Discovery and Delivery - An Approach to IT Workload Balance
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"Discovery and Delivery" - An Approach to IT Workload Balance

Charles Bartel, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, Duquesne University
Charles Bartel, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, Duquesne University

Charles Bartel, Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, Duquesne University

In a previous CIOReview article I contributed, Moving from the “Office of No” to the “Office of Know”, I shared insights from early in my tenure as Duquesne University CIO. I wrote about our plans to move the central IT organization—Computing & Technology Services (CTS)—forward, along the IT Maturity Model.

In this article, I am excited to give a progress report and a glimpse of where we’re heading, in terms of strategic direction.

The year 2020 was unprecedented because of the impact of COVID-19 on everyone. Higher education had to react quickly to the pandemic and, to an extent, IT workers became heroes. CTS completed nearly six months of Digital Transformation (DX) projects in just three weeks to help Duquesne University effectively transition to remote teaching, learning and work. Thanks to the talents, skills, leadership and teamwork from all of Duquesne’s CTS staff, this critical transformation was nothing short of a welcome miracle!

The pace at which IT continues to work has been compared to “running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace”, and that pace can eventually begin to take its toll. IT leaders need to develop approaches to balance workload while meeting the needs of our institutions.

 The pace at which IT continues to work has been compared to “running a marathon at a sprinter’s pace”, and that pace can eventually begin to take its toll. IT leaders need to develop approaches to balance workload while meeting the needs of our institutions. 

An overarching theme for CTS is to continue to embrace our “X as Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)” model for introducing new programs that also increase our maturity as an IT organization. Some examples include programs such as Information Security; Identity & Access Management; Secure Integrated Infrastructure; Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity, our PPMO (Projects & Portfolio Management Office) and most recently; IT Service Management (ITSM) and the establishment of our IT Service Management Office (SMO). This approach continues to help enable those disciplines to become “SOP” within CTS.

Another SOP, the “Discovery & Delivery” approach to project management, has a great lineage and is used by other institutions like CMU and MIT. At Duquesne, we break projects into two phases. The “Discovery” phase helps us establish a shared vision, goals and priorities for a project, ensuring we implement the right solution to solve the right problem.

Some criteria that determine if we need to do discovery are:

• We have little data on use cases and customer needs

• We have little data on best-of-breed solutions in the marketplace

• We want to ensure that a solution will integrate with our IT ecosystem

• We want stakeholder involvement in the evaluation of the possible solution.

The steps we typically follow for a successful discovery project include:

1. Define the business goals for the project (and alignment with strategic objectives)

2. Identify success (how will a successful project be measured?)

3. Identify stakeholders and define their roles (using the RACI model)

4. Map the customer journey (define and refine their use cases)

5. Research the options (using research partners, vendor information, demos, RFPs…)

6. Determine the best fit for the identified needs (including criteria like ROI and TOC).

If a project completes the discovery phase, we then determine if it is ready to move to the delivery phase. Some projects complete discovery but do not move forward to delivery. There may be many and varied reasons for this (lack of funding, lack of maturity in the marketplace, etc.). Projects that move onto the delivery phase follow classic project management processes to ensure an on-time/on-budget completion of the project.

The Discovery &Delivery approach to project and portfolio management helps in a variety of ways, including stakeholder satisfaction, as demonstrated by the following:

• A discovery project gave us a chance to dig deep into a feature request and try to understand why users want it and how to best deliver it.

• A discovery project meant starting out with very little requirements and accepting flexible scope.

• A discovery project gave us space to say: “We don’t know what we don’t know...so let’s find out.”

The discovery approach also has helped to manage the pace of delivery projects facing CTS simultaneously. While there is still more need than CTS can serve, the addition of a discovery phase allows us to better balance the load among our limited staff resources. In addition, when we can quantify the TOC and ROI for a proposed project, that insight helps us prioritize projects in our IT portfolio.

There will likely always be more requests for help than we can serve. Stakeholder engagement strategies like discoveries can help balance the IT project portfolio.

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