by Paul Heltzel

16 time-saving tips for IT leaders

Sep 04, 2018
Cloud ComputingCollaboration SoftwareIT Leadership

Want to maximize the time your organization spends on transformational initiatives? Here’s how to eliminate time-wasting practices and streamline how work gets done.

Whether you’re transforming an organization or just want to improve collaboration, eliminating time-wasting legacy practices and streamlining how you manage projects are usually top of mind. So, what practices should you incorporate to save time? And what are some old ways of doing things that need to be sent packing?

We asked tech leaders for their go-to tips for finding efficiencies, eliminating time-wasting approaches and taming bad habits. They offered specific tips on removing barriers to success as well as broad techniques for being successful without delay.

Their advice includes incorporating current collaboration technology to enhance communication, exposing problems and moving quickly past failed projects and services.

Want to maximize the time you spend in your organization? Read on for pro tips.

Wrangle the cloud

The cloud is obviously a great collaboration tool and allows colleagues to view progress and make changes quickly, says Jim McNiel, CMO of iboss. But cloud solutions can also create new problems and waste time when they can’t work together.

“There are so many point solutions, organizations end up with application sprawl and fail to share valuable information among cloud solutions,” McNiel says. “And we need to be careful about shadow IT and make sure the services we turn on are secure and delivering the functionality we need.“

Clean up email use

What about technology that wastes more time than it saves? Rajiv Gupta, senior vice president of cloud solutions at McAfee, finds it hard to abandon email for other forms of messaging, but says the inbox saps time and attention.

“Email is stress-inducing, because I worry in the time I spend scanning uninteresting emails, I have missed an important email needing my urgent attention,” Gupta says. “With advances in AI, I’m very optimistic that the email problem will become less so.”

Cint CIO Oscar Carlsson says the issue isn’t email itself, but ineffective email practices that waste your time and your coworkers’.

“Keeping five colleagues cc’d on every email causes those colleagues to spend time opening your email, consuming the information and then making a judgment if they should take action or not,” Carlsson says. “Eighty to 90 percent of these emails weren’t intended for these people anyway, which means you created huge inefficiencies in your organization. When adding new people to a conversation, do this with a purpose and summarize the info or action point necessary for that person to avoid them having to scroll through a five-week email chain to understand what action they need to take.”

Avoid waterfall practices

Nick DiLisi, head of technology and CTO at eMoney, advises that you curtail any process where one team is handing tasks off to another, as opposed to more current approaches.

“The traditional waterfall-like approach to developing software is extinct,” DiLisi says. “Tech teams need to focus on making sure their processes have the shortest development cycle possible. Technology changes at such a rapid pace and teams need to remain agile and adapt to those changes.”

Chris Fielding, CIO of Sungard AS, offers a similar take.

“Organizational change — such as a move to agile methodologies — is difficult as it takes sustained effort, time and support from the organization’s leadership,” Fielding says. “For those organizations starting on the path to agile, the first thing to go should be any waterfall mindset and planning tools.”

Grow your network

DiLisi recommends growing your professional network — and incorporating your network into your decision making — by seeking out the experience of your peers.  

“You can bounce ideas and questions around, which is incredibly important so that you’re not spinning your wheels,” DiLisi says. “While many may think certain problems are unique to our own organizations, speaking with others quickly reminds us that everyone is working through similar issues and could even help with yours.”

Eliminate unnecessary pilot projects

You can save time by avoiding building out technology that doesn’t directly solve a business problem, DiLisi argues.

“When established businesses use words like proof of concepts (POC) for technologies like cloud, artificial intelligence, and machine learning — they don’t really require a POC,” he says. “However, companies still need to understand those technologies and how they can apply them to the business need. Technologies are maturing at a rapid pace and things like POCs result in a costly expense that doesn’t provide much value that can be tied back to the business.”

Fail fast

Sungard AS’s Fielding says that firms working to incorporate agile or DevOps practices should a find a customizable, supporting tool to help you through the process.

“It’s critical to then learn which features give you and the leadership team the information needed to drive change, adjust course as needed to ensure forward movement doesn’t stall,” she says. “It’s important to work out which features add value and quickly discard those that don’t. Not having the right information can make the move to agile longer.”

 Avoid redundancies

Look for a single delivery path, says Jeff Gill, CIO of Neustar, to avoid duplicate processes that overlap for the business or customers.

“It’s essential that IT teams have a clearly defined intake process for new ideas and strategic objectives,” Gill says. “Once objectives are set, clearly laying out priorities and creating well-defined IT projects will enable technical teams to understand what needs to be done. They can more diligently focus on delivering milestones that align with a pre-determined schedule, scope and budget. Ultimately, the time savings come into effect when technical teams are avoiding re-work.”

Expose problems, then let the team decide

Neustar’s Gill emphasizes frank communication between work groups, developing effective project queues and maintaining dashboards to keep projects moving smoothly.

“For me, it’s less about technology and more about work habits,” Gill says. “Generally, IT professionals are educated problem-solvers. I find it’s more effective to focus on exposing the problems and helping teams choose which problems to tackle first, rather than solely focusing on saving time. Most often, the technical teams will pick their own tools and technologies for solving the time problem.”

Stand down on standups

John Prestridge, chief marketing officer and senior vice president at EasyVista, is not a fan of standup meetings, and thinks the daily scrum should be one of the first things to go when looking to streamline things.

“These meetings lead to a focus on status reporting rather than real-time collaboration and problem-solving,” Prestridge says. “Meetings should be reserved for solving problems and they should only last for a period needed to achieve the results required.”

Adopt the right productivity software 

Prestridge, like others here, prefers to avoid email to get things done, finding it counterproductive and distracting. Instead, he prefers tools designed specifically for collaboration.

“Slack is very helpful for asynchronous collaboration around key projects,” Prestridge says, “and supports a more agile approach to work that accelerates project progress. It helps you quickly switch to a project and see the dialog and associated documents. Trello is good for prioritization and visibility into your projects. It’s excellent for keeping the right priorities in front of you.”

Ditch what isn’t working

More than one of our experts said “the way we’ve always done things” is a red flag that typically covers over inefficient or out-of-date practices.

“New technologies should yield new efficiencies which by definition challenge older thinking,” says Tim Mackey, technology evangelist at Synopsys Software Integrity Group. “For example, best practices for how you patch a legacy application are actually risky models when applied to containerized or server-less applications.”

Stop stirring the past

Along the same lines, iboss’ McNiel says confirmation bias can put the brakes on digital transformation. He’s frequently surprised when executives get stuck in what’s been done before.

“You can’t solve new problems with old thinking, McNiel says. “You need to focus on the desired outcomes and then work backwards from there. The answers you need lie in the questions you ask. Too often organizations squelch the curious and this is the exact opposite of what they need to do.“

Buddy up to the lawyers

Eventually, Mackey says, you’re going to run into a situation where you’ll want the advice of your firm’s legal representation. To speed things up, network with them before you need them.

“Statistically, things — for example IT governance issues — will go wrong at some point and having your legal team on your side from the outset will make resolving an issue smoother and help avoid conflicts,” Mackey says. “By the way, this is strongly related to gaining an understanding of how risks flow within an organization.”

Watch for feature creep

Delays can come from ostensibly time-saving technology that turns out to be a bad fit for your organization, leading to out-of-control spending and lost time, Mackey says.

“Measure success and hold teams accountable for their projects and project scope,” he argues. “We’ve all seen large budget IT projects creep in scope and budget with resultant launch delays. More successful projects tend to start smaller, then prove themselves and build success while learning how industry best practices work within the governance rules for their organization. Put another way, there’s more than one way to solve a problem and sometimes fighting organizational inertia isn’t productive.”

Sit out first-gen technology

Fielding says it’s often smart to be wary of first-version technology that frequently comes with accompanying pitfalls and lost productivity, including potentially dealing with a completely new company after a buyout.

“It’s important to assess what new technologies that support organizational change are worth the risk and when it’s better to wait for the next generation,” she says. “New technology that supports organizational change aren’t without risk. I’ve seen a number of new planning tools and storage solutions that simplify total cost of ownership but are later acquired or superseded.”

Control multitasking

Employees are more productive when they have the tools they need to manage time and prioritize projects easily, Prestridge says. He also advises finding ways to keep the team on task.

“The good with collaboration software like Slack and Microsoft Teams is that you can keep your team informed with updates or ask a group for help with an issue you have and can save days of searching for the right person,” Prestridge says. “The downside is that this also serves as one of the greatest interrupters of our day and will force you out of your deep thinking that’s necessary for more complex tasks. For an IT programmer this could be devastating as you need to focus and create a flow for solving complex problems and by being interrupted you can only perform shallow work. I think it’s about discipline — how to utilize these tools both on the asking and receiving end to make it most productive for you. You want to reduce multitasking to improve deep thinking and quality of work.”