Fifty Years – A Major Milestone

I don’t normally like admitting to my age – but this week I am celebrating a pretty major milestone – 50 years in IT. I’ve always considered myself particularly lucky to have begun an IT career when the industry was in its infancy, when we were fresh-faced, young and pioneering.

I left grammar school at 16 with a handful of ‘O’ levels and had been intrigued by computers for some little while. Luckily, for me, a neighbour friend was an IT Operations Shift Leader at Dunlop and suggested that I apply as a trainee operator. I took to it like a duck to water. Operating large mainframes which were tape-based was demanding work physically. The tapes were 3.600 ft zinc spools and some 100 tapes per shift needed to be mounted / demounted on the eight tape decks on each of the huge LEO III mainframes. Understanding what was going on came much more easily. I had a natural aptitude for IT and in that respect it has never been hard work.

I was just 19, when my boss asked me to set-up and run an offline job-assembly function. The goal (successfully achieved) was to improve consistency and reduce job-assembly errors. This work caught the attention of a senior colleague who head-hunted me to join him as Chief Operator at Halfords in the centre of Birmingham. The small ICT 1901 mainframe here was a step down from the sophistication of the LEO and, at the tender age of twenty, I had the challenge of supervising the operation of three shifts, job and data control.

I began to take an interest in the George II operating system and pioneered its implementation to streamline operations and reduce mis-operation. This led to a change of career as I learnt how to program in PLAN – an assembler language proprietary to ICT 1900 mainframes. I loved it and determined a short while later that I could earn much more money as a freelance programmer.

Very soon I was assigned to a major development project for Woolworth – all in COBOL. I hadn’t written a COBOL program in my life but I had, at least, covered the basics in a college course. My PLAN and GEORGE II experience stood me in very good stead and I quickly earned a reputation as the technical guru. I could understand diagnostic dumps when many of my colleagues found them perplexing.

I was a freelance programmer at Woolworth for nearly three years when the new Data Centre Manager asked me to join the management team and establish a competent technical and operations support department – again with the principal objective of improving consistency of service and reducing error.

Now I was really in my stride. I had some very competent technical guys but the challenge was to develop the operations support group, exploit the operating system and bring real business benefit to the organisation. This opportunity was enhanced when I led the project to migrate the George II workload to the newly launched ICL 2900 range under VME.

This was exciting pioneering written large! Woolworth IT developed a reputation for leading-edge technology and practices and I was often invited to speak at User Group conferences and joined working parties to help steer ICL development plans – most of them focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – a bit of a recurring theme here.

My responsibilities at Woolworth increased and I was given responsibility for not only the Rochdale data centre but also the data centres in Swindon and London. Life was certainly getting exciting!

In 1985 everything changed. A new IT Director changed the technical direction from ICL to IBM. Senior IT professionals with extensive experience of IBM operations were parachuted in and I was offered a very attractive package to go do something else – and that something else was Sysop.

The early days of Sysop saw an increasing fruitful partnership with ICL. We pioneered the development of storage management systems to exploit the capabilities of automated tape libraries – always looking at ways to help clients reduce cost, improve reliability, and improve storage management.

Then along came ITIL®.

In 1990 Sysop was one of only three companies who offered training in IT Service Management. The other two no longer exist – which makes Sysop the world’s longest exponent of ITIL. Sysop consultants have travelled the world, working with clients in across Europe, Australia, South America, USA, the Middle East and South Africa.

We continue to innovate and see ourselves as a new breed of IT educator. My team champions the alignment of IT with business, promotes the pivotal role of the IT professional and believes that the primary purpose of training and education is to change behaviour in the workplace.

Our mission is to provide a more creative and stimulating, world class educational environment that addresses vital areas of IT service management. Our training and education is designed to make ITIL more accessible, digestible and relevant for its clients, while its practical workshops can be tailored to the specific needs of the client organisation.

Our goal is still to help our clients improve their IT services focusing on reliability, consistency of service and error reduction – Now that does sound familiar?

Am I going to retire? Not while I’m having so much fun!

Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk
ITIL® is a trademark of AXELOS Limited.

Motivation – the key to success.

We have all experienced those days where we wake up feeling alive and alert. We head out to work and tackle everything at breakneck speed, not stopping for a drink of water. Once we’ve done that we move onto the next thing. Finishing work, we’re struck by the desire to continue. We get in and clean the house, put food on, head to the gym and so on.

We’re motivated.

Sadly, these days are a rarity for the majority of us. Sometimes getting out of bed is the most we do in a day.

Imagine a whole team working with that full tank of gas, powering through work like there’s no tomorrow, motivation in abundance. Think how much work you’d get through!

Creating and maintaining that motivation is the trick – the truly tough part.

Here I’m going to show you how to maintain that motivation in your team and increase their productivity.

Praise

Nothing helps motivate someone like praise. If your team have been working on a project for a long time and finally completed it, let them know how well they’ve done. Regardless of the size of the job completed you should always offer praise.

They’ll work harder next time to receive that praise again.

Reward

To keep the team happy you should always complement your praise with a reward. Again, it doesn’t have to be a huge reward. It can be anything from bringing in a cake for them or taking them up the pub. But make certain that it’s you that’s thanking them – not a faceless expenses claim.

Think about it, if your team start associating their hard work with a reward from you personally then they’ll be much more inclined to stay on point.

Keep them involved

If your company’s management team hold weekly meetings or something similar, why not invite one of your team members along with you? This will mean that they get to come and see how the company is working and give their input. Nothing helps motivate someone like feeling that they’re acknowledged at work.

The work environment

Although discipline and targets are important try and keep things as relaxed as possible. In my experience working in a relaxed environment encourages people to work. People tend to rebel against strict regimes so keep things loose. Your team will enjoy work a whole lot more.

Be happy

If you come in to work in a bad mood, that will reflect onto your team. You need to come in to work with the attitude that you want your team to come into work with. A happy team are much more likely to work hard. Keep them happy by giving them my first two points: praise and rewards.

There isn’t any really secret trick to keeping a team motivated. You simply have to consider their needs and wants. Tell them when they’ve done a god job, let them know that their opinion is counted and stay positive.

Stuart Sawle

http://www.sysop.co.uk

The Challenges of Managing Change Effectively

One of the significant improvements with ITIL v3, way back in 2007, was recognition of the need to move the change authorisation window further up the lifecycle. No longer, we thought, would change authorisation be sought when the development work had been completed and operational running was imminent. No longer would changes be “thrown over the wall” giving service operation scant notice – virtually blackmailing them into accepting the change.

Some progress has undoubtedly been made. Most customers tell me that operational acceptance is a key part of their change management process. But it still appears that change management is not considered until major investment of resources to design, build and test the change have already been committed.

Consider, if you would, what the core volumes say about the change proposal. It describes it as: “A document that includes a high-level description of a potential service introduction or significant change, along with a corresponding business case and an expected implementation schedule. Change proposals are normally created by the service portfolio management process and are passed to change management (i.e. the CAB) for authorisation. Change management will review the potential impact on other services, on shared resources, and on the overall change schedule. Once the change has been authorised, service portfolio management will charter the service.

Wouldn’t our services be managed more effectively if all major changes were reviewed and authorised at this stage. Consider the impact on the authority and reach of the change advisory board.

The reasons cited above all others for the failure of changes is lack of planning; lack of appreciation of the complexity; inadequate timescales; and inadequate budget for the change. How much better would we handle these matters if due consideration to change was given early enough?

Our purpose in service management is to facilitate change; to allow our organisations to adapt to changing business drivers speedily and effectively. We also have a duty to ensure that changes are implemented smoothly; without any detrimental impact on the business – i.e. get them right first time. Proper and timely scrutiny of change proposals will go a long way to achieving our objectives.

Stuart Sawle
http://www.sysop.co.uk

Project Management Made Plain

The new Kingsway Business Park is taking shape in the land that lays beyond the bottom of my garden. The activity of the last three months has been the preparatory work for the new Asda frozen food distribution centre which is absolutely enormous. Janice & I have watched with interest the road-building and the tarmac and pipe-laying that’s been going on – only to realise that all of this was for the fourteen (at the last count) portable buildings to house the site management for the rest of the project.

Despite the travails of Rochdale weather, these guys have it pretty easy. The ancient Egyptians built enormous structures in a relatively short timescale. To complicate matters further for them, the process was continually subject to the changing demands of the Pharaoh; the weather; diseases; and wars.

How did they get millions of stones to the right place and make sure that tens of thousands of people worked as efficiently and effectively as possible? Obviously this didn’t just happen all by itself. They could not have been done it without effective project management.

These days we have well-proven practical methodologies like PRINCE2® to help us. It provides Project Managers with an excellent process for ensuring a project starts sensibly; is controlled throughout; and is delivered successfully. And yet, I am continually surprised by how many people find project management such a difficult concept to comprehend. I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones – I’ve always felt that project management is just structured common sense – then again, that’s how I view ITIL.

So when we decided to develop our own PRINCE2 material, I was really pleased and supportive of the approach that my trainers wanted to adopt – no PowerPoint!
Using practical exercises instead of the ubiquitous PowerPoint presentation, Sysop students work through a series of facilitated and very logical case-studies which enable them to understand PRINCE2® in a much more effective and practical way. By the end of the course they have developed their own reference book crammed with the project templates that they have developed – an invaluable reference guide back in the workplace.

Even Richard Pharro, CEO of APMG was impressed. He said: “It is encouraging to see Accredited Training Organisations making the learning experience of delegates as exciting as possible. Learning in a way which enables students to utilise their practical experience when they get back to the office will help them become more effective project managers. I am confident the Sysop workshops will be very popular.”

More information: http://www.sysop.co.uk/prince2%C2%AE-explained/the-sysop-approach-to-prince2

The Mysterious Service Design Package

This week, I went to the itSMF regional meeting held at the Co-op Bank HQ in Manchester. We were privy to two superb presentations from the Co-op team. Ian Macdonald set us thinking about base-lining and benchmarking but, for me, the star of the day was Andy Birds who talked about the Mysterious Service Design package.

Anyone who has been around IT service management for a while will have lamented the lack of involvement of application developers in the overall service design process. For all too long, services are declared “live” even though the operational requirements of maintainability, availability and reliability have not been properly considered. The team at Co-operative Bank has taken this crucial area of service design to heart and embraced the service design package.

Andy was able to demonstrate that by paying due regard to the communication and documentation flow, from service design to everyone else downstream of an implementation, not only was there a considerable dividend in the quality of the implementation but that the total cost of ownership (TCO) was reduced.

Sure, things don’t always go by the book. When other pressures come to bear and incomplete services just have to go live, the Co-op team are not only well able to allocate responsibility but, more importantly, gain acceptance of the risks and consequences at the appropriate level.

There aren’t that many case studies around of successes in service design. This certainly was one that deserves a greater audience.

Stuart Sawle      http://www.sysop.co.uk

Formulating a Strategy, Setting Objectives

Lately, I’ve been involved with a committee that’s been developing a three year strategy. They’re not ITIL people. Many are not managers at all. Their stated objective was to develop a strategy that was “aspirational”. They argued that without aspirational objectives the strategy would not be challenging enough in today’s tough climate.

This set me thinking.

I agreed entirely with their sentiments but I was concerned they would fail because the objectives / goals they were setting were not SMART. By that I mean they needed to be:

• Specific
• Measurable
• Achievable (Attainable)
• Relevant
• Time Bound

Setting a challenging goal can sound quite specific (e.g. reduce expenditure by 75%, increase profits by 50%) but without any hint / outline of how this is to be achieved it fails the “Achievable” criterion. When the goal stretches beyond what is possible it fails the “attainable” criterion.

What we need to do is to take each of the goals we set ourselves and break them down into lower-level SMART objectives that, much more specifically, state what is to be done, by whom and by when and how this is to be achieved – the road map if you like.

A specific goal will usually answer the five “W” questions:

  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.
  • Who: Who is involved?
  • Where: Identify a location?
  • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

The Achievability term stresses the importance of setting goals that are realistic and attainable. While an attainable goal may stretch a team in order to achieve it, the goal should not be extreme. That is, the goals are neither out of reach nor below standard performance, as these may be considered meaningless.

When you identify the goals that are the most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. Attainable goals encourage goal-setters to identify previously overlooked opportunities that will bring them closer to the achievement of their objectives.

Stuart Sawle               www.sysop.co.uk

Selling Change to the Team

Isn’t it amazing how we can use a simple phrase that would actually lead to our undoing – making it difficult, if not impossible, to actually achieve what we intend.

If your approach is to “sell” the idea of change to the team they will see right through you. The change becomes more about what you want; change is being imposed; those whose co-operation you seek will react with the smile that says “yes boss, no chance”. And that’s the best you can hope for – the more recalcitrant ones will actively work against you.
Change needs to be managed, people need to be understood and involved.

I well remember a reorganisation at Woolworth’s when a manager, I regarded as a fool, was appointed as my boss. He took the trouble to have a face to face chat with me. He allowed me to express my fears and concerns. He listened to me and sought to find ways in which we could work together. It worked. Not only did we develop a fruitful, purposeful relationship – we became firm friends and still are – some 30 years later. He even acted on some of my advice to downplay some of his traits that led people like me to dismiss him as fool!

If you think a change is needed quickly, take time out to assess whether the drivers are really that urgent. We can be so go-minded that we can overlook this simple check. Consider would a more relaxed time-frame still achieve your objectives? Would taking a little more time to consult and truly involve those affected make your decision more acceptable? Would the ideas and discussions allow you to improve the quality of the change?

As a senior manager you probably relish change and thrive on it. Be aware that the chief insecurity of most staff is change itself. Their first reaction will be to feel threatened.

Remember, like grief, there is a series of stages that people go through before they become accepting of change. From suspicion, through curiosity, to visualisation, acceptance and finally commitment, your team members need to be allowed the time, and your time, to explore, understand and respond.

Stuart Sawle              http://www.sysop.co.uk