Capacity planning for increased productivity

As you see from the set of consulting services listed on our website, we assist organisations with capacity planning. In this article I will set out why I believe developing a formal, strategic plan is important and point out some of the organisational benefits of such a plan.

Why plan for capacity?

In these days of falling infrastructure costs and cheap cloud services why undertake an exercise in the first place? Why not just add on more capacity as demand dictates?

The answer lies in the definition of capacity planning: “estimating the space, computer hardware, software and connection infrastructure resources that will be needed over some future period of time.” (Source: Techtarget, emphasis added.) The plan helps IT fine-tune the organisation’s investment in technology, directing it to where it is needed most, avoiding bottlenecks before they happen and keeping users happy with high standards of service.

Techtarget calls this process both “science and art” probably because it is not an exact science, being heavily dependent on estimates of future needs. Nonetheless, the capacity plan addresses two concerns of many organisations: 

  1. What resources will be needed to run the future business cost-effectively
  2. How to enable the adjustments the business will need as market conditions change. 

It is this balancing act that the plan performs: managing the trade-off between having excess capacity and insufficient resources so the organisation grows through cost-effective use of resources.

Strategic approach

Taking a strategic approach means imagining what future needs will be, providing answers to "What if" scenarios so that a range of possibilities can be explored. In developing a capacity plan there are several key steps:

1. Setting service level objectives:

Here, the units of work and corresponding workloads are determined, along with identifying the future service levels requirements for each workload.

2. Analysing the capacity of current systems

The second phase involves measuring service levels and comparing these to the objectives set out in step 1. Some of the key measures are: overall resource usage; resource usage by workload; and identifying key components of response time.

3. Forecasting future needs

Determining up-coming processing requirements and planning future system configuration is the final and major component of the plan. As such, the capacity plan needs to be a living document, with regular review periods to take account of new and emerging technologies and changes in the organisation’s strategies and forecasts.

Wider organisational benefits

Developing a comprehensive capacity plan brings other benefits which are not often realised or appreciated in the organisation. However, these can demonstrated to senior management in support of taking a strategy approach to capacity needs. 

The first benefit is in strengthening relationships with users. IT should ask question of the various lines of business such: “How many additional concurrent users are expected to be using the application?” or “How many of a specific type of transaction is likely to be executed during peak periods?” rather than asking for estimated increases in processor utilisation, for example. Such an approach helps nurture a healthy, professional relationship between IT and its internal customers.

Another benefit, which some organisations do not consider, is in improved communications with IT suppliers. (Not all interactions need be adversarial – in fact, a partnership approach often brings more value!) As capacity planning should take place across the entire IT and comms environment, it is important to inform suppliers of future needs so they can meet deadlines, help IT reduce its costs and offer additional alternatives for capacity needs.

Capacity planning is also good for improving internal cohesion of the IT department: as well as infrastructure the plan will involve network services, technical support, database administration, operations, desktop support and even facilities management. In order for the plan to be thorough and effective all these various groups must collaborate with and support each other.

Fourth, any serious planning helps foster an organisational culture of a strategic approach to issues, as opposed to tactical firefighting. By definition, capacity planning is a strategic activity, taking the problems of the present and focusing on the longer term plans of the future.

If you are interested in exploring how to develop a strategic capacity plan, please click the button below to contact me for a free, no-obligation discussion.