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Sunday, 28 June 2020 14:34

What the Three Amigos teach us about service delivery

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I've run internal IT teams, hired outsourcing companies, and consulted to others. With years of experience under my belt I’ve formed the view there are three traits - three values if you will - I believe are essential for excellence in service delivery. Here are the Three Amigos to help bring them to life.

Whether IT is internal or outsourced, any company wants four things: business value - after all, why do anything if it doesn’t actually have a business benefit; seamless and frictionless IT that keeps the business running with a minimum of disruption; expert advice on the technology roadmap; and the perennial triangle of tension: good, fast, cheap.

For the latter we may well say "pick two", but for the first three - business value, frictionless IT, expert advice - I believe there are three characteristics that lead to success, and which I look for in potential staff and potential outsourcing partners.

These are not in themselves technical; it goes without saying your people need to be technically competent. However, technical competency in itself is not enough. There has to be an innate drive to quality results, and over years of observation and experience, I have determined these are the three values I look for.

Here are the three values, and with the Three Amigos to help demonstrate. If you haven't seen the Three Amigos, not to worry; A Bug's Life and Galaxy Quest follow the same trope, but all three are brilliant films in their own ways.

Vigilance

Vigilance is being alert and aware of what's happening around you. Here the Three Amigos demonstrate the exact opposite.

I also see vigilance as being attuned to what is going to happen. Often times when something goes wrong and we perform a root cause analysis it comes to light there was evidence or signs that pointed to a predictable problem.

Here's an example from 10 years ago, which I have never forgotten. Our systems administrator was on leave and some work was needed on a server. I logged in to do it, but saw Backup Exec alerting backups had failed. That was pretty serious, so I looked into that issue and resolved it. I saw it had been failing for some time and was disturbed by this. How could it have happened and the systems administrator not known? If we didn’t have notifications enabled then this was a big oversight. Yet, notifications were turned on, and Backup Exec’s logs showed it had been sending them reliably advising of failure for all this time. I looked in the systems administrator’s mailbox and sure enough, he had all the failure messages, all unread, and all sitting in a folder where they had been duly placed by an Outlook rule. He was getting the messages but was ignoring them. The fact the failure happened once was not necessarily a problem, but the fact it kept happening most certainly was because the information was available.

At another business, the company used Apple's TestFlight beta testing platform to distribute an internal iPhone application. This wasn’t the way Apple intended TestFlight to be used but it worked for them. Until it didn’t. One day nobody could use the app and it turned out TestFlight no longer allowed perpetual beta tests. The software developers scrambled to make a new solution. While investigating I heard the comment “Oh, we had an email about this” and sure enough, Apple had given notice and warning on multiple occasions this change was coming. Yet, nobody receiving this email sufficiently thought about it and what it meant and if something had to be done differently before it became an outage.

Similarly, if you look to your own experience I am certain we will all find instances of problems where somebody said something to us in the corridor, or a log file contained a hint, or a server or application behaved in an odd way, and if we put all this together in our heads we would have realised a particular item was heading towards a serious problem … a problem that could have been prevented before it became a problem.

This is what I mean by vigilance; taking in information and digesting it and analysing it and pondering it and aggregating it and understanding what it all means.

Diligence

Diligence means doing a good job. Here are the Three Amigos again to show us, well, not doing a good job, and the effect that has.

For me, diligence is delivering a quality service that meets the business needs, and understanding the ramifications of any potential change and who or what may be affected and how.

Once, an outsourced provider supplied a new laptop for a staff member. The technician performed a series of manual preparation tasks on the laptop but when he delivered it to the staff member she saw he had missed things. He returned to our office and performed more work, but again, she found he had missed things. I spoke with our account manager for the outsourced provider and suggested gently they might like to construct a checklist to follow for things like this. The response was, “we do - he just didn’t follow it.”

I've also seen it over and over where something is not working so the technician decides to change this file share permission or that service account password, or rename this folder, or shut down an EC2 server overnight to save costs, only to find something else has broken because it relied on this item but for whatever reason - lack of documentation, lack of understanding, lack of a change management process, lack of collaboration, or something else - it wasn’t thought of, the change was made, and now we have a new problem.

Diligence means good old fashioned hard work. It also means more than this; for me, diligence is knowing you’re not about to break something when you make a change.

Integrity

Integrity is being a person of your word and having others be confident in what you say. Yet again, the Three Amigos show us the opposite side.

By integrity, I mean I will do what I say I will do. I truly believe it's important in business and life, in general, to be viewed as someone who keeps their word, who is reliable, who is trustworthy. If you do not have integrity - if people don't believe you when you make a commitment - then it is to your personal loss of credibility and as a leader.

Of course, problems happen. Even the sincerest commitment may be unachievable due to interruptions, faults outside our control, new priorities, or any other valid reasons. In these cases, integrity is preserved by communicating at the earliest time that the commitment cannot be met in the timeframe stated, and the reason explained, ideally, with a revised estimate.

I find most everyone is accomodating and understanding when communication occurs. That includes me too when my own team members tell me they've hit a problem or a revised priority impacts a commitment. Just let me know.

What I cannot abide is when a committed timeframe is missed and there is simply no communication.

A recent example: a new regional manager was starting. His laptop was ordered, and his start date and office location provided. We confirmed the laptop would be waiting for him at his desk on his starting day. "Yes," we were told. Yet, the day he arrived there was no laptop. We phoned the supplier, who explained they had some difficulties and it would now arrive Wednesday, two days later. The inevitable question I asked was "when did you know?"

Integrity - and related communication - is a big-ticket item for me. I want to be known as someone who can be trusted, someone who the business knows it can trust, that if I say I will do something then everyone can relax because they confidently know, based on demonstrated past performance, this will be done.

Similarly, when a team member tells me it will be done, or I assign a task by a certain date and ask to let me know if it is not achievable, I expect this to be fulfilled, as stated, by the specified date. I should not have to think about it again. I most definitely should not have to follow it up and question regularly how it is proceeding. In fact, that can be a measure of how others view you as a person of integrity - do you find others repeatedly asking you how something is proceeding? Or do they just leave you alone with it?

I even go so far as to link punctuality with integrity. Those who are habitually late for meetings are elevating their own tardiness above others. They are drawing out the disruptive time a meeting takes, they are extending the costs of the meeting.- effectively the salaries of those present for the duration of the meeting. They are implicitly saying they are not organised and do not have a sense of priority.

Responding positively to a calendar invitation is essentially a commitment, and again, it's a matter of integrity to stand by your word, to do as you say you will.

It is your responsibility to know what your calendar holds each day and to be conscious of time and where you are to be and when. It is unreasonable, and unfair to the meeting convenor and your colleagues to sit and say "let me know when it starts," or to wait until the meeting time to go prepare a hot drink. You be in that meeting location at that starting time, prepared and ready - or, in my view, you're not a person of integrity.

Harsh? Maybe, but at least I hold myself to the same standard I expect of others. This standard is simple. Do what you say you will do. Live by your word. Honour your commitments, whatever they may be. OR, communicate at the earliest possible time when you know you cannot fulfil that commitment.

Values

These are the three values I hold. You might disagree, and that’s fine. What's important is not so much that you have this specific value or that specific value, but that you have values. You know what is important to you, and you should make your own list of values that will frame your conduct and speech, and which you will inspire and promote in others as well as live by them yourself.

However, values are not simply something you say you have, or even just decide to have. They must be demonstrated. Your values should be manifested by your actions and conduct.

A good example might be professionalism; there is no shortage of organisations proclaiming its professionalism on its web site, in its foyer, and in its company induction. Professionalism is important but it can't be simply a word. We're not "professional" by saying we are, or simply wanting to be, no more than we can proclaim ourselves to be a hamburger.

Instead, we might believe a professional thinks calmly and decides carefully before taking an action, moved by rationality and facts rather than the heat of passion or by listening to the last person who put forth their opinion. If that's what we believe, and that's a value we say is important to us, then it is essential this is the way we always strive to act.

Humans are fallible, and circumstances arise, but for the most part, we have to adhere to the ideals we hold or they are not values, they are rhetoric.


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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