Avoiding Bad IT Tetris: Eliminate Gaps, Improve Velocity

Tetris is a video game where blocks of various shapes slide down the screen, and you have to shift them left and right as they fall, to fit together and make solid rows. The blocks kept coming faster and faster, so it became more difficult to create complete rows, leading to gaps all over the place. When the screen filled up with jumbled blocks, sad music played indicating you lost. Bad Tetris.

In the vast majority of businesses, the budget pie chart is dominated by human-related costs. Human capital is the most valuable resource – yet how we plan and allocate people on projects erodes the value of that capital.

Gaps in resources have exponentially bad impact on projects. 20% of an airplane, 50% of a car, and 30% of a bicycle won’t get you from Boston to San Francisco. Trying to fit different slices of IT resources to create solid projects leads to diminishing returns.
Leaders need to curb the tendency to plan in percentages of resources, and resource projects with full allocations of people. Here’s four ways to do that.

1. Incent Program Management functions based on value delivery, not on planning. A well-designed plan is useless. Delivering a product or service that moves the needle forward on business objectives is useful. If project managers and scrum masters are measured on the velocity by which the teams they support produce value, rather than the beauty of their plans, they will be focused on the right business result.
BadITTetrisDiagram2. Fully resource prioritized projects. If an important project needs 5 developers, an application architect, a UX designer, 2 data analysts, and 3 business analysts, then it needs 5 developers, an application architect, a US designer, 2 data analysts and 3 business analysts. If the project has value, it will get resourced. Re-planning is like moving deck chairs on the Titanic. 100 IT resources will not magically turn into 120 resources by slicing and dicing them differently.
3. Answer the “well, what could we get for [materially less funding, fewer resources]?” question carefully. While logical discussions can be had for lesser scope or longer timeframe, therGoodITTetrisDiagrame is a baseline resourcing model without which value cannot be achieved in the optimal time-to-market.
4. Define success, and minimum viable success. If the overall goal is to improve supply chain efficiency by 20%, is the first meaningful movement towards that 5% or 10% or the whole 20%? Ascertaining what the first meaningful chunk of value is creates an initial goal from which much learning will arise. If attaining the first 5% takes 3 months, getting the remaining 15% shouldn’t take 9 months. But shooting for the whole 20% might take 18 months. If resources are diverted from a project, describe the impact relative to the value.

According to Society for Human Resource Management, salaries alone can account for 18 – 52% of your operational budget. Human capital is valuable capital –  too much time spent in figuring out if the goal can be achieved on bits and pieces of this capital detracts from value delivery.

“The art of simplicity is the puzzle of complexity.” Douglas Horton

Worth considering:

This Information Week article discusses how Boards and CEOs should be strategic about what they ask CIOs, particularly about velocity. In recent years, competitive advantage could last a few years. Now innovation can be commoditized in months.

Bad IT Tetris can also be applied to the hodge-podge that can result from not prioritizing strong architectural components: applications, data, security.

Tetris was originally designed and programmed by Russian game designer BadTetrisAlexey Pajitnov in 1984. The name is based on the Greek numerical prefix “tetra” (the game pieces are all four segments). Tetris was the first entertainment software to be exported from the Soviet Union to the US.


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