Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Using Agile Tenets to Address IT Operations Challenges

In previous posts, I outlined high-level ideas about how the tenets of the Agile Manifesto map to IT operation, including: 

Today I will offer a specific example of how a common IT operations challenge can be addressed using an Agile mindset in general, and the first and third of those Agile concepts specifically.

Circumventing the process
“If I need something from IT, I never submit a ticket. It will just go into a black hole. I go to John’s desk and get him to help me.”

Sound familiar? Circumventing the process in IT is more common than following the established procedure in many organizations. Does your IT operations department suffer from non-standard request vectors?

Rather than getting frustrated and locking down how your customers are permitted approach your IT operations department for help, turn these non-standard approaches into inputs to help you understand your customers’ behavior.  Use objective measures (metrics) and subjective measures (retrospectives) to find solutions that will drive the kind of behavior you would like to see in your customers.

Determine the goal
Start with the goal. What behavior you would like to see in your customers? How would that behavior support the needs of your IT operations team?

Once you know what you’re trying to create, gather the information you need about your customers’ behavior so you can see the gap between current behavior and the goal.

Get metrics
Start with objective measures. As a team, decide how to record the different ways work is requested from your team. Once you have recorded the data for a reasonable length of time, you can dig into it for details and trends. For example:
  • Who are your customers?
  • How are they contacting your team?
  • What work is being requested?
  • How consistent are the data points you’re collecting?
  • Where are they trending?

Subjective measures
To find out why your customers are behaving in a different way from what would best support your team, invite your customers to a retrospective. Their input during the retrospective can outline the “feeling” responses that can’t always be derived from objective measures.

For example, during a recent retrospective, the IT operations team discovered that several internal customers chose to ask for help face-to-face rather than through email (that operations group’s preferred communication channel) because the auto-response email was phrased in a way that made these customers unhappy. This isn’t a piece of information that could have been easily derived by examining metrics.

As a result of this finding, the team rephrased the auto-response email, communicated this change with their customers, and increased the percentage of contacts made through email rather than in person.

Find solutions
This brings us to finding solutions with your team. After you have gathered objective and subjective information about how your customers contact your IT operations team, work as a group to determine what you can change that will affect your customers’ behavior.

Although teams usually identify “document the process” and “train our customers” as the first two solutions they want to try, those are often the least useful responses. Instead, look for solutions that are specific to your customers’ needs and your team’s situation. The friendlier auto-response email is a case in point. Something as small and simple as rephrasing an email can prove to be more effective than time- and resource-consuming training sessions.

Agile concepts help IT operations teams remove the “us vs. them” attitudes that put up walls between the team and its customers. When your team is wrestling with specific issues, start by reviewing the 4 Agile tenets. Leverage those ideas to create solutions.

Jen Stone Browne

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