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8 July 2008

The new umbrella

By Andrew Clifford

We need a way of managing things that do not sit comfortably under our project management and service delivery umbrellas.

IT is not a single activity. It is made up of a long list of different parts: strategic planning, architecture, computer operations, help desk, analysis, design, security, compliance, continuity planning, testing, programming, and on and on.

To help us manage these very different activities, we have two big management umbrellas.

  • We collect the activities to do with change under a project management umbrella.
  • We collect the activities to do with running IT under a service delivery umbrella.

These umbrellas are more than just a classification. They provide management focus, methods, budget, organisation, and so on. They keep the activities that shelter under them protected from the worst of organisational weather: management indifference, lack of co-ordination, lack of funding, lack of control. Without the umbrellas, IT would be unmanageable.

Useful though these umbrellas are, they don't cover everything perfectly. Some activities, such as regulatory compliance, tend to get left out. Some, such as security, are stuck in between. Some, like application support, tend to scuttle from one umbrella to the other every few years, as management preference changes. These areas are not well covered, and our overall IT management suffers as a result.

Perhaps we need a new umbrella to shelter the things that do not fit well under the other two, such as:

  • Software and information quality
  • Compliance
  • Viability
  • Policy and standards
  • Ongoing performance, scalability and capacity
  • Security
  • Documentation
  • Continuity planning

This may seem like a random list. But these are all to do with the ongoing evolution of the IT itself, and are neither the step change of projects nor business as usual service delivery.

In a broad sense, all of these are to do with the qualities of the IT systems themselves. We could reasonably call this third umbrella system quality management.

Both of the existing umbrellas have a dominant management focus and way of working. Project management focuses on projects, and has processes for running projects from start to finish. Service delivery focuses on services, and has processes for delivering them consistently every day.

In the same way, we can define a focus and way of working for system quality management: a focus on systems, and processes for identifying, justifying, executing and controlling the activities required to maintain and improve the qualities of systems.

Introducing system quality management as the third high-level umbrella is not an arbitrary reassignment of responsibilities from other areas. Effective project execution is hard, and consistent service delivery is hard, and both are made harder by extra activities that have to be done at the same time. Really important parts of the overall IT management are inevitably left out because they do not sit comfortably alongside the dominant focus. You can see this with problems like getting project delivery to rework documentation, or getting service delivery to make application software changes to improve performance. Putting these under a new umbrella would not only deliver them better, but would help project management and service delivery achieve their objectives more effectively.

If you feel some things are not completely covered by your current management structures, perhaps you need a new umbrella.

Next: Linking quality to decision making

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