Category Archives: News & Views

Test Your Knowledge of Black History

In honor of Black History month my dear pastor friend in Chicago posted a short quiz in the church Bulletin last weekend.   I decided to post some of the questions here…  It is inspiring to learn the amazing things that Black Americans have done to make this country great. Test your knowledge of Black History in the U.S.

Black History Quiz

Black History Quiz

 

 

A Legacy of Love and Justice

When I think of the heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from our past who have paid so much for the freedoms that we take for granted, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Why is Martin Luther King Jr. such a hero to me?

 

I can tell you that it is not because he walked on water, because he didn’t.
I can tell you that it is not because he was a savior, because he wasn’t.
I can tell you the it is not because he was perfect, because he wasn’t.

Martin Luther King Jr. is a hero of mine precisely because he was merely human. A mere human who from the basement office of a humble church started a revolution. A mere human who let nothing stand in his path of faithfulness for the cause of justice and for a dream of equality and reconciliation.

Dr. King is a hero of mine not just because he died for a dream that was bigger than all of us. The life he lived is also a symbol to me of the lives of so many others from his generation who paid in blood for many freedoms we take for granted.

Yes, we have such a long way to go. Perhaps it will take generations for us to realize how absolutely foolish and pathetic it is for us to allow something like melanin and money to incite such injustice and division that continues to scar the legacy of humanity.

Today I pray that we don’t pause to grieve about the distance we have yet to travel for the cause of justice and righteous. The road to justice will be there tomorrow. Today, just for a moment, I pray that we pause to thank God for the distance we have traveled, and for the faithful souls who, like Martin Luther King Jr., paid for the freedoms we do have, in blood.

To all my elder brothers and sisters who gave the best days of your lives for the cause of freedom and equality of all human beings regardless of nationality or color of skin, we thank you. To think, it was only one generation ago that you paid so much.  Yes, we have a long way to go, but I hope we can all acknowledge that your sacrifice was not in vain. I pray that my generation can be faithful enough to honor your legacy of love and justice by carrying the dream forward to our children.

I.T. vs Users – Part 2
(Value & Trust vs. Scope & Process)

Yesterday I wrote a description of I.T. from one perspective and a description of computer technology users from another. Today I started writing a list of practical disciplines for end users and technology pros to hopefully gain a better understanding of each other. As I started crafting the list I quickly realized that there is way too much information about these disciplines to cram into one post. Therefore, I have decided to explore these disciplines in several posts over the next few weeks. For today, I am simply going to explore the differences between Value and Trust versus Scope and Process. I will then provide some disciplines that computer users and I.T. pros can use to better understand each other and avoid unnecessary drama when it comes to leveraging technology to help organizations move forward.

The Discipline of Choosing Value and Trust over Scope and Process.

As I have written before,  I acknowledge that there will always be a healthy tension that exists in the process of leveraging technology to solve problems and help people. Computer technology users don’t always know what they want. Technology often fails to meet our expectations and technology professionals aren’t always effective at adding value. I believe that practicing the discipline of choosing value and trust over scope and process is a key discipline that can help technology professionals improve customer satisfaction without losing their own minds. Description This discipline comes right out of the Agile Manifesto. Many technology pros have been trained to approach the process of providing technology solutions using predictive methodologies. These methodologies typically place scope as the highest priority of an initiative or project. As an alternative to predictive methodologies,  I would agree with Agile principles which state that defining value is more beneficial than defining scope when it comes to leveraging technology to solve problems and help people. Therefore, the number one question the technology pro should always ask themselves throughout any process of designing, planning, transitioning, maintaining and/or improving any given technology solution is, How can I add value and build trust? Sure, it is necessary to have clear definitions of scope and process.  Appropriately developed Statements of Work and/or Product Backlogs are just part of doing business in technology. However, defined processes and specifications should serve to move organizations forward. They should serve to add clarity and promote excellence. Too often the opposite occurs. Too often technologists push so hard for definitions that they lose sight of adding value. Too often they end up fighting so hard to keep the scope of a technical project in check that they miss the mark completely and trust is broken.

A Note To Technology Professionals

The technology pro must remember that the customer/end user could not care less about Scope. They don’t care about “best practices” or any other project management buzzword floating around out there. All they care about is figuring out how the technology solution you are proposing will add value to their lives. All they care about is finding solutions they can trust to help them accomplish what they perceive they need to get done when they perceive they need to get it done. They may have defined something 3 months ago during a discovery or analysis process. Now that they see the solution in front of them they realize that they defined Y, but they really need X. They are not trying to drive anyone crazy. They were just not as clear as they thought they were on the appropriate solution to their technology needs. There are numerous empirical models for helping Technology professionals manage these kinds of changes flexibly and effectively, (e.g. Lean Six Sigma, ITILv3, Agile Project Management). If you are a technology professional, I do recommend that you look at these methodologies in greater detail. However, for the purposes of this post, elevating the disciplines of value and trust to the forefront of all technology initiatives is a good place for the technology professional to start.

A Note To End Users

As technologists push toward adding value to the people they serve and as they strive toward building trust with the people they serve, end users would do well to take some steps toward engaging in scope and process development. I submit that Value and Trust are more important than scope and process. However, a basic understanding of technical tactics as they relate to scope and process can help you as the end user ensure that you will gain value and trust from the technical solution you are paying for. For instance, lets say that a technical lead for a given project decides to employ an Agile method for software development like Agile Scrum to implement a software solution. The selected method is well known for being value driven and flexible to end user needs. However, the process still requires involvement and discipline to gain an optimum return on investment. Therefore, the technical lead  decides to hold a couple training classes in order to bring everyone up to speed on the methods that will be employed to deliver the solution. In this case the end user would do well to engage in the classes and learn how the process works. Flexibility and value driven problem solving should not be void of discipline and good management practices. Learning how some of these practices work and accepting them as catalysts balanced by appropriate controls can add value. Additionally, I have gone to end users and asked them to prioritize various tasks and/or features according to the value those tasks and/or features offer. In some situations the user answered with the statement, “I need them all.” I can’t think of one time when I have come across a situation where all of the individual feature requests of an I.T. service or solution needed to be fulfilled in one shot in order to add value.

Practicing the Discipline of Value and Trust

A Tip for Technology Professionals

I have found the following question helpful in developing the discipline of Value and Trust. How is this ________________ adding value and trust for my customer? I find that applying this question to meetings, tasks, documents, etc. on a daily/hourly basis to be very helpful in keeping value and trust at the forefront of technology projects. For example, we have all been in those meetings where blood pressure rises over misunderstood specifications. We have all been in those meetings where tempers flair because both technology and business divisions can’t agree on the tactics for improving a process. Problems are never solved through ongoing organizational stalemates and impasses. I find that asking questions like, “Help me understand the value you are trying achieve through this process?” can be very helpful in working through impasses toward a mutually agreeable compromise. Perhaps it is necessary to re-evaluate our priorities on a given project. I find in most cases, when the end user has had a chance to step away from the minute details of a proposed solution and reiterate the value they are trying to achieve through the solution they are requesting, the important details related to scope of their request fall into place. Another example Another application for the “How is this ________ adding value?” question is in meeting planning. Most of us are trained to have agenda meetings in order to ensure that the meetings make good use of our valuable time. I would say that before even an agenda is planned, that the meeting planner is crystal clear on the value that the meeting will add to the objectives of the project, organization, etc. For example, Agile Scrum defines daily 15 minute stand-up meetings with a standing agenda: What did you do yesterday?, What did you do today? What are your current blocks? The agenda for the meeting is not very exciting. However, the predictable 15 minute time-box discipline, the opportunity to check progress, and the opportunity to articulate blocks in progress provide a tremendous amount of value in terms of communication and productivity.

A Tip For End Users

As an end user you too can also think in terms of value when you are participating in  technology projects and solutions. Let’s use Microsoft Word as an example. There are easily over 1200 features in MS Word from Spell Check to Word Art. At any given time you might use a fraction of those features to gain value for your organization. If we bog down technology solution providers with engineering a solution to every possible solution we can think of at the time, we risk losing sight of the value we are trying to add through the solution.  Like the old cliche goes, “Every time we say yes to one thing, we say no to another.” In this case, I am not even talking about an organization’s inability to say no when they need to say no. In this case, I am talking about all hollow yes’s and half baked deliverables that get passed off as solutions all because end users and I.T. providers don’t take the time to work out, prioritize and focus on solutions that are most valuable to the organization. For instance, here is a good example of well formed user story as it relates to a church operational function: As a family life pastor I need to have an accurate email list of family members so that I can send family life news to people on a monthly basis who are not deceased.  Why is this user story such a good example? 1. It defines the role of the primary user who is looking to gain value from the solution. 2. It defines a clear description of the primary value of the list…”to email living recipients.” 3. It defines the primary value of the “data quality” of the list. Data quality is a very broad topic  when comes to information technology. It is the kind of topic that can expand quickly into an exhaustive list of requirements that is so long, the original requested value never gets fulfilled. Thus, we end up having perfectly standardized  and geocoded mailing addresses, but we are still sending email to dead people.

Conclusion

Whether you are an End User or you are an I.T. Professional, your common ground is Value and Trust. When it is all said and done, everything we do in Information Technology is about people. The challenge of working with people is messy. Often we try to escape the untidy effort of working through difficult solutions with people by implementing over-engineered processes. Practicing disciplines that continuously clarify value and reinforce trust ultimately helps keep our focus where it belongs…on helping people.

Epilogue – (Where does Trust fit in to all of this?)

Come to think of it, I did not elaborate on trust very much in this post. The reality is that trust is at the center of value. It is impossible to add value if there is no trust in the solution, the people who deliver the solution or the people who use the solution. In terms of I.T. services, trust is built on consistent patterns of adding value to an organization. Value and Trust are both topics that have enough depth to stand on their own. I chose to couple Value and Trust in this post because I have observed how closely linked the two topics are when it comes to successful I.T. service delivery.

I.T. vs Users – Part 1
(…it doesn’t have to be this way)

In this corner…The I.T. Pro…

When I start to talk about using Information Technology “best practices” for churches and non-profits, professionals who work in such organizations day-to-day shutter. Let’s face it, I.T. has  a bit of a reputation for applying a heavy draconian hand when it comes to setting I.T. policies and standards. In many cases there exists an ongoing war between I.T. staff and the rest of the general user population. I.T. pros love to polk fun at end users with jokes like:


Phone Support Tech: “Will you please hold a moment sir, I believe you are experiencing an I. D. 10 T. Error.

User: Oh no… an I-D-1-0-T error sounds serious.

Phone Support Tech: It is very serious.  However, hopefully the error you are experiencing is not caused by a PEBKAC. If we do discover that your I-D-10-T error has been cause by a PEBKAC, I am afraid that we will not be able to help you.


Yes, I.T. techs can be obnoxious and condescending. But lets not be too hard on them. Most of the I.T. professionals I have worked with over the years, even the pompous scary smart geniuses I have worked with, have good intentions about helping people. Most of them kill themselves on a daily basis to add value. Most of them start out strong with a vision to “use their powers” for good…and they do a great deal of good. After a while, though, they realize that users are never satisfied, technology is never good enough, customers rarely listen to their recommendations,  and they rarely ever get to cross a finish line where they feel like they actually accomplished something significant. In many situations, I.T. pros build a kind of a savior complex around them. They become addicted to the feelings they get when they can swoop in and save the day. Some I.T. pros even go as far as to get a serious martyr complex. They feel like they beat their head against a wall of futility every day and no one ever notices their efforts. After a while I.T. pros who live in this trench long enough lose their proactive edge. They start to build defensive walls around them. All of their decisions and responses become polluted by cynicism, exhaustion and, I dear say, even fear. How do I know this? I have been there. Everything I have written above describes me at some point in my technology career.

And in this corner…The end user…

End Users and/or technology consumers are not blameless either. They have their own jokes about I.T. Pros. The old Nick Burns Computer Guy character from Saturday Night Live is a good portrayal of how obnoxious I.T. pros can be. The truth about technology consumers is that they can be clueless, demanding, ungrateful and self centered. They are also human after all.

Let’s face it, we live in an on-demand world where comfort is king and technology is increasingly becoming democratized and ubiquitous. The mobilization of technology coupled with the “pay as you go” mobile plan has opened access to more people from wider socio-economic backgrounds than ever. I have worked with people around the world who by all standards live in poverty but they still have a mobile phone and a Facebook account.

It has gotten to the point where access to technology is required for everything from healthcare to high school to household management. I hesitate to label the future of computer technology as mobile or stationary, global or microscopic. I have come to simply describe it as inescapable. The reality is that we have become reliant on technology for everyday life.

Just yesterday, a dear friend who runs an outreach ministry in Memphis called me asking for help restoring his network. Without his internet connection he lost access to key government websites that require time sensitive responses. He lost access to other professional services that he relies on to run the community development portion of his ministry. He lost access to the educational resources he uses to support his reading program. He even lost access to the cloud based services that he uses to help write his sermons. I know, one could make an argument that he shouldn’t rely so heavily on technology to run his ministry. The fact is, his ministry doesn’t have access to a great deal of financial resources. The simple network that connects him to the internet gives him access to countless resources that would cost him thousands of dollars to bring in house. Dollars that can now be used to provide more tangible resources to the neighborhood like affordable housing, food, education, mentoring and discipleship.

Why do I mention this example? As technologists working in today’s technology driven world we need to keep in mind that users don’t call us because they have a personal agenda to drive us crazy. They call us because they genuinely need our help.

Yes, it is true people can be selfish and demanding. However, it is also true that people have good intentions to help others and to do meaningful things with their lives. As technologists we need to keep in mind that by the time a computer user calls us for help, they have already tried to work through or around the problem themselves.   The fact that they are coming to us for help means that their forward motion has been blocked enough to where they have nowhere else to turn. This can often bring out the worst behavior in an individual. We don’t have to relegate ourselves to the role of doormat or punching bag. However, even in the face of intense user drama we must discipline ourselves to believe the best in people who call on us to solve problems.

Before the fight bell rings…

There you have it…a description of I.T. in one corner and a description of computer technology users in the other. That’s all the time I have for writing today. However, in my next post, I will offer some practical tips for end users and technology pros to hopefully gain a better understanding of each other. I acknowledge that there will always be a healthy tension that exists in the process of leveraging technology to solve problems and help people. Computer technology users don’t always know what they want. Technology often fails to meet our expectations and technology professionals aren’t always effective at adding value.  Perhaps these tips will help organizations avoid unnecessary drama and tension.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Will We Think of Her As One Body?

I was thinking recently about all the challenges that churches face when it comes to growth and organization.  I must confess that I really grieve inside at the tensions in place today. It is one of those situations where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. We need all churches with all of our different nuances to serve with mutual respect and support for the sake of the gospel. However, to this date, we still seem to believe that our individual expressions of the body of Christ are superior.

Gut Check:

  • Isn’t God’s mission for the church to promote Godly justice?
  • Isn’t God’s mission for the church to make disciples?
  • Isn’t God’s mission for the church to reach the “unchurched”?

Sometimes I wonder if churches get so caught up in creating their own conferences, curriculum and intellectual property that they lose sight of God’s primary purpose for their existence.

I know…this all sounds so harsh. After all, who am I to speak so critically about the church. Actually, I love the church. Since I am no less of a fool and an idiot when it comes to life than anyone else, I will not claim to love the church more than anyone else. However, after over 25 years of ministry life, a person can’t help but notice a few things. Things that frankly drive me a little crazy.

  • Why is it wrong to be a big church?
  • Why is it wrong to be a small church?
  • Why is it wrong to prioritize on discipleship?
  • Why is it wrong to emphasize evangelism?
  • Why is it better to have a campus large or small?
  • Why is it better not to have a campus?
  • Why is it better not to have less programs?
  • Why is it better to have more programs?

Do we really understand that the church is God’s plan to share the love and justice of Christ with this world. Do we really understand that he doesn’t have a plan B. This is the point isn’t it? It’s all about God and if its all about God, it is all about Christ. If it is all about Christ then really everything else: ethnicity, social status even culture itself is irrelevant and meaningless.

I know, many make the case that the church can and must interact relevantly with the culture the day for the sake of clarity and understanding.

However, rather than argue a point for my own benefit let me ask some more questions:

  • Will our desire for  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control, ever be irrelevant?
  • Will the amazing concept that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus ever be irrelevant?
  • Have people living in darkness stopped yearning for light?
  • Is it suddenly irrelevant to reach out to those living in the land of the shadow of death with the light and love of Christ?
  • Has it become meaningless to let our light shine before men, that they may see our good works and praise our Father in heaven?
  • Have we suddenly run out of “the least of these” to love and to draw near to Christ?

God loves his creation, God paid a great price of justice to be united with his creation. Unfortunately not all will accept God’s way. Make no mistake, the hope of our world is God’s way. God’s way is Christ and Christ’s way is the church.

We will bring about no reconciliation, unity or lasting peace without Christ. As long as the earth exists, sin will not be far behind.  As long as sin exists, the work of Christ is relevant. As long as the work of Christ is relevant, the faithfulness of his church to his great commission is critical.

With this this in mind, I believe that there is freedom in Christ’s great commission to baptize and make disciples. I believe that there are many manifestations of Christ’s bride, the church, on earth. As long as they are centered on Christ and God’s word, I love them all. Really! Worship dancers in a neighborhood African American church,  a group of people singing hymns to God in a nursing home chapel, a mega-church Christmas service that introduced Christ to someone who would never come to church or listen to the gospel, a Baptist Church Sunday School. She is flawed but she is beautiful. She has a complicated personality but she has sound mind. She is passionate but her heart is pure. Many have tried to divide her into pieces but she remains whole. I just love the church.

Why? Because God created her. When she is healthy she is the picture of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control. Who can argue with that. She is the ambassador of Christ who has can bring together people from all creeds, colors and cultures. There is no injustice that is beyond her reach and there is no darkness that she cannot illuminate.

When will we think of her as one body?

Furthermore, let’s bring this home a little more…

  • If your are a prominent church leader and God called you to serve in obscurity for the sake of unity of the church and effectiveness of her mission, could you do it?
  • If you are a talented and knowledgable Bible teacher who is experienced at teaching millions and God call you to teach 6 people for the rest of your life, could you do it?
  • If you are a faithful church member and you are used to popular worship music but God called you to a church in the city that sings nothing but old Gospel music, could you go?

If God called you to learn another language and worship in that language for the sake of the Gospel could you do it?

Don’t answer these questions too quickly.

Further Reading

Galatians 3:28

Matthew 4:12-17

Matthew 25:31-41

Matthew 5:15-17

Galatians 5:22

 

Matthew 28:19-20

 

Lessons I learned from Dr. John Perkins Part 3 (Whole Gospel)

This post is devoted to my dear brothers and sisters in Christ who are living out Matthew 28:18-20. Today I am particularly mindful of Rev Mike Neal and his bride Dee of Glorious Light Church in Chicago Illinois. I am also mindful of Reverend Reggie Tucker and his bride Mary of Orange Mound Outreach Ministry, in Memphis, TN.  You are living stones that are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Be encouraged, the world, seeing your faithfulness will have no choice but to give glory to God. The way that you share the love of Christ is too powerful to be ignored. You are excellent examples of the kind of people who seek to bring about Godly Justice through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also dedicate this to the saints at Glorious Light Church and Orange Mound Outreach ministry. Your royal priesthood is not in vain.

Radical Devotion to the whole Gospel

I have experienced two different extremes in the current church world when it comes to loving God and loving our neighbors by bringing about Godly justice on earth. On one extreme I know pastors who teach God’s word and preach discipleship. Their job is not to clean up neighborhoods or get involved in politics or social work. Their purpose is to teach God’s word and equip saints. Before I continue, please don’t detect anything negative in my description of this extreme. Their purpose is not necessarily the problem, however, more about that later, I am getting ahead of myself here, lets continue with the other extreme. For now let’s just say that the fulltime task of radically devoting yourself to equipping saints so that they are prepared to equip other saints is an awesome thing to do.  Now lets get to the other extreme.

On the other extreme you have pastors who devote their lives to justice. They see that primary role as to be Jesus with skin on. They may not even feel the need to teach God’s word at all. Their gospel is social, yet personal…real…gritty… “hands-on.” They believe that God’s word will be revealed through their devotion to let the light of Christ shine. Their heart breaks for the lost. They judge no-one and accept everyone because they remember that they were once lost fools themselves. They aren’t afraid to get involved in politics, healthcare, education or any other social institution plagued by injustice.

In response the these extreme view points on God’s great commandment to love him with all our hearts and to love others as we love our selves, some people believe that the response to these extremes is moderation. There in lies the problem. There is no “balanced” or “moderate” approach to loving God and People.

I learned from Dr. Perkins that faithfulness to the whole gospel requires radical devotion to both extremes. Radical devotion to God’s word means that we love God with all of our being. Radical devotion to God means that we don’t stop at believing that His is a just a devotional book. Radical devotion to God believes that his word is a “play book” for our lives, that we are not just to believe His word, but that we are also to do his word as well. Therefore, we can’t have radical devotion to loving God without radical devotion to loving others.

This flies in the face of the latte centered consumer driven world we live in today where we have replaced the pursuit of truth with the pursuit of comfort. The reality is that the world has always pursued comfort at the cost of truth. Let’s just say that the church cannot afford to do this. Every believer in Christ needs to know that their full devotion to pursuing the righteousness and holiness of God must be match by their pursuit of the compassion and justice of God. These two concepts are as one with God. He did not save us so that we get to fulfill our own passions on earth. He saved us so that we could share in His passions on earth and throughout eternity. Full devotion to God is not something he wants from us, as if we could ever pay him back for his blessings he has poured on our lives through Christ. Full devotion is what he wants for us.

Dr. Perkins lives out this kind of full devotion to Christ. He is unapologetic in his declaration that Jesus is Lord and that all scripture is God breathed. He is also unwavering in his radical devotion to seeing God’s love and justice lived out on earth as it is in heaven.

What if every believer lived this way?…

 

Organizing I.T. Service Desk Requests

I just wrote a post about IT Team Basics where I highlight the I.T. Service Desk in an illustration and that got me to thinking about all the challenges non-profits face when it comes to organizing service desk requests.

Here’s the scenario. You are a growing non-profit organization and you find that your growing demand on technology to achieve organizational goals is resulting in an overwhelming number of requests for technology services and support. You downloaded and installed Spiceworks or purchased another helpdesk management system, but you still don’t know where to begin. Most people make one of two mistakes:

1. They overcomplicate the process by trying to track too much to fast and they gain little organizational or productivity value for their efforts.

2. They do nothing or wait too long to do anything. This results in a loss of productivity and organizational trust.

This post offers a couple tips to help growing organizations begin to organize their service requests and enhance their ability to provide excellent I.T. service.

TIP 1 – Be mindful that the true strategic value of Service Desk Categorization is to Senior Strategic Management.

Before I dig into this recommendation, I feel the need to confess a little secret. Engineers and Technicians don’t like doing paper work. At least I have not met a hands on practitioner who likes working with helpdesk/service desk systems. Most technologists have an overwhelming amount of work to do. The service desk/helpdesk system is just a futile reminder to them of everything they won’t get done that day. With this in mind, It is critical to be mindful of the supreme value that is provided by service desk systems. Sure these systems offer knowledge-base benefits and they are necessary for continuous improvement and operational continuity. However, the highest value of a service request management system is to senior management. I.T. can be a tremendous catalyst, but it can also present great risk to an organization. Understanding the nature of service requests, and technical incidents can be extremely helpful to corporate leaders as they strive to manage costs and maximize productivity. Back in the day, if someone lost access to a computer it didn’t necessarily impact their productivity. Today in the post knowledge worker, connected, mobile world we live in, losing access to technology for a day often means a loss of most of our productivity for a day. I am not saying that this is right. I am just making an observation. Furthermore, technology is expensive, understanding the nature of requests and incidents can help senior management align and focus resources.

In addition to helping senior business managers make strategic decisions about technology spending, Accurate service desk statistics can also help I.T. executives gain needed resources. Nothing cuts through the drama of overwhelming I.T. demand better than objective facts and data.

TIP 2 – Start Simple, Keep it Simple

Don’t go crazy trying to come up with an exhaustive list of categories to track service requests up front. If you have a list no problem, just remember the more complex your service ticket taxonomy is, the harder time you are going to have getting I.T. staff to remember and enter accurate information. The shorter, more concise the list is the better. A shorter, concise list of categories is easier to manage and more useful for reports. I believe that the rest of the metadata information required to organize service desk data can be provided through leveraging tag methodologies and modern search engine technology. In short, categories should be tied directly to structured reports that help you make strategic decisions about technology in your organization. So, if you don’t already have a short list, I recommend starting with only two service desk item categories: Service Requests, and Incidents.

Any seasoned I.T. manager will know that more categories will eventually be required in order to produce useful reports. Nevertheless, many I.T. shops get so caught up in the process of categorization that they miss the value of even these simplest categories and critical information like incident and service demand trends get missed. It is after you start tracking these high level trends that useful questions about these trends start to take shape (e.g. Why are incidents going up or down, What is causing increases or decreases in Service Requests.).

Another reason why I like starting specifically with the two categories of Service Requests and Incidents is because there are standardized, objective definitions of these categories that are widely accepted in the I.T. management industry.

TIP 3 – Be Consistent.

If is easier to be consistent in your I.T. service desk records if you keep your categories simple and concise. However, whatever taxonomy you decide to implement needs to be managed and applied consistently. This means that everyone on the I.T. team really needs to buy in to the the process. One tactic that has helped me motivate I.T. techs to enter complete records is to make sure that they understand that the facts and data they enter have a direct impact on our teams ability to expand staff and technology resources.

 

I.T. Team Basics: Understanding the Wiring of Your Team

The I.T. Service Desk Example

The I.T. Service Desk. What an institution. In some organizations the I.T. Service Desk might be the first level of customer support serving thousands of public customers. In other organizations it might be made up of a single individual who actually has to work on many projects in addition to answering phone calls, emails, message boards, chat requests, etc.

If you ever want to know the real story about how an organization operates, the good, the bad, and the ugly, just talk to the person who works at the services desk. No matter what comes their way, whether it is gracious or venomous, they are required to respond with a smile. They often interact with customers when customers are at their worst. While I don’t believe that there is ever an excuse to spew wrath on another individual. I do understand that a certain level of tension and trauma is to be expected at the service desk. After all, a customer doesn’t usually call the service just to chat or talk about the whether. They call because their plans and/or actions have been blocked by a perceived failure in a piece of technology or service that they are using. They call because they need help. With this in mind, knowing that it is inevitable that people will be calling in need of urgent support from time to time, how can we bring some order to the messy world of the service desk. I have found that the service desk professional requires a unique mix of technical aptitude and relational intelligence.

Engineers and Social Workers

Many of us already know that building excellent teams starts with quality people…duh. “You need the right people in the right seats of the bus”, etc. etc. This is true. I would expect that as an I.T. leader you are already screening carefully for high quality, hard working people. I think where we fail much of the time is that we drop the ball on matching the “right people” in the “right seat” when it comes to I.T. service desk or I.T. customer service. Most of the time the I.T. service desk is just an entry level position. It is the place where people just out of tech school can ramp on to an organization. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that it is appropriate for larger service desk organizations to have some positions categorized as entry level. Furthermore, I think that even senior level software or network engineers should have to rotate into service desk positions periodically if for no other reason than to remind them that they serve humanity not technology.

I recommend, as a general best practice, that the same level of care and scrutiny go into the process of selecting a relationally intelligent service desk team member that goes into selecting a technically competent senior software engineer. Let’s face it, people who are wired for engineering are not necessarily wired for customer service. I have watched too many amazingly talented engineers get ground up and disillusioned because they took a promotion to a management position that required extensive customer service and/or service desk skills. Conversely, I have watched too many service desk individuals become discouraged because they feel like they are undervalued with nowhere to grow. I don’t have enough time to go into this topic in great deal here. Perhaps, I will write more on this subject of getting the “right people” in the “right seats” in the future. For now, I would simply recommend that if you are looking to fill a service desk position in your organization that you don’t stop at assessing technical aptitude. I would recommend that you invest an equal amount of resources for assessing relational intelligence and people skills. If I was tasked with filling  a solitary servicedesk position at an organization, of course, my first choice would be to fill the position with someone who is highly skilled technically and relationally. However, the reality is that I.T. managers are usually faced with a choice between the two strengths. Given this choice, I would test for technical and critical thinking aptitude and relational acuity. In other words, I would error on selecting someone who may be trained as as social worker, has an aptitude to learn technology and is energized by working with people.  I have experienced much greater success in equipping an extrovert who has technical aptitude to have technical skills than I have had trying to mold a highly skilled technical engineer into a “people person.”

Don’t all technology pros have to work with people?

The short answer to the question above is, Yes. All technology pros have to work with people at some level. However, I have found that applying the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) can be very helpful in matching technologists to their “right seat” in an organization. For instance, As a technology manager, support technician, project manager or any other position that works directly with people on a day to day basis, I would expect to be either interrupted by or to proactively interact with people at least 80% of the time during my day. Eighty percent of the value that they would add in one of these roles to the organization that warrants a salary would be directly related to their ability to perform under these circumstances.

Conversely, If I am fulfilling the role of a telecom engineer, software developer, database administrator, technical writer, network engineer or any other role that requires a significant amount of focused and detailed attention on a day to day basis, I would expect to be interrupted by or to proactively interact by with people no more than 20% of the time. Furthermore, I would argue that structuring organizations so that engineers can focus on completing engineering tasks with limited interruptions will reduce incidents/interruptions and improve quality.

Please note: As I mentioned above, I would recommend that even senior engineers rotate into some level into direct customer service interactions from time to time. Professional who are excessively sheltered from customer interactions have a tendency to lose sight of their overall purpose of helping people. The key is in finding the right balance between assigning the right people to the right “people roles” and “technology roles.” I have found that applying the Pareto principle in the way that I have described above helps I.T. managers avoid extremes and communicate expectations when assigning these roles to I.T. pros.

 Wouldn’t it be more productive for me to assign an engineer to a service desk position?

I would love to answer this question with yes. The thought behind this method of service desk management is that if you assign an engineer to a service desk position, they will, fix the underlying solutions to problems more effectively than traditional service desk solutions. I have found that even if you find an awesome technical genius  who is equally wired to work with people and technology they would rarely be able to focus enough time on engineering solutions to root problems. In most cases I have found that there even organizations who employ senior level engineers at their service desks require focused engineers behind the scenes to implement solutions with fewer interruptions from service requests and incidents.

Conclusion

Understanding how the people of your I.T. team are wired and assigning them according to how they are wired can really promote the success of your team. There is a great deal of frustration that can be avoiding when I.T. leverage the “wiring” of their team appropriately and cultivate a deep appreciation for the different kinds of strengths that exists on a team.

Further Study and Resources

If you are interested in learning how to understand how your teams are “hard wired”, you might want to check out http://www.influenc.es. They offer some pretty cool assessments that can help you maximize the strengths on your team.

 

 

 

How to Calculate Reliability and Maintainability

In my recent post entitled IT Availability Management, (Facts & Fiction), I mention that I.T. availability management is made up of several elements including but not limited to Reliability and Maintainability. If you need to know how to measure Service Availability see How to Calculate Service Availability.

In this post we’ll walk through how to measure Reliability and Maintainability. My hope with this post is to equip I.T. managers with good practices for objectively reporting on the reliability and maintainability of the I.T. services they steward. This is also some handy information to have when you negotiate a service level agreement with a service provider.

I.T. Service Reliability

According to ITILv3 Reliability is defined as “A measure of how long a Configuration Item or IT Service can perform its agreed Function without interruption. Usually measured as Mean time between failures (MTBF)  or Meantime between incidents (MTBSI.) The term Reliability can also be used to state how likely it is that a Process, Function, etc., will deliver its required outputs.

  • Calculate Reliability (MTBF)

To calculate the reliability of a service in MTBF, your can subtract the total downtime from the available time in hours. You can then divide the result by the number of breaks.

ReliabilityMTBF

 

  • Calculate Reliability (MTBSI)

To calculate the reliability of a service in MTBSI, you can divide the available time in hours by the number of breaks in service availability.

ReliabilityMTBSI

I.T. Service Maintainability

According to ITILv3, maintainability is defined as, “a measure of how quickly and Effectively a Configuration Item or IT Service can be restored to normal working after a Failure. Maintainability is often measured and reported as Meantime to restore service (MTRS).

  • ITILv3 further states that, “Maintainability is also used in the context of Software or IT Service Development to mean ability to be Changed or Repaired easily.”

Calculate Maintainability

You can calculate the Meantime to Restore a service (MTRS),  by dividing the total downtime in hours by the number of service breaks.

Maintainability

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How to Calculate I.T. Service Availability

I know…I just wrote about I.T. availability so why am I writing yet another post on the subject? My recent post on this topic entitled  I.T. AVAILABILITY MANAGEMENT (FACTS & FICTION) shared some high level perspectives about I.T. Availability for business managers and I.T. professionals alike.

This post focuses a little more on equipping I.T. managers. It digs a little more deeply into the topic of I.T. Availability Management in that it offers brief tutorial on how to calculate the availability of an I.T. service. After the tutorial I also provide some practical application for the formula in order to help you gain value from the information.

Those of you who are familiar with I.T. Management standards know that measuring I.T. service availability alone doesn’t necessary offer a complete measure of I.T. service reliability and maintainability. See How to Calculate Reliability and Maintainability to calculate I.T. service reliability and maintainability of an I.T. Service.

Availability Definition (ITILv3)

Ability of a Configuration Item (CI) or IT Service to perform its agreed Function when required.

How to Calculate I.T. Service Availability (ITILv3)

To measure the availability of a service, you can subtract the amount of downtime from the Agreed Service Time (AST), then divide the result by the AST. You can then multiply the number by 100 to obtain the percentage.

AvailabilityFormala

How To Calculate Acceptable Downtime From a Known Availability Percentage

To calculate the accepted downtime from a known availability percentage, Multiply the numeric value of the percentage by the AST and divide it by 100. You can then subtract the result from the AST.

Downtime

A quick note about Agreed Service Time (AST)

Many people defer to 24 hours/7 days a week as an agreed service time by default. The reality is that many I.T. services don’t actually need to be available 24 hours a day 7 days a week. As a business or I.T. manager, it is important to take a candid look at different I.T. services that you rely on to operate your organization. For example, email in your organization will probably need to be available 24 hours a day/7 days a week. However, payroll may only need to be available 10 hours a day 5 days a week. I.T. may offer access to the payroll system 24/7 as a convenience to staff. However, it may cost more to warrantee such availability than it is worth. With this in mind, it is important to have and communicate Agreed Service Times that outline when users/customers can expect a service to be “fit for use” and available to perform their functions as expected. Availability calculations should only be applies using the total amount contained within the Agreed Service Time.

Why calculating and measuring I.T. availability important?

With all of these details, you might be asking why this is so important? After-all in the cloud world nothing ever really goes down anyway right? Wrong. It may be true that we live in a world that ranges from 24/7 pharmacies to 24/7 fast food restaurants. However, technology still burns resources and costs money to operate. Technology still requires good leadership and even in this time of the perceived continuous availability that we observe in our cloud service world, technology fails.  With this in mind here are a couple practical applications for measuring I.T. availability.

  1. As an I.T. manager/professional you know that there can be a great deal of drama surrounding the availability of key I.T. services. You know that providing facts and data is a great way to mitigate drama and communicate growth. Therefore, as part of a monthly performance report to senior management you provide an availability report that highlights the availability of key I.T. services. This report may show that availability has improved as a result of a capital investment in technology resources.  Or, perhaps you want to communicate on a Quarterly basis that your technology infrastructure/staff is maintaining availability as a key contributor to the productivity and continuity of your organizational initiatives. In any case an I.T. manager should never take for granted or assume that senior management is clear about the availability of a service. They may hear complaints about a service failure. But they rarely hear about positive I.T. accomplishments. It is your job as the I.T. leader to communicate in measurable and objectives ways that the technology you steward is a good investment of organizational resources.    (Please Note: Some of you might want to use availability statistics to help you acquire funding in order to make I.T. improvements. Stay Tuned…I will be talked about using stats to acquire funding in future posts when write about write about Reliability. and Maintainability.)
  2. As a business or I.T. manager you are looking at the Service Level Agreement from a Software as a Service company that specializes in Sales support. They claim that they agree to warranty the availability of their service 99.9% of the time to be measured over a thirty day billing cycle. Having an understanding of how to calculate availability allows you to confirm how much time the service may be unavailable over the billing period.

 Conclusion

Candidly computer users and customers that you support don’t care about best practices in I.T. They really only care about the value that you add to their lives through technology. For example, few people really care about what techniques a professional guitar player uses in a performance. They really only care about how good their “playing” sounds. I mention this in conclusion of this post in order to acknowledge that excellent I.T. management is about adding value and that sometimes I.T. managers get too caught up in process and lose sight of value. Furthermore, I.T. managers can get too caught up on using Availability management as a way to create barriers for users. It doesn’t have to be this way. As I.T. managers we must constantly ask the question, “How can we add value with technology?” Good management, order, discipline and good stewardship all add great value if managers keep this question in mind when they plan their I.T. availability management strategies.

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Additional Information