While many IT departments are used to doing more with less, the current economic climate threatens to cut already lean departments to the bone.
Whats more, a recent series of interviews conducted by Info-Tech Research Group reveal that despite dwindling and insufficient IT headcounts, business leaders expect IT to maintain the range and quality of IT services.
Needless to say, the pressures on.
Developing a highly responsive IT skills pool allows IT departments to move from a defensive position to a more proactive stance.
Adopting an agile approach to workforce management has proven to be a strategy that is critical to survival in the new economy. Without agility, expect to see:
- Critical skills shortages for important IT projects.
- Inappropriate allocation of bodies to projects instead of skilled staff, leading to errors and poor quality outputs.
- Significant time and budget overages, leading to missed expectations and frustrated business managers.
- High levels of staff burnout and decreasing staff morale.
This means having the right people in the right place at the right time to make informed decisions and get work done. The Agile Workforce
An agile workforce is an organized, dynamic talent pool that can quickly deliver the right skills and knowledge at the right time, as dictated by business events.
An agile workforce is similar to the just-in-time principle found in the manufacturing industry. Key elements of an agile workforce include:
- The ability for workers to play any number of roles at any time.
- A clear set of operating principles that guide all activities.
- The capacity to change, which is reflected as a key measure of individual performance.
- Empowerment of staff at all levels to make decisions and take initiative.
- Mechanisms that allow the open and rapid transfer of knowledge.
- Deep understanding of available resources and how to mobilize them at short notice.
- A team-oriented atmosphere with a strong collaborative infrastructure.
- Flexible work hours and arrangements to allow staff to work any place, any time.
- A balanced integration of both permanent and temporary staff.
An agile workforce approach is best used if any of the following circumstances exist:
- The future needs of the business are ambiguous.
- The business and required skills are changing rapidly and repeatedly.
- Levels of competitive risk are high.
- A worsening economic climate carries all of the above traits, in abundance.
Adopting an agile workforce approach is ideal during times of economic uncertainty and will put the enterprise in a much stronger stead going forward. Recommendations
1. Assess readiness. Is an agile workforce necessary? If there is very little change, then agility is not a pressing demand. However, if managers are chronically reassessing their staffing situation due to changing demands, and find they are frequently missing required skills, then investigate an agile workforce strategy. An agile workforce will benefit any enterprise, so consider it regardless as a go-forward strategy.
2. Create a skills matrix. A skills matrix not only shows whats available, but also shows where risks exist so contingency planning can take place.
Draft a list of tasks in which the IT organization engages, including the hard and soft skills required to perform each of them. In addition, try to predict new tasks and skills that will be needed in the foreseeable future. Create a matrix that lists these skills down one side (and the tasks with which they are associated), and available staff across the top.
- Give each staff member a ranking of 0 through 3 (with 3 being high) to show competence in each skill.
- Average the rankings for each skill. Low totals indicate a potential skills gap.
- Identify skills where few staff members are strong in that skill, or key skills that are tied to critical tasks. These skills are areas of risk if employees should leave the enterprise or become unavailable. Focus agility efforts here first.
3. Measure ease of transition. An agile work team needs to feel comfortable with change, challenge, accountability, and management of a broad assortment of work relationships. High degrees of change and unpredictability mean that not every staff member will be willing or able to step outside of his or her comfort zone and work as part of an agile team.
4. Know when not to hire. Contractors are essential to an effective agility strategy since they fulfill temporary needs and can be let go when no longer needed. Start identifying contractors, consultants, and outsourcers, and engage in some early pre-agreement relationship building so that they will be on hand when needed, even if they are not needed right now. With a stable of talent at-the-ready, it will be easier to get the required skills on short notice.
- Keep in mind that overuse of contractors can inhibit the ability to accumulate in-house expertise. Be selective.
- Put permanent staff on the exciting new projects and leave the mundane work to contractors and vendors. This will foster good morale and demonstrate a continued investment in employee growth.
5. Adopt a train the trainer approach. Cutting down on training during staff and budgetary squeezes reduces agility. Do not drop training, but definitely be frugal. A train the trainer approach involves sending a staff member for training, and having that staff member transfer the new knowledge to other staff members upon his or her return. This is a much less expensive approach than sending several people to the same training sessions and makes the information available to the entire staff instead of just a few.
6. Cross train. Train staff across a wider range of skills and roles so that they can be more easily moved across tasks and projects. Reduce gaps by thinking horizontally, not just vertically. Job shadowing is a great informal, inexpensive way to accomplish this. Building competencies in both hard and soft skills is essential; a hands-on programmer today that could also serve as a project team leader tomorrow is a valuable agile asset.
7. Enlist vendor support. To save even more on training costs, take advantage of vendors who are willing to provide low-cost training on their products as well as new and emerging technologies. This will result in bolstering knowledge and skills across the team and increasing individual flexibility.
8. Set up a strong communication infrastructure. In an agile environment, news, information and knowledge need to travel quickly. Good channels of communication and knowledge transfer are essential. Overlaying good project management practices on all aspects of IT operations should provide a good communication framework with which to start, as well as building knowledge transfer activities into every project. A technical infrastructure of collaboration tools that permits creation of central information repositories and online teamwork environments is also helpful. Bottom Line
Economic hardship can quickly cut already lean IT headcounts down to sub-minimum levels. Adopting an agile approach to workforce management is one method for doing more with less during times plagued with change and uncertainty.
To help IT professionals ensure they have the right staffing levels, Info-Tech has introduced Measure IT, an open access (free) peer benchmarking tool that identifies excessive or inadequate staffing. After completing a brief survey, participants receive multiple tools, reports and metrics around cost cutting as well as a custom IT Budget and Staffing report once the survey closes.
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