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Walk the line

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Walk the lineLet me be upfront – I’m a newbie to IT the likes of which may provoke many a ‘pfft’ at my opinion. But bear with me, because I’m insanely passionate about what I do and I think I’m on a pretty good track.

Given that this is my first blog post, I thought I’d give a very quick rundown of how I got into – and I mean quick, because no-one likes someone hammering on about themselves (although if you’d like to come over and see some slides of my holiday last year I’d be delighted).

In at the deep end

I talked my way into a Service Delivery Manager role, with no experience, in January 2010 with a small IT outsourcing firm specialising in Managed Services. My job, essentially, was to make sure clients were happy with the 24×7 Service Desk, Field Engineers, and Project Services, that my company offered them. I dealt with everyone from Service Desk Engineers at companies where the IT department was 3 people in a closet, to CIO’s and CEO’s at $b companies.

This, without ever having worked in IT before – the week before I started, I spent on Google trying to figure out exactly what Managed Services was. In my third week I caved in and asked one of our engineers to explain to me what a ‘server’ was and exactly why it was important – because one of my customers was attempting to explain how frustrating it was that our engineers couldn’t get one restarted in a suitable amount of time. I frantically taught myself about SLA’s and Lean IT and Prince2 and Agile, I went out and got my ITIL and ISO20000 Foundation certificates, I read until I felt like my eyes were going to pop out of my head. Eventually, I learnt to talk the talk and hold my own. And that’s when I started to realise that we were doing things wrong.

Ticking all the boxes yet doing it wrong

We had amazing technology and wonderful technical capabilities within our teams. We had fantastic Service Delivery Managers and Business Development Managers who were focused on the client relationship and SLA development. We had spent a fortune training staff in ITIL and having the business certified to ISO20000 standards. But we constantly got complaints. Our customers complained about staff attitude and lack of a sense of urgency – they felt like some of our engineers weren’t taking things seriously. We repeatedly breached SLA’s and never seemed to make an improvement despite wonderful new Incident Management workflows that would be drawn up regularly. We missed critical alerts and events, we were late delivering reports, our projects ran overtime – the only thing that seemed to keep our customers coming back were the Service Delivery Managers and the promises that “we can do better”.

I started thinking about this and trying to figure out how we were going wrong – we had ITIL, we had a great Service Management tool, we knew all the great methodologies – wasn’t that supposed to pretty much ‘be it’? What had we overlooked? Was there a better tool we should have used? The answer, of course, was no. We had – plain and simple – forgotten how to listen.

Two ears, one mouth

We’d stopped listening to our customers, and I mean really listening. They’d say “you’re taking too long to answer our calls” and we’d hear “oh, we need to improve our Incident Management”. They’d say “this problem happens every month” and we’d think “oh, we need to tweak our Problem Management”. They were after outcomes, and we were wrapped up in processes.

We’d stopped listening to our people – in an effort to meet the constant and unyielding demands of our paying customers, we’d ignored our team’s cries for structure, for career development, for accountability and responsibility, we didn’t ask for their ideas or their input. We stopping thinking about them as people and starting thinking about them as resources. 12 months after I had wandered wide-eyed and terrified into this wonderful world of IT Management I sat down with my CEO and said “Put me in charge of the team – I think I can fix it.” And, pleasantly surprising me, he listened.

Walking the line

And so did I. I went to our customers and spoke to them – and I mean really spoke to them. I asked them very frank questions like why they engaged us, what their expectations were of us, what they really wanted from a Managed Services vendor – was it ruthless efficiency, was it low costs, was it a relationship so that they felt like someone understood their business (it should surprise no-one that it was, of course, all three). And I went back to our team, and asked the same questions – why did they work here, what expectations did they have of us as a workplace, and what did they really want as an employer.

We took all this feedback and realised something – best practices are merely a means to an end. ITSM tools are just a vehicle for outcomes. IT Management, be it internal or external facing, is not about having the best tools or the best technology or the happiest customers or the most fulfilled staff. It’s about all of those things combining to produce genuine outcomes for your core customers. You can’t focus on one to the ignorance of the others – you have to walk the line.

Adam Seeber

Adam Seeber fell into ITSM after working in roles varying from sheet-metal apprentice to bartender, from hardware to telesales. He's currently the Service Centre Manager at RACQ in Australia and is passionate about improving the processes, systems, culture and (most importantly) outcomes that are involved in - and the product of - excellent IT Service Delivery

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  • http://www.facebook.com/david.slezak.104 David Slezak

    PEOPLE, process, technology. You need skills in all three. The most improtant is to have the RIGHT people. You can fix process and technology but if you have the wrong people… well.

  • http://twitter.com/DavidAtHP David Wheable

    Nicely put Adam. No matter how much experience we have under our belts, it’s important to be reminded of the fundamental outcomes we’re trying to deliver. Too many people get caught in the “process is everything” trap.