John Edwards
Contributing writer

6 ways to restructure IT for maximum productivity

Feb 15, 2022
IT LeadershipIT Strategy

From shifting operating models to favoring a more cross-functional approach to collaboration, CIOs are improving IT productivity by rethinking how IT gets work done.

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Maximizing organizational productivity is a goal every CIO desires. Sadly, relatively few IT leaders are capable of driving their departments to maximum production, or even to recognize success once it’s achieved.

Building a highly productive IT organization requires a CIO with an array of attributes, including insight, perseverance, and creativity. It also demands a team that’s flexible and adaptable, ready to develop new approaches to both persistent and fresh challenges.

Here are six tips to help you get started.

1. Update the IT operating model

Start by determining how and where IT adds value to the enterprise, says Valence Howden, a principal director in the CIO practice at IT advisory and consulting firm Info-Tech Research Group. Use that insight to understand the capabilities your department needs to accomplish its mission and how those capabilities combine and interact.

Next, adjust operations based on the ways your organization needs to work. Agile teams for instance, structure differently than traditional or product/service-centric staff, Howden notes. “You also have to align your governance with the new structure to ensure it’s effective and change your performance metrics,” he adds.

The best way to implement this model is by fully understanding what your organization is trying to do — its value proposition — and what it delivers. “Use that insight to determine what IT needs to look like in order to accomplish those goals; it will give you a strong starting point in restructuring your IT organization,” Howden says. “It will also help you identify gaps or opportunities that may require new IT capabilities.”

Howden says an updated operating model will pave the way to maximum productivity by ensuring IT is fully committed to supporting organizational needs and is aligned to the velocity of your team and its ways of working. “Productivity that isn’t aligned to producing organizational goals is of limited value,” he notes.

2. Consider a matrixed, cross-functional approach

Ola Chowning, a partner with technology research and advisory firm ISG, reports that many IT organizations are taking a matrixed approach to productivity enhancement by creating dual reporting structures. The first, a hardline reporting structure that focuses on domain and career growth. Meanwhile, a secondary dotted reporting line focuses on day-to-day work activities and value/business results within a team that’s aligned to a specific business capability.

“Individual productivity is mostly addressed in the secondary reporting line, focusing on product/business-oriented delivery in small, cross-functional teams,” she says.

Chowning’s approach uses team-based performance and productivity measures instead of attempting to rely on individual performance, which tends to be hard to measure and does little to influence effective team operation or business results. “This allows teams to have a persistent business value focus and to manage the demand for a specific stakeholder group, resulting in a more direct response that is managed by the business in terms of priority,” Chowning says. Rather than vying across multiple priorities, the team focuses on a single stakeholder group and therefore their response time and productivity is much higher for that stakeholder group.

Within the team itself, the most effective and efficient individual worker can be placed on the highest value task, resulting in enhanced team efficiency and continually improving productivity. “It also provides incentive for the team to learn each other’s tasks so that when the most efficient individual for a task is unavailable, others can effectively step in and overall team productivity suffers less,” Chowning says. “This approach also promotes teamwork, since all members of the team are incented to support all tasks and can remove the burden of career progression competition among team members,” she notes.

3. Go for no-code

Embracing no-code development can open the door to a nimbler IT department, one that’s more efficient and responsive to ongoing enterprise needs. “Using no-code tooling allows delivery teams to accelerate the adoption of integrated capabilities that provide rapid prototyping, enabling the creation of working software in just hours,” explains Paul McCarthy, senior director of global applications at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “This presents real possibilities to transform an idea from concept through prototype to deployable business functionality within a very short timeframe — hours not days.”

McCarthy notes that while citizen developers and traditional software engineers share generally equivalent base skills, the in-depth technical knowledge that a software engineer needs to use traditional development platforms isn’t required for no-code development. “This allows for a wider range of people within an organization to be productive in delivering capabilities,” he says.

4. Build IT-business alignment

Examine your organization’s talent base and create teams that reflect a diversity of thoughts, skills, and perspectives, advises James Hannah, global CIO and senior vice president for supply chain at IT service management firm General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT). “By aligning in this fashion, you can collaborate with different business areas and understand what they need to be successful.”

Hannah says he encourages his team to lead not just from a productivity standpoint, but to collaborate across the entire enterprise. “We partner with leaders throughout the business, whether it’s HR, finance, or any other department, to better understand the people, processes, and technologies that are in place,” he explains.

Hannah notes that collaborative alignment benefits the entire enterprise, making it more agile and efficient. “For example, if you want to meet your business’ recruitment needs, understand how the HR department searches for talent, attracts people, and keeps them engaged throughout their careers,” he suggests. “Once you understand the value stream, align your IT organization to best meet each department’s needs.”

Maintaining an open dialogue is the key to a thriving IT-business alignment. “The ability to have difficult conversations with your stakeholders to ensure you collectively achieve the outcomes the business requires is essential to the success of the project and the organization,” Hannah says. This goal is reached by creating a team that possesses diverse viewpoints. “If your team consists of people who all think a certain way, you will not get the back-and-forth flow of ideas or conversation that leads to better solutions,” he explains.

5. Eradicate unnecessary meetings

Stop scheduling standing meetings, urges Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “Make asynchronous updates and discussions the default,” she advises.

Do the math, Woolley suggests. If there’s a dozen people sitting in a meeting, listening to each participant present a five-minute project update, the meeting would last about an hour, consuming 60 hours of the organization’s human resources, she explains.

Woolley calculates that most educated adults can read information at least five-times faster than listening to orally presented reports. “And that doesn’t factor in that when you’re reading you can skim and skip over things you already know,” she notes. Combine that truth with the fact that most speakers fail to express ideas in a manner that’s as organized as written information, and it’s easy to see why meetings — both on-site and virtual — are productivity killers.

If, instead, every meeting participant wrote a brief report, Woolley estimates it would take everyone less than 15 minutes to read all of the reports, or a total of three hours of human resources expended. “And if you factor in that maybe people spend 20 minutes writing their update, each person only spends a little over half an hour total, versus an hour.”

6. Build a multifaceted IT department

IT organizations are hiring more business- and industry-focused employees, says Dan Kirsch, managing director at research and consulting firm Techstrong Research. “Although these employees might not have a computer science background, they understand how IT impacts the business and also have insights into the industry,” he explains.

To keep pace with evolving business trends and needs, a diversity of thought is necessary. “Many enterprise IT organizations have established practices of rotating rising leaders into business units so that they can better understand the pressures that the business is under,” Kirsch notes. “The most beautifully architected technology solution will have zero credibility if business teams don’t buy into it.”

IT leaders need to become masters at engaging their own organization, as well as business units, from leadership on down. “The most successful CIOs understand people, the business, technology, and things well beyond their control, like environmental, societal and political trends,” Kirsch says.