Monday, 26 October 2015

The Road to Feedback is paved with Good Intentions

We have all been there before at some point or another. In an effort to understand the business we solicit information from them in a “how are we doing” button or survey. The trouble that may present itself is that while we are working to improve things from a delivery perspective we may not have fully built out a strategy to manage the lifecycle of the feedback.

Here are a few points to consider, but as always feel free to share which areas have worked well, or not so well for you.

Decide what you want to gain from this
When I say ‘you’, I really mean the business which you support. When we think about gathering feedback from people the first thing that pops into frame is that we are looking to address some level of concern. In reality, it is about understanding what your business or customers need or want. By thinking with the end in mind we will be able to ask the right questions and target the right people rather than a shotgun blast of generic questions or a solicitation for feedback.

Communicate the program
We have all seen cases where the communication around the feedback program was great in the beginning but then started to fall off as time went on. Interestingly as this happened the responses made a decline as well. Remember, people want to contribute so ensure the audience is aware of how they can do that. Everyone gets busy so keeping this at front of mind is important. However this is a balancing act, you want to notify without being intrusive.

Understand the channels for feedback
Be open to finding out how your audience wants to communicate with you on feedback. There are many ways to communicate (social media, tools, phone, email, etc.) so make sure that you manage which ever ones you choose to leverage accordingly. It could be very easy for us to assume that this would best be done via email or directly from an application. However the idea that we are assuming anything rather than asking is counter-intuitive to the feedback process in the first place…..

Feedback Management
Now that we are receiving the feedback we need to make sure that we manage the information that we are getting appropriately. Being in a position to take the feedback and report to the submitter that we have their information and that we are in fact doing something with it is key. Far too often the reason cited for not submitting feedback is that “they aren’t going to do anything with it anyways”. While many tools have a canned response after the information is submitted people really want to have some direct communication that their feedback is being considered in some way or another. Have some expectations on the feedback. While the content may still be vague, hearing from a human being at least give a sense of connection that an automated response does not. After collecting the information we will quickly assess if the data will be acted upon or put aside for later consumption. Let people know what you are doing with this. The transparency of not acting on someone’s feedback based on some fact will allow people to know that you are listening and actually reviewing ideas that they submit. If the information is sent in and they never hear back they will be less likely to participate the next time.

Feedback Findings
Where ever possible share the findings of the feedback regularly to the targeted audience to drive further submissions. If there is an area that will peak the interest of those in the audience you may be able to steer people who would be otherwise not respond to submit some feedback. Use this reporting as another tool to market the need for feedback.

Overall, having a well-defined scope on the information you are soliciting paired with engaging the target audience with communications and regular updates, will enable you to better manage the feedback over the long term and make the improvements  that will make a difference in all the right ways.  

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Monday, 19 October 2015

Driving Inertia on Service Improvement Initiatives

Newtons first law of inertia states:

“an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by an external force”
We have all been in this position at one time or another before. We have made some level of improvement and then for whatever reason we seem to drift back into a state where we were before the improvement initiative was implemented. So the question of how we avoid losing momentum in these initiatives becomes paramount.

One of the challenges with continual service improvement initiatives is that they are continual. Unlike other initiatives where there is a finish, this marathon like work continues cycle after cycle. In the beginning there is a sense of excitement and this is evident in the work that is done around the processes which are in the looking glass for CSI. As this momentum starts to lose ground we may start to see evidence within these processes.

To continue inertia on our improvement initiatives, we need to start to look at how we define this improvement journey. While it is continuous in nature, we should set up timed check points during the initiative where we can showcase the success or additional areas to improve. (Quarterly for example) Because this process has no real beginning or end and is cyclical in nature we need to build in our own start and end components.
As I have outlined before we need to ensure that we are focusing on business objective. The first step is to ensure that we understand the business vision and how IT strategies will line up to this. In order to start us off on the right foot we need to keep this improvement initiative as agile as possible so that we do not bite off more that we can chew. In my opinion when we have too large of an initiative underway which does not line up to the business momentum will drop off before it even begins.

The next set of activities will review what we are current capabilities are and then decide what we want to improve. Remember that we are keeping it simple over several cycles of improvement so small moves in the beginning. We may want to fix everything all at once but in doing this we have deliverables that are taking too long to produce results which are a detriment to momentum.
Once we know where we want to go we can outline what actions need to be taken to get there. Since we have chosen to keep things simple in the beginning we should have a shorter list of activities to manage.

The last component allows us to measure what we have done and then begin the cycle again to add on to what we have started to get us close to the business objective. At each measurement cycle we need to communicate back with our stakeholders to celebrate wins as well as having transparency on areas that did not go as planned. These items are NOT losses, rather they are areas where we can learn and re-focus our improvement efforts.
Keeping things simple over the long term will allow your teams to make iterative improvements that they will be visible to the teams which they will ultimately serve.

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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

IT Disaster Recovery - Practice Makes Perfect

With national fire prevention week upon us I thought I would speak to drills. Specifically those that help us practice disaster recovery skills. As our businesses are ever more reliant on IT services we must be in a position to address service delivery when and if a disaster occurs.

Keep in mind that when we are talking about disaster while we may envision earthquakes or floods, we are really talking about events which are impacting the ability to operate the business. This could be a transit strike, or weather which makes travel into work a significant challenge.

To ensure that we are as prepared as possible we should have a disaster recovery plan in place. A disaster recovery plan should outline the actions your IT department is required to take in event of a service interruption or outage of any kind, despite the type of disaster. Having a plan in place is a good start but you need to be able to ensure that you can carry the plan out.

This is where the drill takes place. You should regularly exercise your skills in this regard. This will allow your team to see areas where you may need to make other considerations. It will also familiarize your staff with the disaster recovery plan and it procedures

Plan to do both active and passive testing. Active testing (which may be performed annually should simulate the entire disaster from start to end as though it was the real thing. This should include full functional testing of a complete restoration of all critical hardware, network and data. At completion a post disaster review should be completed to go over all the things that went well and areas that still need some work with actionable items. The passive tests should walk through the procedures without the actual restoration part, but you should be validating that the work could be completed even if we do not actually initiate the work of doing it physically.

Like a fire drill, we want to be prepared and ensure that the plan we have in place is something that we can rely on in a real emergency.

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Thursday, 1 October 2015

Navigating Metrics to Improve Service Delivery

I want you to think about all the different types of organizations you worked for. Whether they were Finance, Communications, Energy, Agriculture, or Transport, there was likely one similarity among them. The reporting that was done from an IT perspective did not produce metrics that mattered.
It’s simple, we (as an IT organization) tend to loop endlessly on the metrics as they apply to IT
We must move away from thinking that recovery from failure = value.
Recovery from critical incidents is an important part of what we do in IT, but it is not the one which ultimately defines whether we are doing a good job or not. We should be considering the needs of the business, and not just how long our networks are available or how quickly we answered the phone and fixed a PC.
One of the things I learned early on was that the marketing of the IT metrics was as important as the metrics themselves. In many cases relating them to a particular process was something that was not only confusing for the busines we provide service to, but also that we should be speaking in business language as this all should tie back to a service. IT reporting as it pertains to service management typically talks about KPI’s as they relate to a CSF. The challenge with this in some cases is that it does not relate to a business objective necessarily.
Start to look at it in terms of:
Business Objectives - Understand and document the business objectives of the organization or line of business
CSF’s - Determine which Critical Success Factors (CSF’s) are needed to be successful
KPI’s - Determine Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) based on the Critical Success Factors. Include target levels for these, so success is clearly shown.
Dashboards – Firstly, share them. Have a way to view them in a dashboard or viewable metrics based on the audience. Ensure these dashboards are audience specific. Where it applies ensure they can be used for trending, historical reporting in an operational capacity.
Let’s look at an example:
Let’s talk about a company called Drill-Tech Industries. This small energy services company would like to take its business to the next level but always seems to hit some roadblocks. The CEO has outlined that the goals of the business are “to ensure that rig systems are available as well as ensuring a high degree of safety.”
The first step should be to get some alignment by gathering the right people together from various streams within the appropriate business units. Include a BRM if you have one as well as some key IT stakeholders. in the beginning you might need some practice on getting the 'right' people together.
The next step is to get some clarity on the objectives and goals for the organization. Rather than assuming we know what the business wants, as IT has famously done in the past, gather the right resources together to jointly identify what the business objectives are. Within this new steering committee ensure that you are lining up your initiatives to the goals of the business. Clarity of business objectives can help you in many ways. They should have these characteristics:
  • Must be important to the business
  • There should only be a few critical ones
  • It should represent the results to be obtained
  • It should be visible and unambiguous
The third step is to map out your goals and measures. Having your objectives matched up on a table to CSF and KPI’s might seem overly simplistic, but that is the point.
Make the goals measurable
To quantify the goals, you’ll need to work with your steering committee to determine the Critical Success Factors that will demonstrate the fulfillment of their goals. The best Critical Success Factors (CSF’s) will be: “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.
Once you and the steering committee have agreed on the CSF’s, you’ll be able to develop Key Performance Indicators, or measures that support the CSF. It’s extremely beneficial to develop KPI’s along with targets, so you and your business partners are clear on whether you’re successful in delivering on each of the goals. The best part about this approach is that when IT and the business agree on measures and targets, it’s easy to tell when IT has delivered or when IT is not meeting the needs identified by the business.
Build the dashboards and scorecards
Once the matrix is agreed on and the method of measuring each KPI is defined, documented and agreed on by the steering committee, the final step is to design dashboards and scorecards that represent these KPI’s. These are both graphical views of the Key Performance Indicators listed above, showing the result in comparison to the target.
Benefits of the program
Providing metrics that are responsive to your business’ needs rather than the same old IT metrics they don’t really care about will not only improve the level of performance but also strengthen and build out the relationship between you and the rest of the business. Looking back at the reasons to measure, you can expect the following results:
Live dashboards also provide the ability to determine the activities needed to drive success of an initiative and whether these activities are providing the expected result,
You and your stakeholders are able to use the metrics you provide to validate whether IT’s performance is contributing to the business’ ability to meet their goals and objectives,
IT is able to produce metrics that support a business case for infrastructure or development projects related to the delivery of a service,
Live dashboards provide IT and the Business to know when there is a performance issue and they can intervene immediately to turn the problem around.
This helps an organization move from a purely reactive mode to a more proactive approach that is integrated with the success of the business’ initiatives in mind
Long term Success
As these dashboards and scorecards are used by the business, it’s important to come back to the steering committee to evaluate the results, part of the "wash,rinse, repeat" process. This may lead to creating new KPI’s or tweaking the ways in which they are measured, depending upon the steering committee satisfaction with performance. In the case of the sample organization, it’s possible that the business is not meeting their objectives and may initiate changes to their critical success factors that will drive a need to change the measures. The point here is that you should not build the dashboards and scorecards then forget about them. Rather, you should meet with the steering committee regularly to review the metrics and IT’s achievements. This is a great opportunity to talk about service improvements that the business might need to support their future initiatives as well. Keep in mind that once you are achieving targets reliably you will be proving out your abilities to deliver so you need to continue to raise the bar.
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