One of the most common, and reasonable, mechanisms for achieving clarity on the roadmap for a single platform is “demand management.” It is also one of the areas of IT that is both rapidly evolving and poorly defined. I’d like to offer an opinion about what demand management is, and is not, and how it meets some, but not all, of the planning and governance needs of IT.
Caveat Emptor: In the post below, I’m sharing my opinion, which will probably differ from yours. I ask that you follow along with an open mind, and consider the possibility that we may be using the same words in different ways, before pointing out how “wrong” my thinking is. That said, I would love to hear feedback from others, and to improve my own thinking in this space. Please share your thoughts.
Assertion 1: IT Demand Management is poorly defined.
In the book “IT Success: Towards a New Model for Information Technology” author Michael Gentile provides a reasonable description of demand management… or at least he starts to.
Using the fundamental premise that not all demand from the business will be approved—because of business priorities on the one hand, and IT resource and scheduling constraints on the other—the best way of representing demand would be via a funnel. Demand from the business enters at the top, follows one or more decision-making processes, and then either exits at the bottom as approved work to be executed, or remains in the pipeline pending further evaluation. – Michael Gentile, “IT Success: Towards a New Model for Information Technology” as excerpted in CIO magazine (link)
This is a reasonable explanation of what demand management is. As a more formal definition, IT Demand Management is the practice of collecting together all of the demands that will be fulfilled by a particular IT group, team, or organization, and balancing all of those demands with the limited supply of resources in order to produce an ordered list of activities, on a specific timeline, for that group, team, or organization to fulfill.
Assertion 2: Demand management does not deliver alignment
Unfortunately, if the article in CIO that I cite above is any reflection on Mr. Gentile’s book, he goes wildly off the rails, describing demand management as the process by which IT achieves alignment and delivers value. That is an interesting notion but it is fairly easy to disprove.
What proof do I offer? A counter-example. Microsoft IT has been performing the kind of demand management that Mr. Gentile describes for well over a decade. At no time did demand management deliver alignment. When alignment was achieved, it was achieved in spite of, or regardless of, the maturity of the demand management process, and not because of it.
Alignment happens when a team or group of people decides to build the right solution, instead of building the solution right. But more importantly, alignment occurs when a team decides NOT to build something, or to build something less than was requested, or in a different order than requested, because it meant that the business was more able to deliver on strategic goals.
Mr. Gentile and I agree on this understanding of alignment. We disagree that demand management gets you there.
Assertion 3: Alignment processes occur BEFORE demand management processes
Starting with demand is important and useful… if you already have a solution, and that solution has demand. Once you have a solution, you have to manage the demand against that solution. You don’t have infinite resources. So if there are four teams within your company that want to use your public website to meet their goals (let’s say lead generation, ecommerce, customer support, and investor relations) but only one team that can manage the public website, then you will need to use demand management. You need to collect the requirements from different teams, go through a rational and mature process for prioritizing those requirements, create a roadmap showing which requirements to meet in which order, communicate that roadmap, and track to it. That is demand management.
However, if you THINK you need a solution to a problem, and you are a business leader, your request could go into a demand management “funnel” and come out the other end producing a solution to a problem that you did not have. That is misalignment, and demand management will do little or nothing to prevent it.
Alignment requires a different process, one that examines the goals of the business, rationalizes them, finds common impact areas, and FRAMES THE DEMAND. Alignment decides what demand is rational. Alignment occurs BEFORE the demand management process does. To accept all demand against IT without performing alignment activities first is an anti-pattern. Demand management practices lend an air of “officialness” to the resulting roadmap, and once that roadmap is produced, it is very difficult to come back to the project teams and point out that the hard-won priorities don’t align to business strategy!
Discussion and Conclusion
These are tough assertions for many IT folks. This is one of the major reasons, in my opinion, that Enterprise Architecture is often unwelcome within IT, but well received outside of IT… because Enterprise Architecture attempts to achieve alignment in spite of the often well established practices of IT demand management. Without clear understanding of the dependency that demand management SHOULD take on alignment, the processes will conflict. Demand management will produce a list of things to do, and alignment will produce a different list. The only way to reconcile this is to perform alignment activities first, and then demand management activities, to produce the ultimate roadmaps.
That is my perception, anyway. I know that some folks will assert that demand management is a larger process, and it includes the “alignment” activities that I speak of. That may be an interesting matter of semantics. However, if this were true, then the “funnel” metaphor breaks down, because any demand management process that includes alignment activities would not resemble a funnel. In a funnel, all of the stuff goes in the top and the stuff coming out of the bottom is a direct reflection of what went in the top. Alignment assumes that most of the stuff going in the top is wrong, and that a lot of stuff is missing.
The “funnel” metaphor for demand management is accurate, as long as demand management doesn’t deliver alignment… and it doesn’t.