The Problem of "Stealth Work" in Technology Teams

Posted on March 27, 2016

Summary In most organizations technology teams do (or try to do) a lot of "stealth" work. It's the job of these teams to decloak this work, but it's also paramount to the business that they encourage their teams to do so.

In most organizations, technology teams do (or try to do) a lot of "stealth" work. This is work that is one or more of: recurring (e.g. maintenance and upkeep), unscheduled (e.g. urgent emergency work), initiative based (e.g. proactive security improvements), or otherwise internal (to the team) in nature (e.g. improvements to efficiency or reliability either through investments in process adjustments or infrastructure upgrades).

It's the job of these teams to decloak this work, to reveal it to the business and then let it be judged and prioritized in the same manner as all other projects.

Instead what often happens is that the business views the technology team's work through the lens of the projects it assigns to it ("external work" from the team's perspective). The business thus assesses the team's value and contribution based on the delivery of this work, including the timeliness and quality of it. But if there is stealth work being done by the team (and there always is), then the timeliness and quality of these external projects inevitably is impacted.

This inevitably leads to a mismatch in priorities and resources, poor outcomes for the business, and frustrations all around.

It's no wonder that IT departments are often viewed as cost centers while technologists viewed as out of touch with organizational priorities and business people viewed as out of touch with fundamental technology needs. Both see the other as of sync with their own respective (perceived) common sense, and non-responsive to each other's priorities.

They're both trying to work with an arm tied beyond their backs and a patch over their eyes. Unmask all stealth work to better integrate the technologists and the business people.

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