Classic IT Challenges – Project Work vs Production Support

Information Technology (IT) shops vary in size, budget, and processes. But all IT shops share a common set of challenges that shape how they interact with their inter-company customer base as well as the clients of their organization. There isn’t a single answer to these common challenges and they don’t disappear after a process is put in place to address them. In my own experience, I have seen these challenges in multiple business environments. The manner in which IT management chooses to respond to the challenges is interwoven in the culture, processes, and services of the group.

This is the first post in a series of writings to discuss issues facing Information Technology departments. These thoughts are more around framing the problem than presenting solutions.

IT creates and maintains technology platforms.

IT creates and maintains technology platforms.

Challenge #1 – Project Work vs Production Support
The first challenge is how to concurrently allocate people for project work and production support work. Most IT shops are not blessed with a labor budget large enough to cover dedicated staff for each function. In general, production support will take precedence. At least for issues that create a system outage where orders or work is not processed. But what about production support requests for non-critical issues?

Example 1
Someone requests a modification to a report that requires a database administrator to adjust a set of SQL queries and alter the report format. The report is used internally and has been in-use for years. The new report layout is a preference of the requestor to make the output easier to read but the current report layout does not disrupt the workflow associated with the data.

At the same time the database administrator is asked to performance tune a set of queries for software code that is part of a new release.

Example 2
An inter-company department is moving to a new area of the building and creates a request to move PC equipment, configure departmental servers, and provide network connectivity.

At the same time, the infrastructure staff is asked to create and load a new test environment for the latest software program in the development area. The test environment requires network access, a web server, a database server and an application server.

The Challenge
The obvious challenge is to how to schedule these events when they require the same people and have the same requested due dates. What gets priority? At the root of this that production support requests are often unplanned or unknown until they are requested. Project work follows a more predictable request schedule because it is typically associated with a task on a project plan that is shared by the project manager.

The real puzzle is dealing with the unexpected while keeping the schedule of the known project work.

Is there some prescribed method to solve these dilemmas when they occur? Telling people there will be a delay is never an easy conversation to have. It’s a classic IT challenge. There are frameworks and processes. But each IT shop has a different amount of people and budget. So there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. IT staffers, management, and stakeholders must be flexible and patient.

Next week: Challenge #2 – Prioritizing Work