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Ask Slashdot: How Do You Deal With Priorities Inflation In IT Projects?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the raise-the-bar dept.

IT 304

NetDanzr writes "I work for an IT company that has a steady stream of projects, new features to our existing products and technical support issues. As it is customary, though, our development resources are not sufficient to cover the amount of projects. As a result, our delivery dates are slipping, and as a result the average priority of projects is rising. Where the goal was to have only 10% of projects rated high, within a year nearly 50% of projects are rated as such. Our solution is to completely wipe out the project list once per year and start a new, properly prioritized list. How does your company deal with this inflation of priorities?"

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We dont deal with it (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100007)

we just all stress out and have 10000 tonnes of pressure 24/7/365

Re:We dont deal with it (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100037)

We typically fire the entire IT staff every couple of years and try to hire replacements at 70% salary under threat of outsourcing.

Re:We dont deal with it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100129)

either the above or quit before the ship has sank

Re:We dont deal with it (2)

telekon (185072) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100305)

We're co-workers? Wow!

It's a small internet after all.

Re:We dont deal with it (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100425)

Yes, I'm not familiar with the terminology in TFA, but I suspect it's the same situation where we're up against the wall with multiple systems down and a Sales laptop infected with a Croatian automailer and the VP comes and says:
"Stop. Just stop. I know you think you know where your priorities lie, but you're having difficulty seeing the big picture and you have a bad attitude from your inability to prioritize. So all of you come over here - I can't get this funny cat video to play on my iPad and it's crucial for this Sales presentation."

If you still have an American IT job in 2012.... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100319)

...then the policy is "The beatings will continue until productivity improves!"

Re:We dont deal with it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100389)

And I thought the natural turn-over had a similar effect..

Mod the above up +9999 (0)

microphage (2429016) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100535)

"We typically fire the entire IT staff every couple of years and try to hire replacements at 70% salary under threat of outsourcing.

Haaaaaa !

Re:We dont deal with it (5, Insightful)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100413)

we just all stress out and have 10000 tonnes of pressure 24/7/365

Typically, this is the norm. Eventually, key people get better jobs, and it all comes tumbling down. Then they outsource it all. Then it gets expensive, and does not fit well. Then they hire a new team. Lather, rinse, repeat...

Get a project manager (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100011)

Hire a proper project manager.

Re:Get a project manager (5, Interesting)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100155)

It sounds like they need more than one project manager and a number of additional worker-bees to get the jobs done.

Start by showing the problem to senior management and tell them flat-out that there is no way to get all the projects done on schedule unless they hire enough people that each project has enough people on it to get the job done. It's always incumbent on workers at each level to give their best (i.e. worst-case) estimates of how much work is required to execute a project and how much time it requires. (Some work can't be accelerated past a certain point by adding more people.)

There are three responses that might generate:
* "you'll just have to work harder" This response is not unusual but tells you you're going to fail anyway and is a signal to get out of the organization before it crashes and burns.
* they'll cancel some projects and focus their people on the remaining ones
* they'll hire some more warm bodies to get more work done.

Also, you need a way to shield the people working on each project from interruptions generated from outside the project and the project managers need to insulate their people from scope creep.

Re:Get a project manager (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100307)

Here is hoping you aren't suffering from feature creep also.

Re:Get a project manager (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100381)

"Also, you need a way to shield the people working on each project from interruptions generated from outside the project and the project managers need to insulate their people from scope creep"

BINGO!
Don't know how many times I have to stop the project I am on because the boss's kid can't get his mac to work on the home wireless.
The IT guys wear many hats unfortunately.
A good idea is to get most projects are done after hours, work output is doubled seemingly because you are not pulled from the project every 15 minutes. Would be nice to be on the after hours team.

Re:Get a project manager (4, Insightful)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100489)

"Also, you need a way to shield the people working on each project from interruptions generated from outside the project and the project managers need to insulate their people from scope creep"

BINGO!
Don't know how many times I have to stop the project I am on because the boss's kid can't get his mac to work on the home wireless.
The IT guys wear many hats unfortunately.
A good idea is to get most projects are done after hours, work output is doubled seemingly because you are not pulled from the project every 15 minutes. Would be nice to be on the after hours team.

The problem is in no way unique to IT departments. Every department suffers from the same thing. I manage hardware engineers and we face the same issues. Everybody thinks that because a problem is his biggest priority it should be your biggest priority.

But I recognize that there's a particular problem in IT departments. They have day-to-day issues that have to be dealt with on a timely basis as well as long-term issues that absolutely must be dealt with but on a longer schedule. You have to segment the problem somehow.

Some companies have a group that only handles system-down and user complaints and other people handle the longer-term projects. Some companies have babysitters for upper management.

Re:Get a project manager (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100399)

You're right on with this.

Anecdotal story...Last job, they kept cutting back staff, yet increasing projects, and everything became a #1 priority. I got out. (and a bunch of the better worker bees did as well). The poor management will drive the company under. (what works in your home country doesn't necessarily work here).

My new job, projects out the ying-yang, but, good project management. And they admit to mistakes in judgement. It's refreshing, actually make you want to work harder for them, knowing that they recognize that not everything can come out the way you expect all the time. They have canceled projects as needed to focus on the real important ones. You can tell it's never easy to do, but they did it. And everyone was better for it.

"Do more with less" only gets you so far. You burn out your employees and increase unhappiness in the work place a heck of a lot faster.

 

Re:Get a project manager (4, Insightful)

dubbreak (623656) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100499)

To me it smells of poor management period. The fact that they were able to get into a position where projects are slipping and it is then the worker's job to convince management that something needs to be done.

I've been in the same situation. More workers were needed so that new features, rewriting of core features for stability as well as general bug fixes could be done simultaneously. That was on the company's key product that generated >50% of the entire company's revenue ($10M company). Aside from the primary product slipping the CEO was heavily invested in his pet project for a new service, siphoning off existing resources and claiming all new hires. The new service was to compliment the existing product (but could be resold to competitors as well).

After spending too much time trying to convince management of the obvious and watching all my coworkers become demotivated (hard to stay motivated when you spend all your time barely succeeding at treading water in an industry you should be swimming in) I made the obvious but difficult decision. I left. I make more money and work for a company that is focused on a single product. If you can't do a bunch of things well, then focus on one you can do well.

I've seen it a bunch of times. Egos get in the way and management is focused on doing things that make them feel like they have ownership or are in control or are doing something 'cool' to brag to their cohorts about. The difficult thing is to drop everything but what you are good at. A friend saved a failing middleware company by doing exactly that. They were in the hole working on a bunch of revenue sucking 'products' that could have been the next greatest piece of middle ware (can you say bubble mentality? Great middleware? YA). The saving grace is they had a successful support and service side of the business. He dropped everything but the service and support then focused on having that be as profitable as possible. A decade later they are still alive and the company has the best employee remuneration of their field for the market they are involved in. The company would have gone under in months without more investment money had they continued to try and make a product. Looking back it is now easy to see that their big software products plans would have never panned out.

By not having the situation in the first place (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100027)

Yes, it's that simple. Practice agile development and keep a prioritized backlog of work and this never happens. "50% of projects are rated [high]" basically means you have no prioritization.

Re:By not having the situation in the first place (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100461)

Agile methodology is not appropriate for most projects. It's only really effective on very large projects, otherwise you get too bogged down in process and end up prolonging everything. Most of the time, iterative or waterfall project methods work better for medium and smaller projects.

Far to much focus is being put on metrics and methods, and not enough on "how to get things done".

Get a project manager. (5, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100039)

Or get a manager that can get the priorities / resources changed.

Something isn't working at your company. If upper management is setting their expectations too high (or not providing the resources to meet those expectations) then someone needs to explain that to them.

Re:Get a project manager. (4, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100065)

and if they don't get it, the company will fail or be acquired. the executives will go on to get high paying jobs elsewhere, their failures spun into tremendous success stories. haha, seen that time and again.

Re:Get a project manager. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100121)

Or the employees will start a revolt.

Re:Get a project manager. (2)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100093)

Yeah, there's some bad math going on here somewhere. He either has enough requests to justify more resources at least until the backlog is cleared, or he's got users who are sending in too many requests and some should be denied.

Re:Get a project manager. (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100097)

Are you kidding? The "project managers" are the reason he's in this mess. You have non IT people dictating design, promising deliverables to other, higher-up, non IT people, and you wonder why your projects fail?

Re:Get a project manager. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100299)

Are you kidding? The "project managers" are the reason he's in this mess. You have non IT people dictating design, promising deliverables to other, higher-up, non IT people, and you wonder why your projects fail?

I guess that could all be true but it certainly looks as if you just made it up. At minimum you seem to have assumed a lot of facts that he didn't state. Do you find you do this a lot?

Re:Get a project manager. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100395)

I find that his assumptions are the most common situation.

Re:Get a project manager. (3, Informative)

v1 (525388) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100527)

This is somewhat appropriate here I think. Frequentlyt, Dilbert [dilbert.com] is on-target when management is not.

Re:Get a project manager. (2)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100361)

Uhh, project managers, business analysts, whatever you want to call them - should be IT people. They just aren't programmers. If they were programmers, the company should be paying them to program. The point of having IT business analysts is that they are IT and understand IT, but they spend their time interfacing with both IT programmers and the rest of the company.

I think your experiences are with companies that try to dictate projects with the end user group supplying the project manager. I don't think that's what the GP is referring to.

Re:Get a project manager. (3, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100563)

True story...

The business committed delivery of a huge pile of work in 60 days. Despite working around the clock with offshore resources, it still wasn't possible to make it.

Moral: The business needs to pay for any custom development out of their bonuses.

Right now- they pay a fixed amount ot IT and get an "all you can eat buffet" of work based on how hard and loud they scream.

Our current workload is 10 projects per person plus support work plus validation of data for deployment plus determining scope for the next release.

About 6 months ago they recognized we were grossly understaffed and just this week new resources started arriving. In 90 days, we'll have 4x the staff we do now. But that staff will be unproductive for 15 to 30 days after each one arrives.

Re:Get a project manager. (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100233)

I've never done project management before, but I have worked on many projects and reported to the person responsible for its resource allocation. In such a scenario outlined by the submission where you don't have a project manager, is there any software in which developers or technicians can help budget time against tasks and create a visual representation? Basically, something simple enough for staff to use and meaningful enough for management to use. The whole point is putting the final choice in management's court. Let them fight it out and ultimately delegate priorities with the resources you already have.

Re:Get a project manager. (4, Informative)

blue_teeth (83171) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100315)

Companies underbid projects with aggressive timelines and less resources.  Theme these days is, get projects at any cost, we will figure it out once the project starts moving.

Who/what is responsible for this?

1.  Sales teams who put pressure on project architects for low costing.
2.  Solution Architects who think each of their project member is Linus Torvalds.
3.  Existence of bench resources.  Idea is to underbid and deploy bench resources (unbilled) as anyway they are idle.
4.  Unbilled bench resources suddenly getting deployed in new projects.

Re:Get a project manager. (2)

HideyoshiJP (1392619) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100409)

+1 to this. I hate project management, but it has a very clear purpose and a well thought out project plan with a strong project manager can simplify your life.

Staff (3, Informative)

MBGMorden (803437) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100047)

Sounds like you're honestly understaffed. If you guys are honestly working as hard as possible and things are still going unfinished then its not a problem of priorities - it's a manpower problem. Hire more people.

Re:Staff (2)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100457)

Or, if there is no budget for that, refuse more projects. Give a real timeline of when the "High Priority" projects will be done, and drop everything else, and tell management that there are no new projects until May 2013. When they crap, you can start the discussion of "Wants vs Needs" and if they really need everything on the list.

Re:Staff (2)

nahdude812 (88157) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100519)

Although additional staffing will probably help with the backlog, it might not be the right solution. For one thing, depending on the complexity of the systems involved, new hires may for a while reduce the efficiency of the existing staff. Sometimes new hires cause dates to slip which would have been met without the hire.

Also, just because your business units are requesting work be done doesn't mean that work is necessarily worth the investment. The individual business unit can't provide a good ROI evaluation because their investment is minimal when the work is done by staff developers. In a large shop, that analysis should be being performed by the project manager or business analyst, but not everyone has this luxury.

In small to mid-sized shops, you make due with what you have, hiring more guys won't necessarily be a win for the business even if it makes Engineering's job less stressful.

In the past we've had bad luck with the word "priority," everyone makes their work the lowest priority they think places it above everyone else, so it's an escalation arms race. We had settled on rankings instead. Require the various business users to rank work against each other. It can't be inflated since it's a binary relationship between any two projects - A is more important than B, or it's not. It's up to them to come to a consensus as to whether the latest marketing blitz is really more important than codifying this year's new tax codes. If Marketing and Finance say the blitz is more important, then that's what you work on even if you're confused why that's the outcome.

Don't let users score their own tasks (5, Insightful)

LostCluster (625375) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100053)

Every user wants their project first and everybody else to wait. You can't let users declare their own priority unless there's a strictly followed grading system or rubric based on the priorities of the business. (Ex. Customer facing systems are more important than internal ones.) If you've got 5x of the "high" priority tasks either you;re making too many mistakes or priority inflation needs to be addressed with the users.

Re:Don't let users score their own tasks (1)

Orne (144925) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100193)

If there was only some system where all of the users could post comments on the changes they wanted, and then the users themselves could rate the requests up or down, and the highest modded comments could get the most visibility.

Nah, a system like that could never work...

Re:Don't let users score their own tasks (4, Funny)

dedmorris (1137577) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100327)

That won't work - most of the feature requests would be about GreatBunzinni.

Clearly you need to invent a bell curve. (5, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100057)

Replace your current priority-tracking system with a floating point number. Add buttons to the interface that increase or decrease its value by small increments. Next to that, display a z-score [wikipedia.org] , ideally presented offset so that the base priority is higher than zero (to reduce the number of negative numbers shown—or perhaps don't do this if you really want to discourage people from working on low-priority items.)

Statistics: fun for the whole family.

Typical problem (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100077)

The development head should only accept dev requests coming from the heads of other departments.
A weekly meeting with those dept heads and the dev head to discuss priorities.
This way, priorities are not your problem anymore. Dept heads "fight" / discuss / negotiate to be on top of list. Dev staff / budget issues come clear on the table.
It's a win win.

Re:Typical problem (2)

AlXtreme (223728) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100219)

This is probably the best way, avoid/ignore any priorities that don't come in from up top.

Even better is not using priorities at all: simply set milestones and allocate people to meet those milestones. If during the weekly meeting one of the dept heads wants something done quick let them fight it out with the dept heads whose pet project is currently underway and will be delayed due to "reduced resources". The impact of "pet project will be delayed by 4 weeks" is much more concrete than "pet project is now a minor priority instead of major".

Business people need to understand that, unless they bring additional resources to the table, they will simply have to wait in line until it is their turn.

Create more priorities (5, Funny)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100089)

Obviously, you need more priorities. Nobody wants to mark his pet project as "low" priority, so you need to be creative. Ask marketing for help, and you'll end up with your new priorities: "High", "Very High", "Red", "Extreme", "Platinum", "Overclocked", "Done Yesterday", "Drop Everything", and "The Boss Is Watching".

Re:Create more priorities (1)

berashith (222128) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100339)

this will at least guarantee that less than 10% of projects will be marked as high priority. mission accomplished!

Re:Create more priorities (1)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100481)

We have numeric priorities, P1 being the highest. Unless a P0 comes along. I'm waiting for a P-1, then all bets are off.

Re:Create more priorities (1)

fastest fascist (1086001) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100495)

Don't forget "Funny".

Hold it!!! (3, Insightful)

Anon-Admin (443764) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100105)

Wait a sec, you have projects that are not "Top Priority"?

I am currently working on 7 migration projects and every one of them is top priority. To top that off, the VP has told each and every PM that their project is top priority and I am dedicated to to getting their project done first.

Re:Hold it!!! (5, Interesting)

berashith (222128) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100377)

I have done this before too. I had fun with it. I told the PMs that I would be working on the project of whichever PM was in the room looking over my shoulder. They literally had to stake out their turf if they wanted my time. This did two things... 1 if the issue was really important, they dropped their tasks also. 2) If another PM thought I should be on their tasks, they had to talk to whoever was in the room watching me. If no one was there, then I changed gears to the new request, and let my manager know that the constant shifting was slowing me down and preventing any real momentum.

Once the PMs werent able to blame me, management sorted things out and stopped giving me multiple top priorities, and most importantly, the PMs all realized that they had been sold a lie.

Re:Hold it!!! (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100473)

So where have you applied so far?

Re:Hold it!!! (2)

themightythor (673485) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100531)

I've been in this situation before. When it happens and there's one PM in charge of all the projects I'm working on, I sit down with them and say "There are n things on my list. Rank them 1 to n." If they say everything is a 1, I tell them that they had their chance and the order is now up to me and arbitrary. If it's multiple PMs, I set up a meeting with them to expose the problem. It usually resolves itself there, but if it doesn't, see the one PM strategy.

% of list complete = % of bonus recieved (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100107)

Our company makes the corporate bonus program dependent on the project list. So everyone in the company has a vested interest in the projects that were defined near the beginning of the year. That's not to say that individual projects don't have the inevitable and constant feature creep, but release dates NEVER slip, we have a solid group of PM's I like to consider as enforcers, and a corporate structure where if something turns from green to yellow the person to blame immediately gets his schedule cleared until his piece is caught up. It seems to work, but it depends on everyone being pretty good at estimating work tasks, so there's a lot of double buffering to allow time for maintenance work... even then we stay really busy.

No one has a "low priority" project (5, Insightful)

omgwtfroflbbqwasd (916042) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100109)

The answer lies in quantifying the project impact, not in calling it low/medium/high (which is a subjective, relative term). Also, as business grows (or shrinks), the measurement of impact should be weighted as well. For example, a project that generates $1M/yr in revenue is a big deal when you're making $2M/yr, but not as much when you're making $20M/yr.

In the end, limited resources need to be focused on the area where it makes the most impact rather than trying to solve everyone's problems. That is exactly what IT management's job is.

The other answer is that no group/team/company does this really well, it comes down to individual manager's or IC's style and how you dismiss the trivial requests.

Re:No one has a "low priority" project (2)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100411)

I agree. Make the priority based on a metric instead of customer driven. Return on investment is one that most business people understand ($$$ returned for $ spent). Exceptions being legal obligations such as law changes (it's not like businesses WANTED to implement SOX compliance or tax law changes or....etc.).

Sure, you'll get people that game the system in terms of how they evaluate the return and the cost, but it should be a lot harder than the old "mine is top priority because it's mine" that goes on otherwise.

Screw the rankings ! (5, Interesting)

ACK!! (10229) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100127)

Someone wants a good project manager ? Good luck with that man. Either you have too few PMs and too many projects or more PMs than actual engineers. No one I mean absolutely no one at all seems to have a clue about finding a balance in terms of staffing project managers inside of a technology department. Now with that bit of fussing out of the way. What you do is you look at the list sit with your immediate manager. You both logically discuss the insanity of a full sheet of top priority 1 emergency projects and figure out which ones really need to get done and when. Remember who signs off on your yearly review and focus your priorities from what your immediate and his manager above really need for you to get done. You cannot let the bullshit of 50% of your projects being ranked as a high run you into the ground. Focus on what NEEDS to be done and then after that what your boss WANTS to get done and then on what the boss's boss would LIKE to have done.

The standard producer solution: (2, Insightful)

robthebloke (1308483) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100149)

become more agile

I'm not a massive fan of agile, but in this case re-prioritizing tickets once a year is simply not often enough. Priorities change on a weekly basis. Your process should reflect that.

Re:The standard producer solution: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100483)

The problem with this is that companies these days treat "Agile" as meaning "No project management, program everything on the fly." I've been at (and currently am at) places that say they are "Agile" but have not a single clue what project management really is...

We just let it slip away, simple. (1)

Kaleidoscopio (1271290) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100153)

Most of our projects are irrealistic, so after a roll of preventive measures we just gave up...

Measures attempted:

New priority levels - We moved from 3 priority levels to 5. Everybody kept using the highest available...
Re-Evaluation of requests by an independent team - Time lost in the team = time lost in delivery...
Mandatory rule book for project requests, namely better designed requests - Administration kept ignoring the rules and we could do nothing about it...

And the list goes on.

Ranking tasks (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100171)

While I cannot speak for how my company deals with prioritization (on account of there not being a defined standard for the company) I can mention how I deal with this issue. Instead of putting every task into a category (low, medium, high, etc.), I like to rank each task relative to every other task. This means that, if one task becomes more important, other tasks must be moved down the list. Transferring this idea to a company would require that a single person (likely a manager) maintain this list.

Scheduling algorithm (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100179)

You have a classic scheduling algorithm problem. From the sound of things, your current algorithm is such that Project A, with priority n, submitted a month ago, will never complete so long as there exists a Project B, with priority > n, submitted more recently. There are scheduling algorithms that can help to deal with this, but only if you stick to them.

Also, publish your project list, including submitted dates, priorities, and lead stakeholders. If a VIP demands a project be inserted with a higher priority, make sure that that goes up on the board so that the other VIPs know why theirs was bumped back. Let them fight it out with each other.

Value (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100181)

This is easy. All projects have value, by having a few "high" priority projects it makes clear the sense of urgency imparted on these projects. Now, if ALL projects are "high" priority then no projects have any higher priority over the others. Should half of the projects have "high" priority management is just saying "Do these first if you can". So, don't worry about it too much. Just send out a list of all the projects and their priority to your boss. If your boss already gets such a list just change the formatting so it looks original.

10% (5, Insightful)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100183)

From the sound of it, your problem is that anyone is allowed to mark an issue as high without restriction.

You say the goal is to have no more than 10% marked as high. So it seems the answer is simple. When you have 10% marked as high, you don't allow another item to be marked as high unless and until something else is removed from high.

That could be manually managed by a project manager, or it could be a business rule in your issue tracking database.

Re:10% (2)

praxis (19962) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100301)

Just look out for those that will automate generation of junk low-priority issues to get that percent of high-priority issues down to 10% so they can file their high-priority issue.

Re:10% (1)

praxis (19962) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100317)

I overlooked in my preview that Slashdot ate the less-than sign before the '10%'. I meant of course 'down to < 10%'.

Do not use priority levels, use a priority list. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100215)

Priority levels "low", "medium" and "high" are useless, because every user thinks their features are high priority - and there is no way to differentiate high priority and really really high priority features.

Instead of priority levels, use a priority list of features or projects. All tasks go into this list, strictly ordered by priority. *No two tasks may ever share priorities*, the users (or their managers/representatives) must choose one to be above the other.

I have used pivotaltracker.com as a tool for managing this list in the past, but I'm sure other similar tools (or just a big board of post-it notes) exist as well.

Relative priorities is the only solution (2)

roberthead (932434) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100221)

Projects should not be organized into buckets. They should be organized into One True List. Absolute priority values (High, Higher, Highest, Ludicrous Speed...) are meaningless. The only workable solution is relative priorities. One PM should have the authority to prioritize one list of projects. Dev just does whatever is at the top of the list. This is the only process that I have ever seen work effectively and painlessly.

Re: (1)

GMCaesar (2557376) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100235)

Your project management people need to provide data to management to demonstrate the capacity of your department, then make the case for either reprioritization of existing projects, or addition of more people to do the work.

Rule of thumb (1)

advid.net (595837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100249)

Remember that a typical IT project has used 95% of its planed resources when it reaches 95% achievement.
Then it will use 95% of its resources as well for the remaining 5%.

Have this rule in mind. Once you plan resources accordingly, your IT project management runs smoothly.

Analytic Hierarchy Process (3, Insightful)

Vo1t (1079521) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100255)

Try Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). It's very well described in reference to software development in "Lean Software Strategies" book (which I recommend btw).

Basically you dont rank priorities of projects/tasks not on absolute scale, but on relative scale (project A vs project B, etc.) based on gut feelings, discussions with stakeholders, CFOs, etc. You end up with a matrix you have to solve to get normalized new absolute weights of each project/task.

I had the opportunity to use it once for new project kick off, I liked it and will use this method in the future. The book presents this method in context of other case studies, and it certainly has been used in many other situations.

There is only one top priority (1)

Patrick May (305709) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100261)

Keep your list of projects and tasks within projects in priority order. If management wants to increase the priority of something, they need to see that means lowering the priority of something else.

Too many subject matters here (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100269)

You put up way too many different issues to address. Yes, we all face all of those but if you want one answer that fits every case you won't find it.
My best recommendation to start with a meeting with upper management to get approval on this. Create a 'steering committee'. What you are striving for is to form a direction committee that includes top stake holders, the people with influence not those that wine the most. The purpose is to let them decide what the give and takes are. You job would be to provide estimates and to meet those targets that you set forth.

As for feature crawl, you repeat over and over in your meetings that 1.) Any new features must be reviewed, estimated, presented in front of the super committee for a vote. Allow your new group to decide priorities for the company. 2.) Repeat... new features require new design documents, new test plans, more work, more time, more costs. Be realistic about it but provide the numbers along with the feature for a vote. 3.) Work on what projects will slip if new features or projects are added. Let them take the responsibility for what they want to fail and succeed.

That's a quick and very rough and poorly stated objective. But good project managers can do it. And a good project manager dos not need to know programming. But good project managers are very rare.

Nothing will change (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100271)

Get used to it.

It comes down to money and profit and how much B.S. can people take before they walk out the door. A lot of companies want to make money off the project phase and by God they are going to do it.

You will never get the resources you need and you will always be playing catch up.

I don't want to quote statistics but I am willing to bet everyone who has been in your situation will say Ditto.

Convert the priorities into dollars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100273)

Work with the business to figure out the business benefit in dollars for each project.

Business benefit is a combination of:
  - income (if we launch this new project we will make $x)
  - risk avoidance (if we don't do this we will lose $x)
  - cost avoidance (if we do this, our employees will save $x minutes/day = $y hours/year * $z/hour = $total/year).

Order your list by $benefit - $costToImplement and you have your list of priorities. Some requests will drop off as the business sponsors realize they can't make a case for them.

Look at the problem from the other side (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100275)

You really need to understand why this is happening. Are the projects you are delivering so far away from user needs that they need massive repair? Or, is it really just a case of priorities being poorly assigned?

Take one project and sit down with some product managers, salespeople, and (if you are lucky) users.

If they are bundle of frustration because the software just doesn't work they way they need it to, then yes, there are a massive number of issues that are top priority. In that case, you need to rethink your development process (including product specification).

If you hear a long wish list about a usable product, then the users need to get better at telling you what is important. And I see that there are already some comments about how to approach that problem.

I still get a paycheck (2)

johnlcallaway (165670) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100277)

I tell the powers that be what I can get done, what is slipping and let them decide. I also make it clear we don't work 60 hours weeks every week, they don't pay us enough and I'm not going to burn out. I state very clearly in projects what the EFFORT is, not the duration and only commit to timelines with the caveat that if other projects get in the way, the projects won't be done on time.

If they want us to be inefficient, that's their call, not mine. I still get a paycheck. I gave up a long time ago stressing out over the choices other people make that I have no control over. I just show up and do the job I agreed to do for the amount I agreed to get paid for it. If I don't like it, I can leave. I've had other companies call me, I know where I can go if it gets worse than the other companies already are.

If someone is working 60 hours/week every week, then they are either not good enough to get a job that doesn't require it, or don't have the cajones to tell their boss they will leave if it keeps up.

Deal with it, the only person to blame is ... you.

Re:I still get a paycheck (0)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100507)

It sounds like you've decided to step away from trying to help the company improve its process, for example by telling them when they are giving you directions that ruin efficiency. Is that because it's simply "not your problem," or because you tried being constructive in the past and got consistently bad outcomes from it?

Portfolio Management (2)

svendsen (1029716) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100279)

Do you have one?

1. Understanding your current capacity by phase (initiation, requirements, dev, etc) by Role is critical. if you don't have this you are screwed from the start.
2. before you launch each project have you done discovery to understand business and IS hours needed to complete the project? Costs, ROI, CBA, etc. Basically do you understand the full costs (as best as you can at this point) vs. what you are getting?
3. Do you constantly go back to #2 as you complete each phase? If not you might be doing projects that no longer bring value.
4. Do you understand your strategies to help pick the projects regardless of their cost/benefits? For example if your goals are to win market share but all your projects focus on operational improvements you might have a problem?
5. Building off of #4 do you know all your strategies and what percentage you are focused on for each one? 50% operational improvement, 25% win the market, 10% shake up the market, etc.
6. Do you revisit all of the above as market changes? This should be done quarterly at least.
7. Do you understand how bringing in contractors helps your capacity model? It doesn't matter if you bring in 50 java developers but your bottle neck to testing. 8. Does leadership understand all of the above? are they educated and given data to show the above?

That would at least help your discussions.

Learn to say no (4, Insightful)

cccc828 (740705) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100281)

I have no idea if you work in development or system administration, but generally improving the situation depends on two things:
1) Do what you agree to do on time and within budget
2) Say no to anything else

There are lots of books on the subject of time management, project management or the software development processes and they all boil down to these two rules. If you work in a company that does not allow you to say no, read one of those books and then explain to management why working with $method would greatly improve everything (including the coffee). As soon as you get them to agree to $method you can use $method to say no (i.e. $feature is not in our sprint, $task is on the KanBan board and blocked by $actually_important_task, etc).

If you have no support from management, consider updating you resume.
Here are three books that I found worth reading:
Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Busines by David J. Anderson [amazon.com]
Time Management for System Administrators by Thomas A. Limoncelli [amazon.com]
Agile Software Development with Scrum by Ken Schwaber and Mike Beedle (Author) [amazon.com]

The most interesting part are the case studies and how the authors manage to say "no" in a management-compatible way.

Use the Scotty principal. (5, Funny)

Kenja (541830) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100283)

If you think something will take an hour, say it will take three. Then when it takes you two you're a genius for getting it done early. Oh... and shout "I've given 'er all she's got cap'in" every now and then.

Re:Use the Scotty principal. (1)

Saroful (1364377) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100479)

That works up until the boss realizes you're padding the schedule/budget. Then, when you tell him it takes 3, he'll budget you for 1.5, and when it take 2 you are behind schedule/over budget. Repeat it across the entire project and you're hosed.

Playing with the priorities doesn't help (1)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100287)

It's not clear why the priorities are increasing. If management is setting high priorities on everything because they've figured out that anything lower won't get done, you have to either stop that behavior (ha!) or set up a "shadow" priority list with the real priority for each project. If priorities are rising because a project really does become more urgent as its due date approaches and passes... well, the system is working. You can't have more work than resources and expect it all to get done, so if none of it can be dropped on the floor, work is going to pile up.

mIod 3own (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100289)

Relative priorities (3, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100309)

"High" is not a priority. "Before this, and after this", that's a priority. List your projects in order of priority. In order to increase one's priority, you have to change it's position on the list. This means that if you increase the priority of one task, you necessarily decrease the priority of other tasks. Obviously, since your time is finite, priority is zero sum.

1 in 1 out (2)

ath1901 (1570281) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100321)

Set a maximum of at most N top priority projects. If someone wants to upgrade project X, another top prio project must be downgraded. That should make people think twice before suggesting a prio upgrade.

One possible solution (3, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100333)

If you're in a larger organization, you need a project manager who is powerful enough to tell 14 of the 15 managers with "top priority" projects to go to hell and get away with it.

The other thing you need to do is stop looking at priorities as categories, and instead think in terms of scheduling. If somebody wants to get their project done sooner, they have to move ahead in the scheduling, and the only way to move ahead in the scheduling is to negotiate with somebody who's project is scheduled before there's. For instance, assume developer A will be working on Foo, then Bar, then Baz, and developer B will be working on Fred, Barney, then Baz. If the person pushing Baz wants to get it done sooner, he has to convince the owners of Bar and Barney to move back in the line. Make the schedule very public, along with whatever changes occurred in the last week.

The point of doing that is it makes the shouting occur somewhere else, so you can get things done.

governance (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100337)

Governance processes are really easy if you always include everything every possible user could ever want.

Somebody needs to say no. That somebody should not be in IT, but that somebody should be in the business.

business question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100341)

developers can't solve business question

Poker Chips (2)

bradorsomething (527297) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100347)

Give each Manager poker chips quarterly, and make them bid for priority. That will sort the order naturally. If people act like children, it is best to let them play with toys.

Note: set a cap limit of one year's chips at any one time, or some joker will hoard them and then spend lavishly on stupid projects.

Leadership much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100351)

http://www.sans.org/reading_room/whitepapers/leadership/death-leadership-management_1876

Sound like you have too much management and not enough leadership.

Iterate Faster (2)

jimmerz28 (1928616) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100365)

Get a scrum master (not a project manager, those are worthless). Train people in Agile or at least some form of iterative process if you decide against an Agile environment.

Since your delivery rates are slipping start estimating time for projects and see which give the most value; complete those first.

This whole idea that things can wait a year to be looked at was ridiculous in 1990. If you're not interative already you're decades behind.

Rules and Numbers (2)

aero2600-5 (797736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100369)

Not that this is being perfectly implemented at the company I work at, (we're working on it) I suggest changing the rules for your prioritization.

Rule 1: Projects will be prioritized with numbers, not words. No more 'high', 'medium', 'low', 'if you have time'. Projects will be assigned a priority number. The lower the number, the higher the priority.

Rule 2: Projects cannot have the same priority number. Got five projects ranked 1? Somebody has to decide which one is really project 1, and which are really 2, 3, 4, and 5. It doesn't matter who makes the decisions, as long as someone makes them.

If you're IT department doesn't set rules for non-IT departments regarding priority, and enforce them, then you will have the standard chaos.

Priorities (1)

miltonw (892065) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100383)

I found the secret was to tell all the other interested parties how the new project would delay their project. Let them all sort it out -- they will, one way or the other.

We see this now... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100391)

Its a bad culture to be in, we see this now, everything is marked high priority, and you end up prioritizing high priority items. if someone submits something marked low priority, they get an email saying "lol no" and it gets shredded.

Use Scrum (2)

morningstar8 (234758) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100421)

I recommend Scrum (http://bugzilla/bugzilla-3.0.3/show_bug.cgi?id=251245). The work having already been separated into reasonable chunks, at the beginning of each three-week sprint, we again ask the decision makers, "What are the most important results that we can deliver during the next few weeks?" We effectively wipe out the project list once every three weeks! It allows us to turn very quickly to deal with new priorities.

We also have technical support issues to deal with. We attempt to manage them during sprint planning by planning time to resolve them, considering our past history. On occasion, the issues mean that some priorities can't be handled during the sprint, but we usually still get most of our important work done.

Rating each item in a long list of critical modifications is not what you really want, anyway. What you really want is a periodic answer to the question above. It is almost always easier to answer that one question than it is to prioritize a long modification list. The question naturally forces decision makers to think in well-defined, manageable chunks, and it forces teams to estimate well and to deliver results regularly. Scrum puts ceremony around the question.

Don't use arbitrary priority levels. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100431)

Having a list of arbitrary priority levels is asking for all your tickets to end up in the highest priority; everyone thinks their own tickets are important. But the solution is simple: have a priority ORDER. Don't distinguish between high and low priority items; simply sort the tickets into priority order.

That way, if a new ticket is created it can be inserted into the priority order anywhere you like, or likewise an existing one can be moved up the list -- but doing so also implicitly lowers the priority of any items placed below it.

When they see this happening, project owners will quickly realise that not everything can be high priority. If everyone carries on putting their own tickets at the top of the tree, the tickets that were previously important will drop down the list. It's a good way to focus people's minds on what is genuinely important.

rank ordering (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100437)

You don't rate your projects priorities to an absolute scale, that invites exactly the abuse you are seeing. Instead, you rank order them, and work on the items at the top of the list. You may need a high level decision maker to make choices in the event that there is disagreement among project owners about relative rank.

Cap priority levels (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100471)

Say you've got 100 features to implement and 10 priority levels. Only permit 20% at each level. If you don't have some mechanism in place, your stakeholders are naturally going to call everything lvl 9-10.

Don't use priority buckets! (1)

kbs (70631) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100477)

The way that we handle priorities is to have everything rated relative to everything else. In practice this means that all of the stakeholders have to talk to each other and agree. If Product Management wants A, B, C, D, and the team can only get 3 done, then the first priority item gets worked on first, then second, then third.

The Rosanne Barr Method (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100505)

Step 1: Place the abstracts from each project in their own labeled, sealed envelope.

Step 2: Throw the stack of envelopes in the air.

Step 3: Sort priority by A) which ones landed face up, and B) the order in which they landed - i.e., topmost face up envelope is priority 1, second topmost face up is priority 2, etc.


While that method may, on the surface, seem idiotic, it's no more so than the methods employed by most companies I've worked for.

The old fasioned approach (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100509)

Just take the two stake holders who are giving you grief and lock them in a room with one sandwich :)

Focus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39100517)

The head of IT is not pushing back and losing focus

Simples (2)

maroberts (15852) | more than 2 years ago | (#39100525)

a) have a manager to designate which projects are the most important.
b) queue the projects to give a more realistic idea of when they will be actually completed
c) if the result is that some projects are going to be unacceptably late, you have a case for more staff, subject of course to the restriction that 9 people cannot make a baby in one month,

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