Demand Management

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.”
– H. L. Hunt, — American oil tycoon. February 17, 1889-November 29, 1974

Most of us cannot claim to be in the top ten list of the richest people in the United States. But we can claim to follow their practices and methods and aspire to be as successful. So if we follow Mr. Hunt’s sage wisdom, how do we decide what to work on? This question plagues information technology organizations as they labor to meet the needs of their business partners.

So, how can IT determine what the business really wants?

Try Demand Management! It’s typically used as a way to optimize IT resource capacity, but it can be a great way to help the Business more clearly understand their priorities and role in defining what IT provides. Below I’ve outlined the key steps for successful demand management.

Step 1: Document all requested enhancements

Often, a conversation between the Business and IT goes like this: The Business says, “I want X.” IT says, “X is too expensive. We are already busy working on Y. X is not as simple as it looks.” It’s a sure fire way for IT to uncork the frustration of the Business! Use the following process instead.

  • Hold a brainstorming session where the Business gets to freely discuss their needs. Or, interview the Business to determine what needs are not being met.
  • Document the essentials in a log. A customized requirements log in SharePoint is a great opportunity. Determine ahead of time what meta-data is needed for each request.

Step 2: Rank order the list of enhancements

So many times when the Business is asked the priority of its needs, everything becomes a high priority. Avoid this pitfall by using a prioritization approach.

  • Gather all key Business partners together. Equal representation is especially important if there are multiple business organizations represented. For example, both Sales and Product Development may use the same IT resources. Often their priorities are quite different. Making sure that both groups are in the same conversation is crucial.
  • Set expectations that the rank order will be a consideration but by no means the rule when slotting enhancements for work. The reason for this will become apparent later in the process.

Step 3: Categorize items to indicate whether additional Business definition is required

At this point in the process you will have items ranging from full-scale system overhaul (a separate project – we will address those outside of this process) to limited scope change requests. You may also have deferred defects in your list from a prior review period.

  • Category 1: Ready for Estimate – There is enough information to estimate the level of effort required to implement the enhancement.
  • Category 2: Additional Business Definition – Items representing  new functions may require a workup of business requirements and  functional design details before being ready to estimate.
  • Category 3: Strategic – The request is so complex, business critical or strategic that a project or program needs to be established specifically to address the request.

Step 4: Estimate effort

Once an item is ready to be estimated IT will document the level of effort required to implement the enhancement. Ideally this estimate should include all phases of development. The Business should provide the level of effort required for User Acceptance Testing.

  • Don’t wait until the release requirements are due to estimate the effort – start early!
  • Having estimates helps both IT and the Business forecast their capacity.

Step 5: Define additional details as appropriate

Before IT can consider enhancements for inclusion in a release, additional details such as detailed business requirements or functional design may be required.

  • Focus on the “what” in the requirements document and let skilled BAs facilitate
  • Focus on the “how” in the functional design and let IT drive

Step 6: Slot enhancements/defects into upcoming releases

Now you have a list of all the defects, enhancements and functionality changes to consider. Projects will be handled through a separate project request pipeline. Once you have estimates for items in the list, it is time to put a stake in the ground and define a release.

  • Since the Business has already prioritized the items, IT should know which ones are the most important. If items are related or have dependencies, this should be resolved and documented.
  • If IT comes up with two or more options while evaluating the items for a release, these options should be presented to the Business.
  • The Business has the final say on what items are included; however, the Business must respect the IT capacity constraints if enhancements are to be delivered per the release schedule, at stated cost and to quality specifications.

Step 7: Continue the cycle

Utilize a weekly- or bi-weekly meeting to review the list and ensure each item is being addressed appropriately.

  • As new items are defined, they should be incorporated into the log. Anyone on the project can make a request for a new item.
  • As items are slotted into releases, change the status to a value that excludes them from future list reviews.

In the late 1970′s H.L. Hunt’s heirs were locked in a bitter fight for control over their patriarch’s legacy. As project managers, it is our challenge to help avoid bitter fights for control over scarce resources by following proven practices of Demand Management. These tips and tricks may not help to make you rich like an oil tycoon, but they will help you to manage a portfolio more successfully.

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About Carl M. Manello
I am Slalom Consulting's Practice Lead for Delivery Effectiveness. I work to support organizations' capability and delivery maturity -- not just IT organizations -- so that their initiatives run more predictably, efficiently and provide the best results.

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