IBM passes along network tips

Ever trying to shed its heritage of being a slow-moving elephant, IBM recently embarked on a mission to speed up the way its own massive IS staff implements new technologies and procedures. To accomplish this, the company formed a 21 member "speed team" whose job is to get the IT department to move, as IBM likes to say, at the speed of e-business.

The initiative, scheduled to be completed in June, wants to lop 30 percent off the time it takes to implement IT projects, says Jane Harper, an IBM executive who helps head the speed team.

Of late, IBM has had a number of successes in implementing new technology. For instance, in 1997, Harper's 20-member team of engineers, called the WebAhead group, distributed instant messaging software throughout the company. Now 200,000 IBMers are employing it talk to each other that way.

Projects like the instant messaging rollout are models for the Speed Team. Now the Speed Team is itself serving as a model. Here are some of the lessons Harper has learned in developing IT projects:

Break the project into small pieces and assign them to interested individuals. It is best if these people can work together physically, so they can react quicker. Otherwise, things "get bogged down waiting for the handoff," she says.

Clearly define your goals. In the case of the speed team, getting the IBM network to work quickly was the key goal. "If you don't declare speed your priority and don't measure it, you won't get it." As you approach your goals, share the success stories through the company.

Make sure everyone is reading off the same e-page. Harper says her team relied on collaborative applications, like Notes and Sametime from Lotus, so that all team members can check the project's status in real time.

When introducing new technology, test it with the users as fast as possible, Harper says. "Get it out quickly and get feedback," she says.

The speed team plans to have its final meeting in June.

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