Factors to prioritize (IT?) projects in an academic library

  • Most important: Impact vs. Cost
    • Impact is how many (what portion) of your patrons will be effected; and how profound the benefit may be to their research, teaching, learning.
    • Cost may include hardware or software costs, but for most projects we do the primary cost is staff time.
    • You are looking for the projects with the greatest impact at the lowest cost.
    • If you want to try and quantify, it may be useful to simply estimate three qualities:
      • Portion of userbase impacted (1-10 for 10% to 100% of userbase impacted)
      • Profundity of impact (estimate on a simple scale, say 1 to 3 with 3 being the highest)
      • “Cost” in terms of time. Estimate with only rough granularity knowing estimates are not accurate. 2 weeks, 2 months, 6 months, 1 year. Maybe assign those on a scale from 1-4.
      • You could then simply compute (portion * profundity) / cost, and look for the largest values. Or you could plot on a graph with (benefit = portion * profundity) on the x-axis, and cost on the y-axis. You are looking for projects near the lower right of the graph — high benefit, low cost.
  • Demographics impacted. Will the impact be evenly distributed, or will it be greater for certain demographics? Discipline/school/department? Researcher vs grad student vs undergrad?
    • Are there particular demographics which should be prioritized, because they are currently under-served or because focusing on them aligns with strategic priorities?
  • Types of services or materials addressed.  Print items vs digital items? Books vs journal articles? Other categories?  Again, are there service areas that have been neglected and need to be brought to par? Or service areas that are strategic priorities, and others that will be intentionally neglected?
  • Strategic plans. Are there existing Library or university.strategic plans? Will some projects address specific identified strategic focuses? Can also be used to determine prioritized demographics or service areas from above.
    • Ideally all of this is informed by strategic vision, where the library organization wants to be in X years, and what steps will get you there. And ideally that vision is already captured in a strategic plan. Few libraries may have this luxury of a clear strategic vision, however.

3 thoughts on “Factors to prioritize (IT?) projects in an academic library”

  1. Hi Jonathan,
    Nice conceptualization. I like your focus on keeping the estimates simple. (As opposed to estimating to the exact number of programmer hours to two decimal places)

    We did something similar where we estimated value to users, ease of implementation, and ease of user experience (UX) design (because UX were different staff). We made it a bit more complicated by having a configurable multiplier, so that if someone thought that we should give more weight to “value to users” than ease of implementation (for example if we were not on a tight schedule) they could express this. http://www.hathitrust.org/full-text-search-features-and-analysis

    I’m also glad to see you including “Demographics impacted” as we often have to make decisions that affect a relatively small number of users, but those users may be considered important. For example some institutions consider impact on faculty/Phd students more important than might be expected according to their percentage in the user base. I’ve also worked in places where when we asked management “who are our primary users” they answered “undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and the general public” without giving us any way to prioritize between the groups.


  2. Thanks for reading and replying Tom, useful things to think about. Personally, if you’re talking about looking at a long list of possible things to do and deciding what to do next: I think it’s actually a big mistake to assign weights that like eg “give more weight to ‘value to users’ than ease of implementation (for example if we were not on a tight schedule)” — tight schedule or not, the more time you spend on thing A, there’s an opportunity cost because you could be working on thing B. You should do it only if it’s worth it, not just because you’re not on a tight schedule. We always have more useful things we could be doing than we have time to do, somehow you’ve got to pick the most useful ones.

    (In fact, ideally we should strive to NEVER be on a tight schedule, but always just be doing the next most valuable thing to our patrons and our organization — but we’ve still got to spend our time wisely.)

    I think libraries are particularly prone to this error though, often in the context of focusing on whatever we last put our attention to and continuing to work on it to perfection — instead, once we’ve made it good enough that _something else_ would be more valuable to work on (in terms of benefit/cost), we should switch to that. There’s something else waiting that’s even further from perfection.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s