Continually Improving Performance – Just like Olympic Athletes

I guess, like me, you’ve been watching the TV coverage of the Olympics. I managed to attend just one live event – the football semi-final at Old Trafford. I’d hoped for a Team GB appearance but, alas, they were knocked out one round earlier.

Football aside, I’m sure you were struck, as was I, by the total dedication, commitment and perseverance of the athletes. They have clearly worked relentlessly at improving their performance – day in, day out striving to be better, faster, or stronger than they were the week before or the month before. And yet, on the day, many of them found even greater reserves to deliver personal best and record-breaking performances.

In the IT service management world we rarely gain plaudits or gold medals for outstanding performance. In our world, outstanding performance simply means that the service we deliver has been delivered reliably; consistently; without drama; without fuss; day in day out. Boring is good!

That doesn’t mean that we haven’t needed to put effort in to deliver first-class services. Like these wonderful athletes, we will have worked hard at continually striving to improve what we do and how we do it.

Lasting improvements come from small, incremental steps – taking care to consolidate the progress made before moving on to the next activity. That way we can be more certain that we won’t slip back into old ways.

However, even greater gains can be achieved if we set about CSI with a purpose. We need to think about transforming what we do, rather than continuing to do the same things just more efficiently.

We should consider the outcomes that are valuable to our customers, and consider how these may have changed over time. We need to look at what markets and customers our organisation is serving, and whether these will continue to be right in the future. This will help us move from the ordinary “doing things right” to the exceptional “doing the right things” – an essential element of a successful Service Strategy.

Many ITIL professionals, I talk to, find it difficult to have a conversation with representatives from the business about ‘what they need’ or ‘how best services should be adapted” to deliver the value and outcomes they need to achieve together.

If we can persuade our customers that we’re working on “doing things right”, and demonstrate a track-record of consistent high-performance, we can use that credibility to open up the conversation and ask the challenging question “are we doing the right things?”

Ask the question. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fruitful and purposeful the responses are.

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

Many IT service continuity plans are fundamentally flawed

Many IT service continuity plans are fundamentally flawed. Most business managers expect that all IT services will be restored within 48 hours or so of a disaster. Alarmingly, Sysop research indicates that it may actually take six months before all services are returned to normal!

The mismatch between expectation and practical delivery is brought about by a number of incorrect assumptions, including:

  • that non-critical services can be recovered in similar timescales to the “mission critical” services for which detailed ITSC plans have been developed.
  • that all services can be recovered to readily available “commodity hardware”.
  • that suitably-qualified IT personnel will be available to support the recovery in the numbers required for the time required.

But crucially, the most significant factor is the high levels of support effort required to sustain the newly-recovered services. This support commitment will drastically reduce the resource available to recover the remaining services.

Most IT departments have around 20% of their services defined as “mission critical” in a total population in excess of 50.Some 80% of services will take more than two weeks to recover; 50% will take more than a month; 25% will take more than three months.

IT Services Need to be Available in a Crisis
Experience of major contingencies (i.e. those that affect more than just IT infrastructure) reveals that emergency co-ordination teams need effective IT immediately. As the precise nature and impact of the contingency cannot be predicted, IT specialist resource is needed to provide emergency co-ordination teams with their requirements in an efficient and flexible manner. This activity will always take priority over the recovery of routine IT. As organisations become increasingly IT dependent it becomes even more necessary for routine IT (and the data / information upon which management depend) to be available to manage the crisis.

Building a Disaster Tolerant Infrastructure
By planning strategically it is possible to develop an I.T. infrastructure capable of maintaining IT service continuity throughout even a major contingency. modern server clustering and data storage mirroring can ensure the automatic fail-over of every single system within minutes – requiring no resource, intervention or dependency on scarce IT skills. With correct planning a highly-available infrastructure can be implemented with no overall increase in the Total Cost of Ownership.

Managing the Motivation of an IT Team

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. General George S. Patton

IT staff are valuable company resources because of their unique specialist skills, knowledge and experience.

They are a challenge to lead because: they are very intelligent and highly individual; and also because they are often involved in complex projects where they may have to work in isolation using considerable delegated discretion.

Most IT specialists will tell you that they prefer to be left alone to get on with the job. Nevertheless, like everyone else they do need to be given feedback, told when they’re doing a good job, corrected when they’re not. Providing feedback is particularly difficult when a goodly proportion of their time is spent working at home – out of the normal cycle of intra-office communication and observation.

Maintaining IT staff motivation is a crucial element in the success of a project. Knowing when to delegate and how to review is a key factor in achieving motivation.

If you are to do this well, and it does need doing well, you need to very aware of your own skills and abilities. You need to identify your management style and understand:

• The theory of motivation.
• How to delegate successfully.
• How to understand yourself and others – what drives you, what drives them?
• Why values are important and how to use them.
• How to communicate effectively with your team.
• How to build on-going fruitful relationships.

I’ve blogged before about the lack of management training that we IT professionals undertake. Here is a starting point – an opportunity to develop and deploy a very valuable set of skills that will help you, your organisation and your team members.

Stuart Sawle

www.sysop.co.uk