When it comes to getting more resources for your IT department, you’ve got to speak the language of management.
It’s not enough to simply say work’s not getting done or your projects aren’t progressing as quickly as they should. It’s not enough to talk about how overworked your team is, or about how important tasks are falling through the cracks. It’s not even enough to say the business side of the house – sales, marketing, production – isn’t getting the tools it needs. Managers want proof. Consider this case
, recently posted on Slashdot. The anonymous poster is a network administrator at a 150-person manufacturing company. Besides him, the IT department is home to four programmers. All of them field support calls, which leads to delays in strategic projects and generally raises everyone’s stress level. His boss is trying to convince the CEO to hire another network support person, but our network admin thinks dedicated help desk people are needed, as well. The CEO thinks the IT department is already large enough, so how can he make the argument that adding more people is worth the expense? The answer: Make a business case. CEOs are bottom-line people and you need to understand that. Sketching out a problem and declaring your solution to be “hire someone” won't convince anyone to take action, and may make you sound like a whiner. You need to make the case that the issue is directly impacting the business, and that your solution will lead to mission-critical projects being completed more efficiently, thus filling the needs of departments whose efforts directly lead to profits. As Jon3K, a manager, posted: "Don't come with a problem, come with a solution. I don't pay my staff to find problems, I pay them to find problems and FIX THEM."
Do Your Homework
"Return on Investment" is one of those phrases that most people roll their eyes at, but it means something to management. Specifically, it means that if they spend, say, $100,000, they'll get a lot more than that in return. In other words, they’re spending a little to make a lot. It's an important enough concept that Slashdot user sjbe, an engineer, went back to school to add accounting to his skill set. He wanted to know how to make business arguments when he needed new resources. "If you want to make a case for an expenditure you need to justify it in dollar terms whenever possible," he wrote. "In this case the justification is in opportunity cost and productivity. You show how much the lack of a person is costing the company in lost productivity and what the return on investment and timeframe for that return might be." Part of making that case is proving that there's a problem in the first place. To do that, you have to document it. "Start logging the time doing help desk duties for each employee," suggested one anonymous user. "Build a correlation between the delays in project and help desk duties." Then, demonstrate how a new resource will give programmers more time to work on core projects. Next, draw a line between that extra work time and the increased profits it can lead to. User Rosco P. Coltrane offered a good, step-by-step approach:
- Outline what's wrong with the current undersized staff, where are the bottlenecks, what's being held up because there aren't enough people. - Explain how this hurts the company's bottom line. - Explain how hiring another person will solve the current problems, increase efficiency, and in the medium to long term, increase revenues more than the cost of hiring this new person.
Call for Help
Since you’re arguing that a new resource will help other departments meet their business-oriented goals, it's perfectly fair to ask them to help you make your case. “[From] my experience the request [for more resources] will be taken more seriously if it is driven by the business teams, rather than the IT staff," said user Brownstar. "Get the other departments to pressure the CEO to hire more IT staff, so that they can get the projects they need.” Those departments, he adds, can argue more effectively about the positive impact of the investment you’re proposing. Such an approach can help you in other ways, too. If those departments can't justify their own projects, Brownstar observes, they may stop asking for additional tech work. That can take some pressure off your team.
Think Like an Executive
It’s easy to bitch about management and how it doesn’t understand what IT does. But when you want a new resource – or new servers, or an extended deadline, or whatever else you need to make things work – you’re not going to get it unless you put the problem and solution into their language. As Rosco Coltrane puts it: “If your case is well built, it'll be self-explanatory. If your boss/manager is reasonable, they will see the benefit of hiring a new person.” Of course, they may not go along. When that happens, take a hard look at your arguments to see if they were as strong and as detailed as they could be. If they were, remember this: Sometimes managers will understand everything you say but simply not agree with you. They may have other priorities they deem more critical, or the money to pay for the resource may not be there. Ultimately, it’s their job to make that call and you have to respect that. Of course, managers don’t always make good decisions. There’s not much you can do about that, except to keep your eye on the long game and be ready to make your case again when you have to. There’s another option a number of posters pointed out, too: You can look for another job. That sounds a bit dramatic, though, and you may find yourself in exactly the same spot wherever you land.