5 tips for CIOs dealing with an application backlog

By Jonathan Hassell

A huge challenge for the CIO is dealing with a growing application backlog for new apps while ensuring the maintenance of existing apps. The following are five tips that will help the CIO alleviate this challenge:

1. Understand the nature of the problem

Applications are officially on the backlog when your organization decides that the cost of developing them is more than the ongoing expenses of whatever problems they solve. However, the key part of that is that the backlog represents a snapshot in time of that metric. Take a look at your backlog challenge and find the oldest set of projects — they might even be projects added to your plate years ago. Do they continue to make sense in your environment? Is there a better solution available now? If so, those are easy candidates for removal.

2. Find the right platform for building

It can’t be said enough that the platform you choose will dictate the success of your projects. In this day and age, it’s vital to be able to contain the entire application life cycle with one or two tools, from prototyping and development and production to service fixes and improvements. Otherwise, your expensive developers are spinning their wheels on operations problems while your operations team and your customer (the knowledge worker) all wait for good builds. Find the platform that works for your business and prioritize the applications that can be built with ease and value in order to clear out some of the bottlenecks on your list.

3. Reprioritize the projects on your backlog

You can approach this problem from two points of view. First, you can list the projects your organization wants or needs to have but does not currently have the human capital or funding to deliver. Second, you can list the projects you have committed to deliver as a CIO. Always be ready to move through the projects on the latter at the expense of the former, and protect fiercely the clean edges between the two lists. As soon as one project on the committed list is completed, bring in the next project that currently fits your budget and human capital restraints. This may mean skipping several projects and some projects never make the active committed list. It’s a tough world out there.

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4. Be proactive about communicating your priorities with the senior executive team

One of the key ways to protect your project priority lists is to be vocal about how you come up with them and how projects are distributed among them. Regularly communicate this during meetings to avoid the “drive-by project,” which is when the CEO and another executive team member get together and decide the following:

  • They need to be in the cloud now.
  • They need a new cutting-edge CRM system.
  • Mobile app development is now their top priority — and they want you to handle it.

At a minimum, making your colleagues aware of your organization’s current priorities will provide that impetus for discussion when a new strategic priority for your company becomes apparent. How will you redeploy resources? What gets cut to make room for this? Be proactive so that others can’t simply wave a magic wand and tear up your plans.

5. Accept the fact that you will always have a backlog

Just like security is an ongoing journey and not a destination, an application backlog in a healthy, thriving company is perfectly normal and not something to try to completely cut out. Technology and business both change too quickly in this day and age, so completing everything on your list before it fills up with more projects is difficult, if not impossible. Consider the backlog a resource you must manage to guide your IT team’s priorities. Don’t be afraid to renegotiate the commitments on those lists and be flexible about how projects on the list can get done, whether through in-house resources, contract labor, new off-the-shelf solutions or other options.

Written By

Jonathan Hassell

President, 82 Ventures

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a technical writing and consulting firm based in Charlotte, NC. He centers his focus around network administrator, security, the cloud, and mobile technologies.

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