Coombes says he uses detailed planning of every IT employee's time, and then has them track their activities as projects progress. "We can see historically what they actually spent their time on," he says. "It's kind of a feedback loop of planning and setting our capacity target, collecting actual information and then studying the data." That process allows for increasingly accurate planning.
This way, Coombes can plan for the unexpected on those projects that warrant it. "I don't know exactly what unexpected thing will happen, but historically I know it's going to be something," he says. "So we will build that into our capacity model. But it's based on what we know to expect."
-- Minda Zetlin
A High-Level View
How do you stop the madness? It begins with a long-term, high-level approach that takes IT's most important goals into account. Unfortunately, many IT shops aren't taking such an approach. "When I stepped into this role a couple of years ago, we probably had more than 200 projects going at any given time, but we were responding to a lot of quick-reaction type things. There wasn't much of a coherent strategy that linked all those things together," says Joe Mahaffee, executive vice president and chief information security officer at Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and IT consultancy in McLean, Va., that had revenue of $5.86 billion in 2012.
So Mahaffee and his team worked with corporate leaders to identify seven strategic initiatives they believed would be important and then plan what needed to be done to complete those projects within a couple of years. For instance, a decision to move to unified communications allowed the firm to stop spending money on extensive PBX systems. "Now if we're modernizing an office, we invest in voice-over-IP technology instead," he says.
A strategic approach won't work without the support and participation of upper management. That's why many IT departments find that establishing a governing group of some sort -- one made up of IT leaders and their upper-level business counterparts -- is the first step to taming a chaotic IT workload.
"About a year ago, we changed the model of how we govern all IT projects," Mahaffee says. "There were four governance models that had some sort of contact with IT, and we centralized all that. Now we have one governing body providing direction and helping us define priorities." That group includes Mahaffee, Booz Allen CIO Kevin Winter and leaders from each of the company's marketing teams and major departments. All in all, the group is about 15 people who meet fairly frequently. "It helps me keep alignment with the business," says Winter. "Requests get funneled to this body so decisions aren't made in a vacuum. Everybody around the table gets a say in what gets funded."