IT Retrenchment: Performing IT Project Triage

The economic turmoil in the U.S. and global economies is forcing many organizations to freeze, trim or even dramatically slash internal budgets. If you’re an experienced IT manager, you already know that your budget may be among the first to be affected. And that means making hard choices, particularly involving IT projects, both planned and under development.

The concept of triage comes from medicine, and in particular medical treatment under difficult circumstances—war, epidemic, disaster—where the number of people needing treatment exceeds the resources available. In such situations, the sick or injured are typically assigned to one of three groups:

1. Persons who are likely to live even if they don’t receive immediate treatment
2. Persons who are likely to die even if they do receive immediate treatment
3. Persons who are like to live only if they receive immediate treatment

The goal of triage is to focus scarce medical resources on the people in group 3, since the people in groups 1 and 2 are likely to live or die, respectively, regardless of what the medical team does. And, as a person in group 3 receives medical treatment, that person usually ends up shifting into group 1 or group 2, depending on his or her response to that treatment.

As an IT manager facing a budget freeze or cut, you will likely have to carry out a similar process of IT project triage. The analogy isn’t exact, but you will also have to assign each existing or planned IT project into one three groups:

1. Projects that are either so critical that they have to go forward, or that are funded (and funded adequately) outside of your IT budget
2. Projects that simply are not feasible or fundable under the new budget
3. Projects that can still be carried out under the new budget, albeit possibly in a reduced form

Let’s talk about each of these three groups.