ManagementSpeak: We don’t have budgets here; we do what makes sense.
Translation: You’ll have to write up an RFP to buy a paperclip.
KJR Club member Geoff Hazel made sense of his company’s budget policy.

The word is schwerpunkt (and a round of applause to regular correspondent Sean Murphy for telling us about it). Add it to your vocabulary and impress your friends. It encapsulates the concept discussed in last week’s column — that the difference between a dent and a hole is focus.

This week’s work is schmear. It’s what cream cheese is on a bagel — spread out. Some things are better spread out. Schwerpunkt cream cheese would be hard to swallow.

If the schwerpunkt of last week’s column wasn’t clear, let me make it so now: It isn’t that you should concentrate all of your efforts on just a few high-profile initiatives. Far from it. Doing that will cause you to miss a whole lot of low-risk, high-benefit investments in business improvement.

Unless your company is so badly run that it has choked the creative thinking out of everyone, you have pent-up demand — ideas generated in workgroup after workgroup on how to run things better. Want to find them? Scan your network shares for Excel spreadsheets.

(Sidebar gripe #1: Over and over, I hear IT professionals complain about people in the business using Excel as a database. And, over and over again I also hear IT professionals explain how dangerous it is to deploy Microsoft Access to people in the business. Please, folks — one or the other, but not both.)

Excel is the general-purpose tool business users and managers use to keep track of task assignments, figure profitability, keep track of assets, forecast spending, keep track of work in progress, and otherwise automate — clumsily, perhaps, but still automate — a thousand bits and pieces of what they do.

(Sidebar gripe #2: Isn’t it pretty obvious by now that the world needs a good, general purpose, configurable tracking system development platform? I’m not talking about full-blown business process management (BPM) software. I’m talking about something inexpensive that lets a business manager lay out a series of steps, define what triggers the transition from one step to the next, track status within each step, and automatically maintain a history of each job that progresses through the steps.)

As I was saying, many of these bits and pieces are supposed to be temporary solutions, which persist until IT gets around to doing them the right way. At a rough guess, I’d estimate that something like 18,542,147 business managers have, by now, created 96,834,549 tracking systems in Excel, and every one has wished they had something better. And no, Bugzilla doesn’t really do the job either, although using it for this purpose is probably something less of a kludge than using Excel.

Which brings us to the IT schmear. That’s what you need to help people in the business. You need to reserve a certain amount of your total discretionary labor budget to help lots of people with their small needs.

And don’t try to get fancy with governance. Fancy governance is for big, risky requests. Too many companies try to force their one and two-week “project” requests through the same governance process they use when deciding whether to replace their legacy environment with SAP. All that does is bog things down: Investing 60 hours to decide whether to approve a 30-hour request is a great way to make sure nobody submits a 30-hour request.

(Sidebar gripe #3: I like agile methodologies. They have a lot going for them. But why haven’t any of their proponents explained what’s best about them — that they turn big projects into the equivalent of a big pile of 30-hour requests, virtually guaranteeing completion and at least semi-useful results.)

Where was I? Oh, yes, you want lots of people to submit 30-hour requests, because unlike big IT projects, the completion rate for 30-hour requests is something approximating all of them. Screen out the obvious duds, but don’t spend much time or effort on it. Enough will be good ideas that in the aggregate they’ll pay for themselves without much trouble.

Don’t try to measure the value either. It’s like trying to measure the value of changing the oil in your car — the value is there, but try proving it using modern accounting methods. Heck, try applying the typical, ROI-driven “best practices” IT governance to oil changes and see how far you get.

It’s about balance. When it comes to achieving large-scale, risky change, concentrate your forces. But when it comes to surviving until the future gets here, you need a different set of tactics.

Place your schwerpunkt on schmearing.