In tough economic times, we tend to look for ways to cut costs and reduce overhead, so that we can “do more with less.”  In our team, we’ve stumbled upon one such way that I’d like to share.

One of the responsibilities that tend to fall to Enterprise Architecture, in many organizations, is to be the “keeper of the standards.”  As many readers of my blog know, Microsoft IT was reorganized a couple of years ago to merge the management of 13 different IT units into one cohesive organization.  We are still working through that process, with one result being the recent addition of the “keeper of the standards” role to the EA team.

Previously, EA could create standards, as could other teams.  The project teams themselves would follow what they could.  Some were consistently enforced (like privacy and security). Others were hit-and-miss.  A developer in one IT division may have substantially different standards from a developer in another division.  

Not long ago, our CIO sent our EA team out on a rather unique discovery mission: catalog all the standards that exist in any part of IT, and bring them under one framework so that we can reduce the overlap between various standards and create a consistent and defensible set that most everyone can follow.  It turned out to be tougher than it sounds.

Across various IT units, we flushed out thousands of documents that purported to espouse one standard or another. 

And here is where the cost savings opportunity appears.  The processes surrounding the application of IT standards were all over the map.  Some teams performed consistent code reviews, but only reviewed a few standards.  Others had a long laundry list, but many of their developers were not even aware of them.  Many departments wrote standards that they wanted other departments to follow, often with complicated results.  It was a real mess.

To address the problem, we’ve created a framework for simplifying these standards and a v-team to make decisions.  The CIO is driving IT managers to reduce overlap, clarify the objective of each standard, and prioritize on the ones that deliver the most value. 

Once this is process is complete, I expect we will have a much simpler and more consistent view of the standards that various IT stakeholders will need to follow.  In addition, we will have a simplified process for getting standards approved and visible, allowing the truly beneficial standards to take hold more quickly.

In later blogs, I’ll discuss the costs, and benefits, of standards.  For now, I wanted to share this business opportunity with architects in other EA groups.  Manage your standards, and you can cut costs and raise quality in a consistent manner.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

2 thoughts on “Reducing IT overhead by managing the list of IT standards”
  1. Hi Nick, any chance you’ll share the framework for managing the standards?  Have you extended it to templates?  Have you come up with any taxonomies for managing both?

  2. Speaking about standards, one of the biggest challenges I faced when trying to make an organization following new processes, although simpler and more effective than the superseded ones, has been convince people to adopt them.

    Constant sponsorship from upper management is critical in these cases. People will easily perceive lip service when that sponsorship is not truly meant and will think that those new process are not so important after all.

    Illuminating in this respect are the different approaches taken by Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt on 6-sigma at GE. Little excercise: google "Jack Welch six sigma" and "Jeff Immelt six sigma"

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