The 4 Types of Work in IT

...or the three work types and the one anti-work

Posted by Miguel Pereira on Fri 10 June 2016

Yes, I've recently finished the Phoenix Project so I am in full geek mode over it.

One of the many topics that really caught my attention deals with understanding the different types of work that IT juggles everyday. Let's ennumerate them, shall we?

Business Projects

This group should be self-explanatory: anything that a business or business unit sponsors as a project, be it a brand new CMS rollout or an Exchange Mail Server implementation. This typically has a direct tie into the business bottom line somehow. For software companies, this is a new shiny product meaning to attract new customers or retain existing one; its a new feature for an old product (new trick, old dog). In a manufacturing enterprise, this could be the a new ERP system roll out. You get the idea.

Internal Projects

Whereas business project work is seen as, typically, the only type of work that provides business value, don't be fooled: your internal department projects are also valuable. Their value is just measured differentely -most the times. Ask yourself, when was the last time you visited the monitoring and alerting capabilities that cover your critical systems? Don't you think that the quality and extent of your monitoring capabilities, along with your capacity to take action based on the collected data can have a positive (or negative) impact on your company's account retention rate? How about on delivering products on time by providing leading indicators of system malfunction, or preventative maintenance to a plastic vaccuform device?

Anything that improves your departments ability to perform better, faster, leaner and efficiently can go on this area. More often than not, this work will be underrated. It will be a second class citizen. I am here to tell you, don't make that mistake.

Change Management

From a firewall firmware update, all the way to pushing a hotfix for a business critical system (see business projects). If the activity can be scheduled and pinned on a calendar ahead of time, your doing some form of change management. Perhaps not in its full form, but no matter.

Change management is what allows your business and internal projects to release its goodness to the world --or your clients.

This type of work could include a security patch or patches (Patch Tuesday anyone?) or a hotfix coming out on the heels of a major or patch release of a business maintained system.

What this work isn't, is the work involved in respoding to a zero day, super-crit OpenSSL vulnerability. That's what our last type of work is...

Unplanned Work

Your phone (or god forbid: pager) kicks you out of bed at 4AM. You are summoned to a war bridge for a system outage. Thats unplanned work.

Unplanned work has a hunger it can never satiate. It consumes order and meticulously crafted release schedules. Kills planned work. Devours business value. Its a blackhole that traps productivity. Its that Facebook friend that is constantly posting negative thoughts.

Call it firefighting, anti-work, anti-matter or emergency response. This is IT's enemy #1.

How many times in your career have you had to drop EVERYTHING because of a major system outage? How many of those resulted in postponed release schedules? How many of those postponements were due to committments not being ready on time? See my point?

Unplanned work does not always need to be an outage either. It can be planned work that mutating into unplanned form because of some random act of capricious stakeholder behavior --ever been hit by sales promising the killer feature to a client?

You know, the feature that doesn't quite exist? That isn't even on the business roadmap at all. Did it start with sales asking you about it, then begging, and then finally demanding it? Your are not alone.

I could go on forever. If you are just like me, a human being, you have been trained to think of unplanned work as NORMAL. Chances are you get a false sense of accomplishment after dealing with unplanned stuff. Heck, you are a hero!

You are not. Sorry. You are just under the influence.

I am here to tell you, FIGHT IT, RESIST IT.

Better yet, figure out how to turn it into some form of planned work.

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