Creating a Playbook for IT Pruning

All of the information needed for a pruning analysis should be available as part of managing a well run IT shop.

IT pruning is the practice of shutting down applications and systems that are not providing value. As Dan Woods pointed out in “Why Aren’t You Pruning Your IT?”, the largest, richest, most sophisticated companies are constantly pruning their technology portfolios. Why don’t the rest of us?

This article focuses on the following question:

What processes and tasks would constitute a complete playbook for IT pruning?

The Platonic Ideal of IT Pruning

Ideally, IT pruning should be a continual process. All of the information needed for a pruning analysis should be available as part of managing a well run IT shop. Imagine, for example, that for each application and infrastructure component you could see a graph of:

  • Cost in aggregate for an application or infrastructure component
  • Business impact of the application or infrastructure component

Modeling these metrics in dollar terms over a certain time period would show which applications and infrastructure investments were not pulling their weight, which were getting more valuable, and which were decreasing in value.

Of course, it would be even better if you could dive into the components of both cost and value to see what was driving trends in cost and value.

I’ve never found a shop that had this level of monitoring, and it is not practical or possible for many applications or infrastructure components. For example, you could figure out the cost of sending and receiving an email, but the business impact is hard to determine. Given the advances in IT monitoring and business management, it won’t be long before someone gets this right and makes it much easier.

This sort of modeling is hard, but useful, even if it is not perfect. The alternative is to just guess. The worst of it is that costs are just monitored, consolidated into accounting categories, that is, matching IT finance interests for cross-allocation of costs to business lines, without creating a breakdown that clearly identifies which business lines received what value.

IT Pruning in the Real World

In the IT pruning article on, Google was mentioned as an example of IT pruning. For Google, that means that once or twice a year, the company shuts down projects, some of which may have millions of users, because they are not achieving the intended results. Just because Google has far more metrics about its applications than the typical IT shop doesn’t mean the rest of us should give up on pruning. After all, Google is not doing magic. Google is a master of keeping it simple and hence avoiding complexity.

But in most IT departments, pruning the portfolio is something that rarely happens in the absence of some traumatic event. When a business gets shut down, there is pruning. When a merger forces consolidation, there is pruning. But in the course of normal operations: no pruning.

The article explained most of the reasons that pruning is put off. In general, the problem is that most IT departments are run with a back-office mentality focused on cost. The biggest victory in such a scenario is to reduce the IT budget to zero. Over many years, cost-pressure usually means that every sort of resource is spread too thin. Because pruning takes time and money, it is always at the bottom of the list.

In addition, pruning usually means making someone who is going to lose something angry. And often, there is no clear way to provide the small amount of value someone is getting from an application in another way. Given that this pain occurs right away and the benefits of pruning happen later, it is no wonder that pruning is put off.

But while it is put off, the costs of underutilized applications and technical debt in infrastructure components build up. The focus of the IT department is diluted. Google is super rich, but it is quite worried about focus and that’s why the company is aggressive about pruning.

Undertaking a program of proactive pruning is the first step away from the back-office mentality. The core of that first step is asking: What is the value provided by our application? Is it worth the cost?

Once you have answered the back-office questions for your entire portfolio and pruned what’s not working, you can then ask the key front office question: What applications and infrastructure will help get better results?

Questions, Processes, and Tasks Required in an IT Pruning Playbook



  • Questions:
    • What applications and infrastructure components are running in my business at all levels?
    • Why were they acquired?
    • Who paid for them?
    • How are they licensed?
    • How were they acquired?
    • What is the investment depreciation or running costs?
  • Process and Tasks:
    • Scanning for applications
    • Creating an inventory of applications and infrastructure components
    • Confirming and correcting inventory
    • Auditing acquisition processes to reduce installation of unused or little used applications or infrastructure components
    • Promoting efficient acquisition of applications by individuals

Monitoring of Usage

  • Questions:
    • How much is each application being used?
    • Who is using each application?
    • Why are they using the application?
    • What parts of each application are being used?
    • Who is using each part?
    • When is the application being used?
  • Processes and tasks:
    • Instrumenting applications
    • Gathering data about application usage
    • Creating usage dashboards
    • Providing usage information to management
    • Analyzing usage patterns and reporting on trends

Monitoring of Resources Usage

  • Questions:
    • How much of other resources (compute, storage, energy) are being used by each application?
    • Does usage follow a cycle (e.g., only required during tax season)?
    • How can energy saving potential be realized for infrastructure components?
  • Processes and tasks:
    • Reporting on resource usage by application
    • Reporting on resource usage over time (e.g. day-by-day)
    • Determining when power management at all levels of infrastructure makes sense


Models of Value

  • Questions:
    • How can we model the value of applications?
    • Should different approaches be used for different applications?
    • Is it impossible to assign a clear value to certain types of applications?
    • How can we model the cost of an application?
    • What level of modeling is useful?
    • Can we involve users in assessing the value of applications?
    • What survey and social media techniques can be used to help users express the value of applications?
    • Can usage data serve as a proxy for value of an application?
    • What other proxies are useful for the value of an application?
    • Can we aggregate this information?
    • Can we present the model of value to users to change behavior?
    • Can we present the model of value to help make pruning decisions?
  • Processes and tasks:
    • Assembling all data about applications
    • Creating models of value based on different theories of value
    • Surveying users to ask which applications they see as valuable
    • Making value models available to end users
    • Using models to make pruning decisions

Thorough Expense Analysis

  • Questions:
    • How can we allocate costs in an IT infrastructure?
    • How can we predict future costs?
    • Should the design of the infrastructure be influenced by the ease of cost allocation?
    • How can reporting costs help change user behavior?
    • How can reporting costs help influence technology adoption?
    • How can you decide at what level of details costs should be tracked?
  • Processes and tasks:
    • Identifying all cost information
    • Creating a model for assigning costs to applications and other activities supported by IT
    • Automating reporting of cost allocation
    • Searching for unallocated costs
    • Reporting on cost trends

User-driven Development Tools

  • Questions:
    • How can development of simple applications for and by users be supported?
    • How can an application development capability accelerate pruning of applications?
    • How can an application development capability change the process of acquiring technology?
  • Processes and tasks:
    • Selecting tools for user-driven application development
    • Promoting use of those tools
    • Creating applications to replace useful parts of pruned applications
    • Creating applications as prototypes when acquiring new applications


Designing and Managing the Pruning Program

  • Questions:
    • When should pruning be a periodic program?
    • When should pruning be a continuous program?
    • How can an empowered staff reduce the need for pruning by getting requirements right in the first place?
    • How can staff be encouraged to push back on requirements analysis without damaging business and IT relations?
    • How can you ensure the IT staff understands business requirements?
    • How can pruning effectively be described to the business?
    • How can the results of pruning be best communicated?
  • Processes and tasks:
    • Designing a pruning program
    • Launching a pruning program
    • Communication during a pruning program
    • Changing hiring to have an awareness of pruning
    • Executing a pruning program

Re-align Vendor Relationships & Purchasing Processes with Value Creation

  • Questions:
    • How can technology acquisition processes be improved to reduce the need for future pruning?
    • How can upgrades and migrations be made into opportunities for pruning?
  • Processes and tasks:
    • Designing and adopting technology acquisition processes to reduce need for pruning
    • Designing and adopting upgrade and migration processes to reduce the need for pruning

Efficient M&A Integration

  • Questions:
    • How can pruning be made part of M&A integration?
    • How can a complete pruning analysis be done as part of an M&A integration?
    • How can the completion of pruning during an M&A process be ensured?
  • Processes and tasks:
    • Performing a complete M&A integration and pruning analysis
    • Creating an M&A integration and pruning plan
    • Executing the M&A integration and pruning plan