Addition by Subtraction

By Bruce F. Webster Print this article Print

Layoffs are hard on everyone, but your team could grow stronger despite budget cutbacks.

On the other hand, you can use budget pressures to actually improve the quality of your IT staff. Not long ago, I spent a few months doing an enterprise architecture review at a corporation where I had done similar work a decade earlier.

I was struck by the high levels of competency and productiveness in the IT staff compared to what I had seen ten years before. When I brought this up with someone who had been there the whole time, he said that financial pressures over the years had led the company to steadily trim anyone who wasn’t excelling in his or her responsibilities. 

Reduce Staff, Not Tools and Benefits

With a tighter budget and a narrowed set of projects, your highest priority is to ensure that those projects come in on time and under budget. That means that you need to have your best and brightest IT personnel highly motivated and working hard, with the equipment and tools necessary to be as productive as possible. Similarly, it’s not unusual to have, say, a kitchen area stocked with free soda and snacks, or a budget for seminars, books, and professional journals. These are benefits that help in small ways to make up for the usual expectation of IT heroics, working nights and weekends to bring an underestimated project in close to deadline.

Cutting the budget for new hardware, better development tools, and IT staff benefits may seem obvious and an easy cut. However, it may be exactly the wrong move, for three important reasons. First, it will reduce the productivity and/or the motivation of your IT staff, adding to whatever existing schedule pressures you have. Second, it will drive away your best people (see “Dead Sea Effect” above). Third, it will likely not save you nearly as much money as getting rid of ineffective or unnecessary IT staff will. 

This article was originally published on 2009-02-11
Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates LLC. He works with organizations to help them evaluate troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects, or to assess IT systems and products for possible investment/acquisition. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan.
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