Does this sound like your organization?
- Do you have more projects than you can finish?
- Is every project an emergency?
- Do you have multiple ways that work is submitted, tracked and managed?
- Do you have trouble determining what the priorities are?
If your project work is coming in faster than you can deliver it, you need a Demand Management process to give order and priority to your work. I’ve worked in a number of over-committed project organizations in my 20+ years. Through research and some trial and error, I’ve come up with a simple process that helps organizations plan and prioritize work and enables teams to work smarter (not just harder).
What is Demand Management?
Demand management is a process which guides how customer demand is taken in, analyzed, prioritized and planned. Proper demand management helps to:
- plan and prioritize their organization’s work, services and assets
- staff the project-related organization to support customer needs
- identify trends in demand and help their customers take a more proactive approach to technology needs
- anticipate and budget for future work
How Did I Get Interested in Demand Management?
I became interested in demand management because I was on the receiving end of many of those project “emergencies” and poorly prioritized work requests. It was only when I started working on an IT process improvement initiative that I had the time and the buy-in from our leadership to understand the root causes of our chaotic work in-take processes. We discovered that our IT organization never said “no” to anything in an effort to be responsive. However, this created backlogs, challenges and misfires that could be easily avoided by dedicating a little more time upfront to discover if the project should be and could be done. This lead to the development of a simple demand management framework with 4 phases.
A Simple Demand Management Process in 4 Stages
I’ve seen a lot of work in-take processes, simple and complex. What I’ve discovered is there’s really just one process for managing project demand. It contains 4 simple phases and a few stage gates. The process can be scaled up or down depending upon the type of work requests that are coming in.
The steps within the phases are placeholders for activities that an organization can tailor to their needs.
This first phase, called Exploring, is all about clarifying the problem to solve and deciding if it even needs to be solved. The stage gate at the end of this phase asks question “Are we going to pursue this piece of work?” This question acknowledges that evaluating the work request has an unrecoverable cost so the organization should be confident that this is a problem worth solving.
The request is declined if the answer is “no” at this stage gate. Else, the request moves onto the 2nd phase: Pursuing.
The Pursuing phase involves identifying high level requirements to understand more about the request, its costs and impacts. The organization is not creating a full set of requirements, just enough to provide a high level estimate.
“Big thinkers” perform most of the work of this phase. They are usually high level team members who can take in abstract information and see across silos to come up with a variety of ways to resolve the demand item. They see outside their roles to bring new perspectives to the request.
The Big Thinkers should be non-essential project members, like architects, technology leads and business analysis leaders, because projects in the Pursuing phase may not receive approval or funding. Essential team members, whose focus should be prioritized, approved and budgeted work, are not part of this phase.
This phase ends with a stage gate that asks the question “Are we going to do the work requested?” “No” means that the work will not be pursued. “Yes” means the request will be pursued and is forwarded to the next phase.
The Planning phase involves setting the budget and finding resources to perform the work. Some approved work may not be formally budgeted. Support work, for example, may be part of a team’s Run budget. But every approved work request includes the costs, time and resources. These outputs are documented so they can be shared with the delivery team.
The 3rd stage gate in this process does one last check to make sure the work is still needed. “Has the priority or need for the work changed?” A “no” stops or delays the work until the time is right. A “yes” forwards the work to the next phase.
The final step in the demand management is the execution of the work. At this stage, the work request is transitioned into the software development lifecycle (SDLC) for the team or into a project management tool, if the request is not technology-related.