Somebody asked me earlier today, "What do you do?". I gave my usual self-deprecating response, then got home and thought about it. Why do I answer so flippantly outside of the work environment?
Time to regroup and give myself a good talking to.
Simon Sinek tells us to "Start with Why".
Why do I do what I do?
To help people.
I've worked in IT roles for over 30 years, in roles like data entry, helpdesk, desktop support, server and network support, team leading and management, working with teams in the UK, India and New Zealand. I have been extremely lucky to have been supported throughout most of my career by organisations and managers who helped me and gave me what I needed to succeed. Since going solo in 2010, I have only wanted to help others to succeed. People and process are my "thing".
How do I do this?
There are a variety of methods, and they often merge into each other.
I consult, to help organisations and teams to get to where they want to be and in a way that means they can generally support themselves moving forwards.
I coach / mentor to help individuals grow.
I train people to learn new ways of thinking and working so they are comfortable moving forwards.
I contract as IT Operations Manager to help organisations when they find themselves in a bit of a pickle.
What do I do to achieve this?
Consulting usually focusses on Service Management, DevOps, agile and Lean ways of thinking and working, and governance / audit.
Coaching / mentoring (I've never had a coaching session which hasn't required mentoring or vice-versa) uses experience and knowledge gained over many years of making mistakes and learning from others.
Training can be provided as online training, simulation workshops for larger teams or tailored training sessions to provide an overview of subjects such as Service Management or DevOps (not technical though). I also enjoy helping teams to understand the culture they want to have to help get the people, management and organisation all understanding each other and helding in a mutually agreed direction.
What's YOUR Why?
What is Service Management?
IT is a key component of almost all organisations, no matter what size. In fact I believe that all organisations are technology organisations, just providing different services. However, it can also be seen to be an area that accounts for the highest percentage of an organisation’s operating costs.
Very few internal IT departments can afford or even are allowed to continue to operate with similar or higher budgets than the previous years, and so Service Management can help organisations control IT spend while continuing to deliver the required levels of service and the value that goes along with that.
Service Management is a professional practice supported by internationally recognised frameworks and practitioners and consultants with many years experience and skills, both of which can assist organisations to identify improved methods of delivering and supporting services in order to reduce risk and improve delivery.
What’s the value?
By adopting Service Management, whether through the use of the relevant components of frameworks or not, organisations are able to often reduce operating costs, improve the quality of service delivered to the organisation by IT and reduce risk through the reduction of downtime or failed changes and to increase customer satisfaction. It is of course essential that any policies, processes and procedures adopted or implemented are reviewed and improved upon on a regular basis. You shouldn’t just “do ITIL” and you shouldn’t just implement a way of working and never review it.
How does this value get delivered?
By following a standard approach to providing services, IT puts itself in a better position to be able to demonstrate a more efficient and effective method of service delivery. This standard approach starts with understanding the requirements of the customer’s or wider business’ service and leads through, for this service, to the management of:
Importantly, this is not just a case of telling people what to do, but ensuring they understand, are engaged and committed to delivering these levels of service. In order for this to occur, senior managers within the organisation must demonstrate, often as part of a wider organisational change programme, their on-going commitment to Service Management.
All services, whether future or live, should also be reviewed and validated by a governance group, made up of senior stakeholders who ensure that they have directed IT to deliver services of value to the organisation in the same way that a Board directs the senior leadership team of an organisation. This governance group is essential to all effective IT departments and needs to be closely involved with the CIO to provide guidance and feedback when needed.
With good governance, CIOs are able to focus their teams on the delivery of the services required and ensure that risk is reduced in the shape of outages, failed changes, delayed delivery of projects or information security issues.
With a greater reliance on information and technology within organisations, the IT department and the CIO are the key to success for businesses. Without effective Service Management, the value that is required to be delivered by IT and the CIO cannot be demonstrated or delivered.
I’ve been working with ITIL since the early 1990’s when I was first introduced to it at F.I. Group and worked my way through the Foundation certificates, ITILv2 Manager’s Certificate, ITILv3 Expert and recently ITIL4 Managing Professional certificate.
Then, once I became a self-employed consultant, the breadth of my knowledge grew, as I started to absorb other ways of doing things. About 12 years ago I started to play with COBIT, through 4.1, 5 and now 2019. Then I started to speak with people who used Lean Six Sigma and learnt a bit about what they do and how they think and work. I can’t say it made a huge impact on me, but I was aware.
In 2016 I was encouraged to get interested in DevOps and flew to San Francisco for the DevOps Enterprise Summit conference. That was interesting for a few reasons. Firstly, I’d never been surrounded by so many developers before. I also realised that just because they used Ops in the title, it did not mean that they would talk about Ops, although admittedly there were two out of many which did. Those speakers were Mark Imbriaco and Erica Morrison. The conference was also during the 2016 presidential election results, so as you may imagine, that in itself was interesting.
Through DevOps I started to look at agile ways of working, Lean IT and Kanban.
Due to my interest in all these things and my own inability to remember as much nowadays, I have to keep refreshing myself about all the different versions, frameworks, ways of thinking etc. and that’s because there is so much to learn. If you want to work in a modern organisation, it is expected that you will be across or aware of most of these approaches. You may not need them all, all of the time, and in some roles, you may not need some of them at all, but most modern organisations who have been through some level of digitisation will be using or talking about those approaches.
It’s this interest in all the different ways of thinking and working which has made me realise that we’ve now reached a point where all frameworks or approaches seem to have a set of principles behind them, whether it is the so called dinosaurs of ITIL & COBIT, or the cool kids at the party, DevOps, Lean etc. Agile tries to convince people that it’s cool, but it’s nearly as old as ITIL and Kanban is older than all of them!
So principles. What are they? Why do we care about them? Why do we need them? What are all of these principles?
ITIL4, released in 2019, introduced the 7 guiding principles, down from 9 in the Practitioner book.
These principles are :
Then we have COBIT 2019.
They are very formal but clear: deliver value, think end to end & focus on a dynamic governance system as well as management. This is pleasingly what you expect from COBIT.
Now agile, which has its roots in the early 1990s with approaches like RAD in 1991, Unified Process & DSDM in 1994 as well as Scrum from 1995 is probably best known for it use mostly in the development world, but there’s plenty of other uses and flavours out there, with agile project management, agile managing & agile parenting courtesy of Rob England and Dr Cherry Vu at Teal Unicorn, and many other varieties of agility in the workplace.
You can see their principles here:
Fundamentally, it's about satisfied customers, welcoming change, working together, delivering frequently at a constant pace, talking to others, being motivated, self organising and adjust when you need to.
Then we have Kanban which came about in the 1940’s or 50s at Toyota in Japan, with the intention of reducing stockpiles of material and to limit production to demand.
The 5 key principles of Kanban which have now been arrived at are:
The principles of DevOps are lovingly referred to as CALMS or CLAMS if you prefer kaimoana.
CALMS for those of you who may not be aware stands for
Getting the culture right is hard. Most people reading this are probably working and breathing within the IT Operations sphere of an IT department. Or connected to it.
IT Ops people, generally don’t like change. We are designed to keep things steady; keep the lights on. It’s what we have learned over 5, 10, 20 years of Ops work. If things are changing, it’s the Operations person who gets the call at 2am and has to fix the server, network or whatever is broken.
Ops are risk averse. So you need to create an environment where they feel safe and can experiment.
It’s all about creating a safe environment where they can not be blamed. Too many CIOs still blame IT Ops as a team or individuals when something fails. If that happens, then you are never going to get people who want to try new things or better ways of doing things.
Start at the top.
So many DevOps conferences, presentations, articles etc talk about tools. If you are an IT Operations team keen to use the DevOps principles to improve the way you are working, it doesn’t need to be a massive spending spree.
Monitor everything that you can. There are some great free tools and some great cheap tools which will help you get started. Hard to believe maybe, but there are organisations out there who don’t monitor servers - capacity or availability, networks, applications. Learn what is happening. Alert when it is sensible to alert. Keep fine tuning. If you don’t know what is happening, you can’t improve it.
As you learn what needs to be done, to fix issues, look into what can be done to stop those issues. Most tools allow you to script auto-actions before alerting, so look into that.
Do you have to perform the same task day in day out? Try and script it. If you can’t do it, get a contractor in for a few weeks to do it. Work out what you need doing and get the contractor to script it for you. A few days of a contractor will save you weeks or months of work redoing tasks or reacting to alerts.
Lean is all about
Note, this perfection is primarily to ensure that in your workstream you don’t pass errors to others in the flow. That creates rework and is waste.
Lean is all about reducing waste. Don’t do the stuff that doesn’t need doing.
So if we imagine a new member of staff is being on-boarded. The new person will be adding value to the organisation (identify value). The Value Stream will list all the teams involved in onboarding, their tasks and how much effort they need to put in. The flow of work is understood.
Now let’s imagine that HR makes a simple spelling mistake in the individual’s last name - got the i and e the wrong way round - which is easily done when humans are involved.
The new starter goes to get their id badge, but the name is spelt wrong. No biggie, but the badge needs to be redone. Then they sit down and their AD account is wrong because IT had the wrong spelling. Again, no biggie but that and their email address need to be changed. Then payroll ask the person to fill in an online form. Guess what..they have the wrong spelling, so the bank won’t recognise the person. More rework. None of it may be big, but it all adds up.
So just like most things in IT, baseline where you are. If you think you can speed up the time it takes to provision a new starter, understand how long it takes now. How often does the requester come back with “Very nice, but it doesn’t have this installed” or “We requested a new user be set up with a laptop, but they don’t have the right software or access to the right groups in AD”. Measure this as a baseline and then try to improve it. What are the new measurements? Have things improved - whether time to deploy or perceived satisfaction?
Then you will know whether you are improving. If you aren’t why not? Can you improve on it further? Should you undo what you have done and try something else?
Another key tenet of DevOps is the sharing of knowledge, information and capabilities.
Share knowledge of systems with colleagues, to reduce the risk to the business if you aren’t there. Give yourself a break from being called during the night or holidays. Heroes are not the ones who get woken up at 2 am to fix an issue that nobody else knows about. Heroes are the ones who share knowledge and skills so that they DON’T get called up on holiday. Start to embed that in the culture.
Share capabilities with others. Fed up of getting calls for simple tasks? Show the Service Desk how to do it. If they don’t have permissions, script it so they don’t need the permissions.
So for example, Change Management people could share what they are looking for in a Change, so that everyone knows what is needed before the change is reviewed.
Sys. admins could provide developers or projects with their non-functional requirements at the start of a piece of work, so it doesn’t have to be rejected at time for support.
If you can give others further left in the flow (remember that?) the information they need to give you what you need, then does it need to go to CAB? Could it just be a tick box and implemented?
There’s a multitude of areas where knowledge, skills, capabilities, requirements etc can be shared with others to enable value and to deliver that value to the wider business. The more that is kept in silos or individual heads, the slower everything becomes.
You won’t lose your job if you share knowledge. You might, if you don’t. If you can share everything you know and do, the chances are you will get more opportunities in exciting areas.
So, we have all these approaches and ways or working, but I think we can extract the following 6 key shared principles to help us on a day to day basis
So there are many different frameworks, approaches and ways of working out there which help us work smarter.
And I’m not suggesting that you shouldn't learn them. If there is value to you or your job in learning them, get out there, read books, do courses, become certified. But do you NEED to?
I think there are only 6 key things you need to remember, to be able to work effectively and efficiently in most roles.
Way back in 2015 I wrote a couple of posts about meeting etiquette. One was for physical meetings and one for online / phone meetings. Things have moved on with online meetings and following a post on LinkedIn from Kendra Ross I thought I ought to update my thoughts. So, once again, in no particular order:
It's interesting to see how over the years, certain things are always at the fore of an IT Operations Manager's sleeplessness.
So how can this be addressed, so that you can sleep at night without alcohol?
If you would like help introducing or improving any of these areas, please get in touch and let's work together to make you look even better than you did this morning.
Ok. This might seem odd for some of you to hear me say this, but it's true.
I'm not going to go into too much detail here, because I have written a way too long thing about it for Scopism, but most frameworks or ways of working just require you to understand and use a few principles.
ITIL - ITSM
That's pretty much all most of us need to do our jobs well. And fundamentally they all agree with each other.
However, if you want to know more about any of these, check out the training options I have available.
In October 2019, I will have been an independent consultant and contractor for 9 years. This blows me away.
It's not been an easy 9 years, with my finger hovering over the "apply for benefits" button on one occasion because I hadn't been able to get work in for 6 months, and a couple of applications for permanent roles made, just because I couldn't see the light at the end of a long dark tunnel. I still say "never say never" to permanent roles, because if the right thing comes along, I would be silly to turn it down, but it's not my priority.
However, the positives have outweighed the negatives and I am SOOOOO glad I did it.
Being independent has enabled me to:
Will being independent work for you?
I'm a consultant, so I am legally obliged to answer with "it depends". You need to:
So these nearly 9 years have been challenging. They have been satisfying. They have been enlightening. Has it made me rich? Not financially. Emotionally? Yes.
If you have been a client, a colleague, a friend or my family, THANK YOU!
I've written before about what teams get out of The Phoenix Project simulations and how they can learn the principles of DevOps in an experiential way. However, that was always focussed on DevOps.
Now, ITIL4 is a big change in the ITIL world. ITIL didn't fundamentally change from V2 to 2011 and while the world skipped off to embrace agile and lean thinking and play with the cool kids of DevOps, traditional Service Management and IT Operations seemed to continue to do things the same old way. ITIL4 is now kicking stones around the outside of the group of cool kids and may even join in soon. It too has embraced lean thinking, using Service Value Chains, iterative improvements, and the whole Guiding Principles approach, introduced with ITIL Practitioner. All things that many good consultants and experienced service management practitioners were doing as they adopted and adapted ITIL, but it wasn't as clear in the framework before.
The MarsLander simulation from GamingWorks has been redeveloped to allow teams to experiment and experience how ITSM and IT Operations teams can operate in a more lean and agile method. This brings obvious benefits in organisations where development or project teams are more agile and the Operations teams continue to be more traditional. They can all start to think the same way. It also allows those IT teams that don't need to change because of outside influences, but just want to change so they are operating better, to learn about and try different approaches. Then there are those teams who have gone through ITIL4 Foundation training and know the theory. MarsLander allows them to put it into practice and see how to use that knowledge.
Aprill Allen - aka Knowledge Bird - and I are currently working with a client, as part of the Good Guidance collaborative team, to help them adopt a new and improved way of working. As a Managed Service Provider, they have been operating well for a number of years, always reviewing how they can improve and deliver greater value to their customers, but now it has been decided that a fundamental shift in thinking and working is required. As part of their learning experience, I ran a MarsLander simulation for a number of their team, including CEO, CDO, Service Delivery Manager, HR Manager and a number of technical people including Service Desk. I'm not going to go through their findings and learnings with you here, as that would take the fun out of you experiencing the simulation, but there were some key outputs which resonated with them, and every other team who has run the MarsLander or Phoenix Project simulations:
An earlier blog of mine pointed out similarities between different ways of working and thinking, with regards to learning, so the gods must be trying to tell us something.
What do you need to do to make change happen?
There's a lot of change going on in the way that organisations work. For many years we have, generally, carried on in the same manner, working in the same way. Whether this is in IT, HR, Finance, Logistics, Retail, or any other part of the organisation, we've pretty much done things the same way for several years. There have, of course, been small changes in the way things have been done, but, at least within the IT world, we seem to be rolling out new ways of thinking and working at a rather busy rate.
In the last few years we have seen a formalisation of SIAM (Service Integration and Management), VeriSM, ITIL4, COBIT 2019, Lean IT, DevOps, Agile ITSM, Cynefin, etc and along with those approaches, we have introduced teams to ways of thinking and working that have been used elsewhere for a while, like visualisation of work, Kanban, Value Stream Mapping, Theory of Constraints, servant leadership, constant organisational change management, agile management.....a growing list.
Don't get me wrong, this is all very good stuff and is needed in many organisations. Some are further down the path of change than others, but that has always been the case and always will be.
All these "new" (to some) approaches can be overwhelming. The other weekend I felt like I was back in the technical world, which I left because it was all changing too quickly for my little brain to cope, with what felt like a barrage of new approaches to thinking and working. However, when you take a step back and think about it over a nice cup of tea, it's not too bad.
Many of the approaches I have mentioned are fundamentally saying the same things. In no particular order and in a very simplified view:
There's nothing in that list that we shouldn't really be doing in our everyday life, is there?
If there is one key point from everything that is going on, it's that last point: Allow people to have time to try things and learn. In DevOps speak, this is part of the Third Way. Rob England & Dr Cherry Vu also talk about this in their book "The agile Manager"; Em Campbell-Pretty talks about it in her book "Tribal Unity"; Karen Ferris discusses it in her book "Game On! Change is Constant" and I'm sure in countless other places.
Knowledge Bird recently published the inaugural Knowledge Management Career Survey and one part of the results jumped out at me.
This highlights what we are all trying to do, or should be. Ways of working are telling us to create environments where people and teams can experiment, try things and learn from it. We are saying that people need to have time to learn, while at work. This goes beyond only learning something new when sent on a 3 day training course, or having to learn at home.
This survey points out that among many other things, one of the key things people want to create improved knowledge for, is to "extend capabilities within their role". The teams are telling us all that they want to learn more. The approaches to new ways of working are telling us that we need to create cultures where people can experiment and learn.
What are you doing to make this happen in your workplace?
Over the last 12 months, I have been lucky enough to be able to deliver business simulations to organisations who are either going through change, or who are looking at different ways of working.
These simulations have been created by GamingWorks and go by the names of The Phoenix Project and MarsLander.
The Phoenix Project simulation focusses on helping teams to explore and learn about DevOps and Agile ways of working. MarsLander helps Service Management teams explore how a more agile approach can help them deliver faster, with more value and use the ITIL4 approach in their everyday working. However, with the latest update to ITIL taking onboard the learnings of DevOps, Agile and Lean and applying them to ITSM, these two simulations help attendees explore, experiment and learn these similar concepts but in different ways.
The teams who have taken part in The Phoenix Project have come away from the day, and it is a full-on day, telling me and their colleagues that they understand the need to collaborate better, that the “business” representatives (as opposed to the IT team members) “get” what they need to do to work better with IT, that “business” and IT people understand why they need to communicate better, that they all understand the benefits of limiting their work in progress.
The teams who have participated in MarsLander, tell me and their colleagues that they understand the need to collaborate better, they understand why they need to communicate better within teams and with their customers (internal or external) and suppliers / partners, that they all understand the benefits of visualising their work and limiting their work in progress.
Senior participants - CIOs and IT Managers - tell me that they want to promote greater visualisation or work and encourage greater preparation, not just planning, within their teams.
Those at the pointy-end of delivering IT services tell me that they want to get their management teams on the simulations so that they understand the need for improved ways of working.
Non-IT attendees go away with a greater respect for their IT colleagues and talk to me about running the simulations within their teams - non-IT teams.
All team members also come away from the simulations as closer teams. Some were brand new teams only meeting for the first time on the day, but after an hour or two, you wouldn’t have known that.
So if you are looking to improve collaboration between or within teams, looking to explore different ways of working, or to understand how the DevOps principles or ITIL4 approach can help your teams deliver better services, get in touch. I may have just the simulation for you.