Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Don't Paint a Rusty Car

A hammer is only as useful as the person wielding it. I have a friend, who by his own admission would be unable to nail two boards together without hitting his fingers more times than the nail. He understands this and gets help when this is required.

In a similar way, we have applications (tools) which we believe (or are told) may no longer suit our needs. The common misconception here is that the tool is impeding us from improving on service delivery. As a result we go out looking for an application to help us make improvements. The trouble here is that much like the hammer we have not necessarily addressed the question of whether or not we will use a new tool any better.

Don’t paint a rusty car to make improvements. If you think that a new tool is going to magically fix any service delivery woes overnight you may be disappointed. New paint never fixed an engine.
Think about what you are doing today first. Starting with an assessment of what you do today will allow you to not only understand current state but position you to make some further service improvements. This will help you down the line should you still decide to pursue a new application to help facilitate service delivery. In some cases this self-assessment will make it very clear if spending money on a new tool will be even worth your effort.

Your initial assessment should include the following areas for consideration:

Get a sense of the current landscape
Determine the current existing services, processes and infrastructure that make up the area you are looking to cover. Whether you are looking for an IT tool or if it’s HR, take into consideration all the areas that this tool will impact. Part of this investigation may outline that there more (external to your department) stakeholders that once originally considered.

Gaze into the future
Gather an outline of the future state of the environment. Make sure to include not only what is currently required for providing service but also what may be improved in regards to service delivery

Plan of attack
Build out a roadmap to determine how you are going to get where you want to go. At a high level this should include what you are looking to accomplish and when. You should also consider what steps will need to be taken to get you from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. This playbook will also keep you on target as far as meeting your objectives

Having this baseline information will allow you to be positioned to verbalize to potential sponsors the value add of making changes, the risks or impacts associated of not making changes as well as outlining that current processes or activities have reached a point where they can no longer make significant improvements without changing to a new tool.

Follow me on Twitter @ryanrogilvie or connect with me on LinkedIn


Monday, 20 July 2015

Don’t Let the Money Slip Through the Cracks – Software Asset Management

The other day as I was waiting on the train platform I bumped into an IT operations manager who I hadn’t seen for a while. Since I normally saw him in the evening ride home I had assumed he was on holiday.

“Quite the opposite, I’m afraid.” He sighed “We had the good fortune of running through a couple of our major software vendors for compliance.”
“Didn’t go that well?” I joked
“It went ok but we are clearly more disorganized than I thought, well at least that’s over.”
I got the sense that they didn’t have anything formalized in the way of software asset management and that they may not be starting anything soon.
My train arrived and I told him I would catch him later. While on the train I started to think about this a bit more. Here are a few areas to consider as a start.  

Operations
One of the first challenges I having a way to ensure that we are checking what we have on hand from a software license standpoint and installing based on that. Basically we should have the right amount of licenses in stock. If we don’t we should buy ordering some more. When we don’t do that we start to lose visibility on how many people have access to software which have a cost associated to it.
Another slippery slope is when we do not have an understanding on what the software really means. For example all people might ask for the professional version of some level of software when all they need is the standard version. Not getting this right can have some significant costs associated with them.
Aside from the local installations there are also risks with installing on a server. In these cases many people may be able to access the software in question so we should understand what implications that may have on the licensing for that application.
To be truly proficient at managing the software we should not only manage the software itself through the lifecycle but we should also have a good understanding where all the associated documents like contracts and license agreements are stored and who manages them.

People can be challenging
Operational challenges aside, people add another degree of complexity to your ability to manage software assets. There are several avenues of thought on this.
First think about the ability to install locally for the business. For people to be local admins who can install anything on their desktop they may be installing software which may have terms or conditions that they do not understand or have ignored. There may also be security concerns with the software that they are using that again may be not fully understood.
Ensuring that the IT department is looped into these discussions will account for some of these things but we still have an obligation to understand what the business does and work with them strategically to ensure that we are enabling them for success as well as making the best use of the assets we have. For example, do we already have an application that has the functionality that the business seeks at no additional cost?

How do we fix this?
While the first inclination for most is to use a tool (which has its own software implications) you really need to understand the end to end process of what is happening within the lifecycle of your software in the first place. The best way to make improvements; understand how you manage your assets, understand how your business uses the assets, work with the business to improve your relationship to be a better partner.

Follow me on Twitter @ryanrogilvie or connect with me on LinkedIn

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

What if IDLE told you to jump off a cliff?

For those of you who are not fortunate enough to live in Calgary, you may not know that we recently wrapped up the Calgary Stampede. This 10 day event showcases all things 'western' including rodeo events, chuckwagon races and agricultural demonstrations among other things. Because of this festive spirit it also produces a large assortment of vendor and client gatherings across all lines of business which comes with a fair share of BBQ, pulled pork sandwiches and beer.

It was at such an event for a larger IT Service provider that I was networking with a handful of their managers. After explaining that I worked in the service management space, one of the support managers who was dressed in his best denim and checkered garb, began to outline how they had just implemented “IDLE” (his pronunciation).
Not one to shy away from shop talk, or the fact that he ordered another round for the table, he went on to explain that they had encountered some challenges with the communication of what they were trying to do, not only within operations but also with the business. Oddly enough hearing this from an operations person was uniquely refreshing as in years past it was the service management people who would have challenges communicating with the operations teams.
“We have all these IDLE process maps and documents, loads of books but they just don’t seem to get it”, he said as he glanced down into his now finished bottle of beer. He motioned for another round at the table so I decided at the least to ask a few questions.
“What audience are you having the most trouble communicating with?” I asked.
“The business, they just don’t seem to get this IDLE thing at all. I even left one of the books on the desk of one of the business directors, it’s still sitting in the same place in his office."
It was all becoming clear to me. The real issue that the support manager faced wasn’t the framework that they were using to facilitate service delivery but the method in which they communicated with their business (or anyone else) on the intent to provide that service.
“If ‘IDLE’ told you to jump off a cliff would you do it?” I asked with a smirk
“No!” he replied sharply
“Well you need to look at how you are marketing this process improvement. To the business it looks and sounds like you are reciting from a book or jamming something inflexible down their throat when in reality that is the opposite of what you are doing” I outlined.
Frankly whether you leverage one framework or combine a few to achieve your business objectives, you need to think about it in terms of the business objectives. From their perspective they are looking more for ‘what’s in it for them’ rather than what goes into making that a reality. For commuinicating this to the business focus on the output and deliverables rather than the input.
To drive the message home I pointed out that during our conversation we had two cold beers brought to the table with nothing more than a point of a finger. I don’t need to know what framework made that happen.
 
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Thursday, 9 July 2015

Post Mortems - A Learning Experience

I was recently reminded about learning from mistakes when I was watching my son draw a picture of a turtle. As he was making the turtles body he stopped abruptly and had a distinctly irritated scowl on his face. I recognized this as the beginnings of the paper being crumbled and chucked into the bin. I asked him what was wrong and he said that the body was too big. I told that it was ok and he drew a smaller version after turning the original into a flower.

The same can be said when we are reviewing incidents, problems or changes.

The reason we have these most mortems is to identify what effectively caused us to be there in the first place. Whether it is to review the latest major incident or a component of a failed change we need to know what happened and how to prevent it again.

In my opinion, to get the most out of these meetings you need to set a tone that this is a place to learn and make improvements rather than pointing fingers. Having been to a few of these at various organizations and also getting some feedback from others, this is not always the case. The trouble with the latter is that you might not get an honest assessment of what really happened as some details are left to the imagination or are assumed. When this happens, the ability to improve is reduced.

In meeting which have a high level of transparency you are able to gather factual details from several stakeholders on what really happened. The climate for these meetings should be such that the person or people who made a mistake are not only able to learn from it but also educate the rest of the team on what happened.

Aside from transparency, make sure that there is an understanding that these reviews are scheduled soon after the issue has occurred. Everyone is busy, but when we start pushing out the meeting time or have those who can’t make it, you will find that details may get lost in the shuffle. Make this review a high priority activity. Think of it in these terms, if the issue happened again at the same time would you push it out or attend – if you don’t review and make improvements it is likely to repeat.

Keep the meeting simple. You should review the timeline of the issue, including details such as:
  • What happened and at what times,
  • What decisions were made and why
  • Any assumptions that were made
  • Things that were tried and did not work
  • Fixes which were discussed but not tried


In the end, as you wrap the meeting up, quickly review what was discussed including the impact to users, preventative activities, and lessons learned. If there action items ensure that they have a deadline and that this is followed through with the same priority as the meeting itself.

Remember that the issue has happened we just need to identify what to correct, learn from it and turn it into a flower.


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Monday, 6 July 2015

10 Tips to Improve Business Relationships from a Support Perspective


While on a support call recently I had the misfortune of suffering through long hold times, dreary music, and being transferred from person to person with no end in sight. While I waited I had plenty of time to think about what could be done better not just for this experience, but also from my own perspective to improve interactions with my own business.

Listen More, Speak Less
First, start by listening to your business – really listening. Let the business talk and show them that you are listening by capturing not only the concerns but also what is working well so far. We certainly do not want to be in a position where the business needs to repeat information over and over. Find out what they need and build a way to regularly have conversations with them to ensure that you are making progress on all action items you discuss with them.
It should come as no surprise that many shared service providers such as IT and HR have been described as poor listeners. To combat this we want to become better active listeners. A good place to start is to let the business finish their thoughts before we jump to the solutions phase. Always make sure the customer has an opportunity to give you all the information and details before engaging in the situation.

Try Something New
I was once told by an IT person that “they were good with change because they work in IT after all”. While this might be correct in some cases we tend to work within the confines of our roles which are often very process centric. Because of this we find it difficult to step outside this space. Be flexible to looking at new ways to improve service delivery and work with your business. Taking extra steps may require you and your team to step outside the lines but remember failure is OK so long as you learn something from it.

People Focus
When dealing with people, one of the main of focus should be on the, you guessed it, people. Use the name of the person you are speaking with to personalize the experience and build rapport.

Communication and understanding between you and the business is critical for any business relationship to work. Make sure that you are on the same page about your discussions and that nothing is left to interpretation or assumptions.
Just because we say we are good ay multitasking doesn’t necessarily mean we should do more than one thing when we are taking to the business. Make sure you are giving your full attention to people. They can tell when you are pre-occupied and if you’re not fully listening, you may miss out on important details. At the end of the conversation remind your business you are there to help and support them in any way they need.

Knowledge is Power
They say that knowledge is power, who ‘they’ are I am not quite sure but after you capture all the information from your business you should position yourself to keep the information available for others in your team. Have a way to share knowledge and collaborate. Doing this will allow others to reap the benefits of your information gathering with the business as well as providing a more consistent experience for the business with your team should they connect with someone new.
As this capability improves we should be able to have some self-service functionality which your business can leverage, allowing them to quickly get answers to the questions they have as well as allowing your staff to focus on more important matters.
 
Measure What You Do
I have seen reporting done many ways. In some cases too little, while others too much. Having a balance to be able to build a strategy is important so it is important to understand that too little or to much information can impact the value you can extract from what you have collected. Bottom line is to target what is important to your business; just because you can measure something doesn’t mean you should.


Repeatable Performance
A perfect example to see what consistancy looks like is to look at restaurant chains on a global stage. If your were to visit a particular restaurant in Portland Oregon and you would get a similar experience in Osaka Japan. In a world which is always changing people need certain levels of consistency. Especially when service is exceptional, this draws people back over and over again to consume that great customer experience. This also applies to the flipside as well. A consistently bad customer experience is equally important to disect. While it is a negative, as long as we can learn what is consistently bad and make adjustments, this will allow us to make improvements.
Make sure that you deliver on what you promise. We may have some established expectations regarding service delivery, whether formal or implied. Make sure we are setting ourselves up to be able to follow through with these. One of the biggest reasons we fail to deliver on this is because we take on more than we can handle assuming it is what our business wants or needs

Continuous Improvement
Many people will tell you that improving customer service is a process that will really never reach an end. The key is to create a continuous improvement plan; enlist help from outside your team if you need to get another perspective on how to improve the service you provide. The challenge is that when you cant keep the momentum going you may see some improvement  plateaus.  
In an effort to make this journey, get you and your team as prepared as possible. Ensure your team can get training as it pertains to customer service, talk to them about good customer service and what that means as regularly as possible. Share this article with them. Allow them to try new things and support them in those decisions.

Understand your Business
A surprising realization to us as service providers is that we don’t understand the business in which we are supporting day after day. Once you understand the business you can make some adjustments in how you provide service to suit them better. This applies to the hours you are available and the way in in which you interact with them on a regular basis.

As we strive to get better information from the business don’t forget to keep them in the loop on what you are doing as a service provider. They may not need to know intimate details of how you are helping them but informing them that you are getting someone else to help you and that you will call them back in 15 minutes with some information will go a long way to improving that transparency on your service delivery.

All About the Verbiage
It’s not only what you say that counts, but in many cases it’s how you say it that makes the difference. We are all in environments which are governed by a policy of some sort. The policy should not be the limiting factor in addressing customer concerns. If a suitable workaround is not possible then we may need to either escalate or see what is possible. A flat “no” is not the answer. If the customer perceives that you are trying to help, they’ll be less disappointed even if they don’t get exactly what they want.
If you are to ask any actor they will tell you that they prefer to deal with those who are open as compared to closed (yes vs. no). Try to use verbiage like “Could you…” or “May I ask you…? Dialog along these lines will go much farther than the closed “You’ll have to …” or “You can’t …” verbiage. The most important thing to remember when dealing with customers is to focus on what you can do for them not what you can’t. Use phrases like “Here’s what I can do …“ or “Here’s how we can handle this ….” This suggests that as a business partner what we can do together to make this work.

First Impressions
You only get one chance to make a first impression, however you need to constantly work at building relationships after that. Unfortunately not all first impressions are good but this is a marathon rather than a race and we need to continually work to improve this relationship.
It has been said that you can hear a smile through the phone. Having a good level of energy can translate to interactions with your business when you are speaking to them even though they cannot see you.
In some cases following up with your business after the fact will let your business know that they are front of mind. In some cases this will also allow you to find out additional issues which might be present and put you in a good place to get in front of this issue before it gets worse and allows you to be more of a business partner as you work together to address these concerns.
Manners are important, don’t forget to take the time to say thank you. Let the customer know that they are appreciated. Thank them for contacting you, if something is not working as it should also thank them for letting you know. This will go a long way for customer satisfaction.


These are a few of the many small things that you can do to improve not only service delivery but also the relationships you have with your business


Follow me on Twitter @ryanrogilvie or connect with me on LinkedIn