I came across Jevon’s paradox the other day (can’t remember where) and it connected with me on something I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks. Jevon’s paradox, from Wikipedia says:
In economics, the Jevons paradox (sometimes Jevons effect) is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.
While not a direct application of this paradox or effect, it seems to me that a similar effect happens with IT work in a group, department or company. Namely, no matter how much good work is done in that area, there will be still be a list of additional work to do the next time period. If you manage your portfolio of work by organization, no matter how much you do for that organization in a year, there will be a similar list of work to do the next year. No matter how much you do or how much better the organization gets, there will be a list of improvements to undertake next year.
This ‘infinite’ amount of work is one of the key problems in IT and why always working on improving portfolio management is a critical priority for IT leadership and the business. The IT leadership team has to be constantly working with business partners, customers and suppliers to make the smartest decisions possible about what to work on. The amount of work is infinite so being busy or having a lot to do is meaningless. What counts is working on the right things.
I’m also thinking that this effect is causing me to pause and re-think some of my ideas or beliefs about how that portfolio management should be done. Perhaps, for parts of the business, you tightly constrain the resources available to work and let the most important or highest ROI type work bubble to the top. Then, divert the large fraction of your resources to work on the truly strategic part of your business. I have to think on this more.
I’d welcome your thoughts on the matter.