Finding Focus for your Plans.

I am indebted to my good friend Ivan Goldberg for the inspiration for this blog www.ivanjgoldberg.com.

Stephen Covey in his benchmark book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says that we should always put first things first.  On the face of it that is almost a truism but the question is, how often, in reality, do we achieve that desirable outcome?

There is the well circulated story of the supposedly well-organised manager. He was asked: did he have a to-do list?

He did, he said, and went to his trusty laptop to demonstrate.  There was a total of 72 items on the list ranging from “Contact the bank to discuss the overdraft as requested” to “Clean the car”.

He was pressed to disclose how many of these items he thought that he would actually complete. He said that there were so many that he never seemed to achieve any of them.  In any case, he went on, day to day things get in the way and the list just got longer.

What a waste of time and effort.  It has been wisely said that rather than have a to-do list we should have a NOT to-do list and in his case the first item on that should be stop doing a to-do list.

The caveat is of course that unless the to-do list is valuable, achievable and realistic then it is worthless.

It can all be resolved by some discipline in two respects; (1) To restrict the to-do list to no more than three items and (2) To set the priorities on the list and not to divert except in exceptional circumstances.

The reason for a list of three items is a function of immediacy of memory. Three items can be recalled very easily and adding further items can start to clog the memory.  Additionally it is far easier to set priorities.

If this is too extreme consider a Kanban board. A Kanban board is a work and workflow visualization tool that enables you to optimize the flow of your work.

All the items on the list need to be focused to the benefit of the business and lead to a defined and specified outcome.

If these simple rules are not followed then the likelihood is that items of little or no value can intrude and get in the way of what is really significant.

The really important feature is to set your priorities.  Look at what you are planning to do, define each item in whatever terms you decide are relevant to the success of the business and then decide the priorities on each item.   Don’t change unless something exceptional merits the change.

Moreover, keep to the priorities that you have set.  We can be so easily distracted by the day-to-day happenings in the business that very often the really significant things take a back seat not by design but by happenstance.

There is no doubt that it demands self-discipline. If these priorities are so important to the future of the your organisation then nothing should get in the way of fulfilling them.

The natural concomitant of this discipline is the essential need to have a team to whom you can and do delegate in the safe knowledge that they can be trusted implicitly to perform.

Ask yourself the key CSI questions:

  • Where am I now?
  • Where do I want to be?
  • How am I going to get there?
  • How will I know I’ve arrived?
  • How do I maintain my improvement momentum?

Alongside these one can consider the personal self-searching questions that will help you get that “to do” list down to a manageable and productive size:

  • What should I do more of?
  • What should I do less of?
  • What should I STOP doing?

Happy planning!

stuart.sawle@sysop.co.uk

ITIL Practitioner – The Lessons for Business Relationship Management

I’ve been really busy these past several months: first of all developing Sysop course material for the new ITIL® Practitioner course, getting it accredited, getting qualified myself and finally delivering the initial outings of, what is becoming, a really useful and very practical course.

It has also set me thinking about our Business Relationship Management Workshop. The Practitioner syllabus and material has made me reconsider many of the practical areas of IT service management and how organisations can make sense of the documented best-practice and successfully adopt and adapt it to the benefit of their the employer organisation.

I have absolutely no doubts about the importance of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role to the successful provision of IT services but I do wonder if the artificial segregation of the business and IT into customer and service provider is the most effective way of handling this critical relationship.

The Practitioner material does at least recognise two models of service provision – covering outsourced as well as insourced IT. In all it stresses the importance of stakeholder management and communication – vital activities regardless of which model is most appropriate for you as a service provider.

A key objective of the IT Service Management training that we offer is to foster an increased awareness of business priorities within the IT service provider organisation. Taking account of the key messages from the Practitioner material will add considerable value to our current BRM workshop and help bring ever close our ultimate goal of everyone taking ownership of the business, its mission and its goals?

This will certainly keep me busy over the summer months!

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

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.

Is the Service Provider / Customer Model Flawed?

I’ve been busy of late preparing our recently announced Business Relationship Management Workshop. The workshop programme has set me thinking about many of the practical areas of IT service management and how organisations can make sense of the documented best-practice and successfully adapt it to the benefit of their the employer organisation.

I have absolutely no doubts about the importance of the Business Relationship Management (BRM) role to the successful provision of IT services but I do wonder if the artificial segregation of the business and IT into customer and service provider is the most effective way of handling this critical relationship.

There are numerous other examples of specialist service departments within business organisations: HR, Finance, PR, Estates, and CSR. The heads of these departments would be horrified if they were not considered to be part of “the business”. So why does IT continually place itself at arms-length?

I am reminded of the story of the US politician who visited NASA. A keen gardener himself he was interested in the activity of the man working in the neatly-tended flower beds. Approaching this man, the politician enquired as to what he was doing. “Sir”, came the reply “, I’m helping to put a man on the moon!”

Part of the answer is our attempt to design one model that covers outsourced as well as insourced IT. Part of it could be the sheer size and intensely specialist elements of IT. Part of it could be the attitude of the business itself – not understanding IT and therefore introducing intermediaries to translate business language into technical requirements and vice versa.

A key objective of the IT Service Management Training that we offer is to foster an increased awareness of business priorities within the internal IT service provider staff. Should we not, therefore, strive to achieve the ultimate goal of everyone taking ownership of the business, its mission and goals?

There lies the rub!

I suspect that even if we achieved this magnificent goal, the business would still want to deal with the ‘techies’ at arms-length. It is an imperfect world. This is why we need IT professionals who can bridge the divide. We need IT professionals to fill the role of Service Owners, Service Managers and Business Relationship Managers. These professionals essentially take on the responsibility for continually seeking opportunities to exploit Information Technology to further the aims and objectives of the business.

Until the day dawns when the technology is understood by everyone, when business objectives can be achieved without whole armies of technical staff, we will need these vital intermediaries.

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

Managing Major Incidents

The ITIL® core volume Service Operation is not particularly helpful with regard to Major Incidents. It basically says: “A separate procedure, with shorter timescales must be used for ‘major’ incidents. A definition of what constitutes a major incident must be agreed and ideally mapped onto the overall incident prioritization scheme – such that they will be dealt with through this separate procedure.”

In our recent “Managing Major Incidents” workshops we have had an opportunity to discuss the topic with a good cross-section of IT professionals; to present our thoughts and; perhaps more importantly, gain valuable feedback as to what represents best practice in the field. What follows is our distillation of that best practice and a corresponding process flow to help support it.

Key Recommendations

1. Be clear what your organisation means by “Major Incident”
2. Appoint one person (preferably the Service Delivery Manager) to determine the severity of the MI and to invoke the MI process if appropriate.
3. Gather together a “war cabinet” of key people to help ensure that adequate, appropriate resources are made available to speedily resolve the MI.
4. Make certain that any escalation to the business can happen speedily and effectively.
5. Place the Disaster Recovery team on stand-by.
6. Be prepared to de-escalate as a solution emerges.

More Information

More information, including a practical process flow and narrative that we believe represents industry best practice in this particular area, is available from the Sysop Resource Centre http://www.sysop.co.uk/your-account/downloads.

You will need to log-in, and possibly register, on the website to access the downloadable resources area. Once there, you will see the categories of downloadable resources, the first of which is “Articles”. Click VIEW RESOURCES and you will see that the first two articles are the Major Incident Process Flow and Managing Major Incidents narrative.

Stuart Sawle August 2014
http://www.sysop.co.uk

ITIL® is a registered trademark of AXELOS Limmited.

Serving the Customer

I live in the foothills of the Pennines. Just a short walk from my house, up t’hill, is a pub/restaurant that has superb views of the Roche Valley and further beyond to Merseyside and East Lancashire. Not for nothing is it called the Fair View.

One summer evening, I decided to take some friends there for an early dinner. We walked in to an almost empty restaurant and asked if the upstairs facility (with better views) was open. “Not on Tuesdays” was the response. “OK”, I said, “we’ll eat downstairs”.

“Have you reserved a table?” I was asked only to be turned away from the almost empty restaurant when I said I had not. This was no up-market gourmet establishment. It was a cheap and (not so) cheerful family joint. Needless to say I’ve never been back. To this day, I cannot fathom what possessed them to turn away six hungry customers.

Sometimes I’m asked to summarise just what IT Service Management is all about. It’s a very difficult question to answer in just a sentence or two and the answer is likely to vary depending on the background of the person who is asking.

ITIL® provides a framework for the best-practice management of IT services. Its starting point is the shared understanding of what the business’s goals and objectives are and how IT can help in their achievement. It emphasises that IT exists to support the achievement of business objectives and that well designed and delivered IT services are a vital element of this.

When I’m speaking to service management students, I emphasise how crucial “good IT” is to the well-being of the business – how important are the skills and capabilities of the IT team.

At the same time, I emphasise that the IT team rarely generates direct revenue for the business. They don’t manufacture the products the business sells. They don’t achieve sales to the business’s customers. They aren’t in the supply chain for the business’s goods and services.

Their role is to support their colleagues that do!

For the most part, the colleagues at “the sharp end” cannot do their jobs of manufacturing, selling or delivering the products of the business without IT. It is up to IT therefore to ensure that the IT services are there, fit for use and fit for purpose whenever the business needs them.

And that’s where somewhere we go wrong, failing to see our colleagues as customers. We obstruct rather than facilitate. We cite the change process as the reason we can’t help expedite a change. We quote the SLA’s “agreed service hours” as to why we can extend them today.

Our processes need to be enablers of service to our customers not barriers. Successful IT service management is more about a customer centric service culture than it is about processes and targets. Let’s not let down those revenue earners that depend on us. They bring the pennies in – not us!

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

Towards a Better Service Desk

As a member of an IT service desk team you have a responsibility to your customers. You’re there to help your customers find solutions to their IT issues. Your over-riding concern is to help resolve their issues quickly and effectively so that they can fulfill the vital business function that you are there to support.

Sadly, so many IT service desks make common mistakes that detract from the service offered but, happily, they are easy to address.

In this blog I’m going to look at 5 tips to ensure that your customer is happy with the service that you’re providing. It isn’t rocket science; it isn’t something that you’ll have to practice for months to master. It’s something that you can implement today.

Let’s get started shall we…?

Listen

First and foremost let’s get one of the biggest responsibilities of the service desk out of the way – to listen.

To resolve your customer’s issue you first have to understand what they’re telling you. Don’t prick up your ears at certain points, don’t jump to conclusions, and don’t let your mind wander – as they say “be in the room”.

Listen carefully to their issue and resolve it. That’s the job.

Treat them with respect

Just because a customer is asking a question that you think has a very simple answer doesn’t make him or her stupid. Not everyone is well versed in IT and so, at times, they may need a little help. When you pick up the phone, reply to an e-mail or head out to conduct repairs – play nice, be professional, don’t patronise.

React and respond

When a customer turns to the IT Service Desk for assistance, they expect assistance. Once you have listened to their query you should strive to find a resolution. Even if you aren’t able to provide a direct resolution straight-away you should look to offer a way of working around their issue. Remember that customers need your assistance to run the business that returns the profits that justify your salary.

Keep them informed

If you’re conducting work for a customer that requires taking something ‘offline’; or you anticipate some length of time to elapse before the work will be completed; then let them know. Remember, they have to make decisions about how best to run the business despite their issue, give them time estimates as best you can.

Get feedback

Nothing helps you develop a service desk like feedback. Ask your customers what’s working and what isn’t. Ask what you could do better. The customer isn’t always right as they say, but the customer is always the customer. They are running the business, not you, so never ignore them. Get them on-side and you’ll find their criticisms helpful and constructive.

An IT service desk thrives on communication, efficiency and the ability to heed and act upon criticism. If you apply all of the above to your IT service desk then I guarantee that you’ll see a marked improvement in customer satisfaction.