  The sushi rivals restaurants we frequnt that are specifically sushi bars, though the selection is smaller.  You complement it, however, with tapas-like dishes from all over the world – Chicken Satay, Chorizo and Potato Empanadas, French styled lamb on eggplant, low country Shrimp and Grits – there is something from every continent.  Every dish was perfectly prepared and presented.

We had dinner for 4 adults and a munchkin, with no alcohol, for $100 before tip, ordering 8 dishes shared around the table.  This is our favorite restaurant for entertaining guests.


Apr 26

IT Operation’s view of the world…

This discussion continues my series of how a theoretical IT organization might be structured.  Today’s topic is the Operations side of the house.  For this group, the first order of business is to “Keep the lights on” and deliver the IT services the business needs as reliably as possible.  They also experience an interesting dichotomy: reduce the operational risk for the organization while simultaneously providing more services for less money.  Does that sound like fun to you?  It can be, with the right mind-set.  You can imagine, however, why many look upon operations jobs as thankless, meaningless, all-risk-for-no-benefit prospects – when the leader is uninspired.

Chart of Organizational Structure

Potential IT Org chart

IT Operations functions break down into three major categories: Infrastructure Management, Production Support, and Risk Management.  Infrastructure Management focuses on the servers, storage, networking equipment, databases, and middleware that keeps the organization humming.  Production support focuses on the customer’s daily experience.   Risk Management provides information security and ensures the quality of the systems produced and maintained by IT.  It is an interesting and worthy distinction that the DBAs in Infrastructure are responsible for the physical databases while Production Support owns the data inside them.

In many organizations I have seen, Infrastructure Support personnel are the least inspired to excel.  There are many good, talented people here, but if they do their job right, no one notices.  A friend of mine was fond of saying: How do you know when you have a good Database Administrator?  He’s bored to tears and no one knows he exists.  This principle is true of the whole Infrastructure Support group.  They are almost always in the blame-chain for everything that goes wrong in their area of expertise.  It takes a special management style to lead such a group effectively.  I’ll cover that in a future article.

Production Support is the Operations Group’s proxy for the customer – both internal and external.   This is a high-stress, interrupt driven organization.  They advise other groups from the customer’s point of view, own the data and therefore are responsible for data quality and scheduling any production data changes.

Risk Management is responsible for protecting corporate assets.  It controls the usual information security functions as well as some less-common functions that other IT organizations place in other functional areas: Change Management and Quality Assurance.  These latter are typically the perview of either infrastructure or production support, but properly are risks to the organization that must be managed.

IT Operations is also the natural “home” of two process framework disciplines, ITIL and CMMi, due to their focus on daily operations.  These frameworks are rarely successful in implementation if the sponsor/champion is not in the right sub-discipline of Operations.  ITIL is often best championed from the Help Desk, but could be led from other Production Support areas.  CMMi is best led from Change Management.   These frameworks require strong buy-in from all of Operations, but the group with the most “skin in the game” is typically the best to lead it.

In future articles, I will expand more on the three focus areas of IT operations as well as a separate article on process frameworks.  Let me hear your thoughts on this article so I can be sure to fully discuss areas of interest to you – and more importantly, include your feedback in designing this theoretic organization.  What kinds of problems do you see with this organizational breakdown?

Apr 23

Musings on Organizational Structure

I was attempting to explain the principles for building a high-functioning IT department to one of my professors, and it led to the diagram below.  I thought it might be interesting to bring the thought process out in the open so that we may all learn from each other.  Too much is involved to discuss the entire structure in one blog entry, but this will serve as the foundation for further conversations on the topic.
Chart of Organizational Structure

Potential IT Org chart

To begin with, obviously this chart describes a significantly sized IT organization – at least 50 FTE, perhaps as many as 250.  Smaller organizations would, by necesity, have people performing multiple roles.  The smaller the organization, the more it will drift from this model – as the combination of tasks assigned to individuals will be based more on the inherent talents they bring to the table than on any view of “proper” roles.  Larger organizations will specialize even more than what is indicated here.

At a high level, you can see a division into two large organizational groupings: Development and Operations.  The “Governance” box demonstrates the cross-functional nature of the governance role – it represents all constituencies of IT.  Future blogs will focus on each organizational group and eventually get down to individual roles.  This split, however, represents the natural balance of tensions that is normal to an IT organization.  You begin with one organization whose main purpose is to generate and implement change (Development), then balance that with an organization dedicated to ensuring proper operations of necessary services.  One creates change, the other attempts to limit the risk of implementing that change.  The Governance role brings blended balance to the picture.

In my next blog, I will discuss the IT Operations organization.  In the mean time, please join in the conversation and toss in your two cents.

Apr 04

Tantra Restaurant

My wife and I went to Tantra Restaurant in Atlanta last night, for the third time.  We both strongly recommend this restaurant as a romantic getaway.  Besides the quiet and intimate atmosphere, featuring a tantric theme, the food is excellent, creative, and moderately priced.  For example, last night, we each had a 3 course dinner for $25.00 per person (appetizer, main course, desert). 

The meals are sensual; each plate has a variety of tastes, aromas, and textures.  On each visit, we have tried different dishes, and have never been disappointed.  My favorite so far has been the Elk.

On the first Tuesday of each month, they feature “Tango at Tantra” where they open up the dance floor to the patrons and play tango music – reinforcing the romantic atmosphere.  The floor was continually occupied as the couples dining there practiced their Tango skills.

Highly recommended.  One of our top 10 restaurants in the city.