Multiple Taskmasters

With an array of users and auditors tugging at them, developers are feeling the strain.

These days, corporate programmers are being pulled in different directions by business sponsors, IT executives and quality assurance managers, as well as internal and external auditors and regulators.

"There's a constant drumbeat from the business to deliver new features and capability into the field," says David Moore, director of North American branch operations services at Boston-based Keane Inc. Then there are demands from internal quality-assurance groups for adequate testing and inspections. Throw in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other regulatory requirements, and "all of these forces converge on the development team," adds Moore.

Developers also have to sharpen their understanding of business requirements while they're under the gun to create new systems faster, notes Jack Duggal, a principal at Projectize Group, a Simsbury, Conn.-based project management consulting firm. "There's definitely a lot of pressure on them."

To help deflate that pressure, some IT organizations are positioning their project management offices as buffers between developers and other constituents. At American Cancer Society Inc., the PMO acts as a liaison between business managers and developers "so that they're not being bombarded with phone calls," says Tom Nodar, PMO manager for corporate IT at the Atlanta-based voluntary health organization.

A similar method is employed at Cardinal Health Inc. "We try to use project managers to insulate developers from status reporting and all of the day-to-day business pressures," says Dave Hammond, vice president of enterprise architecture at the $65 billion health care products provider in Dublin, Ohio.

Cardinal's IT group has taken other steps to help insulate developers. For example, it's putting together teams of programmers and applying agile project management methodologies instead of waterfall development methodologies when there's a good fit for the people involved and the projects being worked on, says Hammond.

"What we want to do is try to put developers back in the driver's seat as much as we can," he says.

Other organizations, such as ING Americas, simply have project managers act as middlemen between developers and business sponsors. But sometimes even those steps, along with the use of structured project management methodologies, go only so far toward shielding developers from other demands.

"IT management has taken sufficient steps to address these issues, but developers will always feel like they're being pulled in different directions," says Joe Muller, chief information architect at ING Americas, a financial services provider in Hartford, Conn., that employs 1,000 in-house and contract developers. That's partly the result of increased security and Sarbanes-Oxley-related requirements being imposed on all development efforts, says Muller.

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