De-Projectising IT Maintenance

Following on from my blog Agile is not PM, another interesting trend is the de-projectizing of IT maintenance. An article on page 25 of the November edition of PMI’s PM Network magazine, ‘Foolish Behavior’ detailed the operation of an IT shop supporting a major business. The shop used stable teams, ‘scrum’ to plan work on a monthly basis and ‘sprints’ to deliver weekly improvements. As far as I can see, the situation described by Mr. Keeler in his article is totally focused on routine operations. Stable teams working on dozens of minor objectives selected on the basis of an organisation wide prioritization is the anthisis of a project. Projects are delivered by temporary teams assembled to work on the unique project deliverable (as described in the Project Charter) and then reassigned to other work as the project closes down.

However, the substantial improvements in customer satisfaction demonstrated by Boreland and the Bank of Queensland demonstrate Scrum and Agile are useful product development and maintenance methodologies for many IT applications. The underlying principles would also be very familiar to the maintenance managers of most large facilities. A stable crew of maintenance workers, familiar with the plant look after the prioritized day-to-day maintenance issues and install minor improvements. This routine working environment only gives way to ‘project management’ when a major outage or change is required. Probably the major difference is traditional maintenance management tends to sit inside a functional organisational structure whereas ‘Agile IT maintenance’ seems to operate best in a matrix/collaborative environment.

Whilst in one sense this is a ‘back-to-the-future’ development, recognising IT as an enabler to achieve business success in the same way a plant is essential to a manufacturing businesses success. And whilst both the IT infrastructure and the ‘plant infrastructure’ need routine maintenance and upgrading; there is a key difference. The enhancement of an IT infrastructure involves far more creativity and offers far more opportunity than plant maintenance. Combine this with the idea of actively involving the users in the development process encourages synergistic improvements.

Whilst this is definitely not ‘project management’ there is definitely an emerging practice that has enormous potential to improve the day-to-day operations of many organisations with a large IT infrastructure. More later…..

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4 responses to “De-Projectising IT Maintenance

  1. In the case presented here, I agree that there are Scrum practices being utilized to support ongoing operations. I read a paper on using Kanban to get new features (projects) through a development team that was interspersed with bug fixes (ongoing operations) of existing code. So a team is doing project work and product development work simultaneously. This doesn’t make project management practices invalid in helping this team perform.

    So maybe we need to consider an alternative discussion to Agile vs PM. There are some management practices used in Scrum that are useful in both project management and management of operations. This is true in the PM world too. There are practices used in general management, project management, and product development that benefit the management of people doing work. Which of these practices is most valueable in a given situation?

    The point of analyzing benefits and making distinctions is to help us get a clearer understanding. Lessons from successful projects in the software development world have something to teach us about how to improve the performance of knowledge based projects. In today’s economy, these lessons are increasingly important.

  2. Pat,
    great post. I was a guest speaker at a Masters program seminar on project management that discussed how PayPal (Google) was using Scrum. What became clear was they were doing maintainence with Scrum very effectively, but did not speak about “green field” projects.
    That’s the challange for agile development, is how to integrate into the “green field” development, that has no specific place to start other than requirements gathering.

  3. Pingback: Managing Agile Projects « Mosaicproject’s Blog

  4. Pingback: What is Agile? | Mosaicproject’s Blog

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