I was at church a couple weeks ago and it was communion Sunday. As the pastor was going through the routine he announced that there were gluten free communion wafers available for those who wanted them. I started laughing to myself (and a little out loud to the displeasure of my wife.) This seemed like “being all things to all people” gone amiss. What if I have diabetes and don’t want the sugar in the grape juice (yes, I’m Methodist)? Can I have some grape flavored Crystal Light? If you’re on a Paleo diet can you get water and a piece of beef jerky? If you’re on the Redneck diet can you get a shot of Jim Beam and a chicken nugget? I could go on forever…

My experience parallels an affliction that affects many IT organizations- namely that they try to do too much and be all things to all people. Most IT groups go through a planning period where programs are laid out, resource plans are finalized, and projects are launched. Everything hums along nicely – for about a week. Then, a new requirement comes in. A new project is requested by the business. Things begin to get dicey and “IT” starts to get blamed when projects start to slip despite working punishing hours. There seems to be nowhere to go.

There are definitely tactics that can be taken to rectify these kinds of situations, but they take conviction. In addition to the general PMO/governance processes that many organizations have, there are two specific things IT leaders can do to manage their overall portfolio:

  1. Ask for resources. Don’t be shy about requesting additional headcount to deliver the expected project portfolio + a buffer. The buffer will be used. You don’t need to be the hero and “push through it.” People will burn out and leave, which will put you further behind the 8-ball. More senior people in the organization will understand that it takes people to get work done and should be generally reasonable when it comes to a well-articulated resource plan.
  2. Have the hard conversations. If you can’t do everything, tell the business and have the conversation sooner rather than later. Pushing everything out week after week is “death by a million cuts.” Come up with a realistic date that can be met based on the resource plan and other commitments and work to that date. The initial “admission” to a new date will be tough, but then you will at least have a reasonable date to aim for.

The bottom line is you don’t need to be “gluten free” if it was not accounted for in the plan. Everyone will be OK; people adapt and life goes on. It’s just a matter of being realistic and transparent and setting mutually agreeable expectations.