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The Boomer Bulletin - 2011
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Removing the Reactive Strategy Model from the IT Profession

Posted By Eric Benson, Monday, March 7, 2011

Have you ever heard the saying "Expect the best, plan for the worst”? Although this statement seems rational, it is not usually interpreted as such. Most people treat the statement as a decision to make; you either expect the best or plan for the worst. Furthermore, IT professionals, for the most part, treat this statement as a non-funny joke and just look at the punchline. Planning for the worst is the metric for job performance in IT, isn’t it?

I cannot think of a more destructive mentality than using the worst as a measure of performance. Yet that is what happens in firms across the country when it comes to technology. IT departments are doing a good job if they don’t have people knocking on their door; they are doing an even better job when the partner in charge doesn’t have people knocking on his/her door.

Changing the mindset for quality job performance takes effort and a strong shift from a reactive model to a proactive strategy. Below are three concepts to change "Expect the best, plan for the worst” into a very productive and proactive strategy model. First, you have to be able to specify what best and worst apply to. Second, you must be able to measure both effectively as you move forward. Finally, we’ll deal with how you can communicate that to your firm in a way that spans both parts of the equation.

Specify both best and worst expectations for IT services

Best and Worst are adjectives; they don’t explain anything by themselves. This leads to the first recommendation – specify the outcomes. In practice I imagine that most IT people do this on the "plan for the worst” side in abundance. The list can be never ending: email outages, spam, viruses, application slowness, that box that shows up when I click, the flicker on my left screen, a hot site in case our office loses power…most current expectations are negative and granular in nature.

So, let’s cover the best. Here’s where I think you may be challenged because best doesn’t work as well with systems. It starts to deal more with people and strategies. This becomes evident when you take the adjectives (best and worst) and apply them to IT in the firm.

Let’s apply some definition to best and worst in the IT world:

  • Email: "Expect the best email _______, plan for the worst email _______”
  • Network: "Expect the best network ________, plan for the worst _________”
  • Application Specific: "Expect the best audit workflow ______, plan for the worst audit workflow ________”
  • Entry Point (computer, laptop, smartphone): "Expect the best entry point ______, plan for the worst entry point ________”

The underscores are a fill in the blank exercise for you. Fill in the blanks for IT only and then try to do this from a firmwide perspective. Most IT people think in systems and this really shows through when you look at the fill in the blanks from both views (IT and firm).

Let’s cover email as an example. How can you, as an IT professional, expect the best email service? What does that mean?

Email (IT): "Expect the best email uptime, plan for the worst email downtime”

Email (Firmwide): "Expect the best email support and service, plan for the worst email outages”

It’s easy to quantify planning for the worst email downtime. How do you quantify the best email uptime? You use the same metric as downtime if you think strictly technology. Having outside help to specify the best and worst case scenarios will stretch beyond pure technology into people and strategy. It also gives you something that can’t be measured with an SLA or a %, but the effective measurement of firmwide IT service expectations can deliver big benefits.

Effectively measure the best and worst expectations

Effective measurement may start you on an interesting path. Most IT professionals are good at metrics that deal with negative consequences, like I mentioned. But what is a best metric? This is where pulling in other members of your firm will help. How do you define expectations for a best of breed email service to your firm?

If you involved people in the exercise above for firmwide best and worst expectations, you are ahead of the game. If you haven’t, it’s time to talk with your partner or manager to establish a way to measure technology best and worst cases in business terms.

There are a number of ways to establish a team to create quality measurements. Refer to my last article on Developing the Middle of Technology or Jim Boomer’s articles on Bridging the Gap
(Part 1 and Part 2) for suggestions on creating teams that do bridge the gap between technology and practice management.

When your team is established, it is important to not only generate specific results, but create measurements that everyone can agree upon. Establishing expectations and measurements solely within the IT area of the firm will only look at the absence of issues as a benchmark of success. Like I’ve mentioned, getting IT out of this mindset within the firm will help drive IT out of a negative, reactive mindset.

What are effective measurements? Let your firm decide. What is the best email service they can expect? Email anywhere, at any time, possibly? How about the ability to better manage inboxes? Here’s where the people and strategy question can come in. If you start asking the "best” question, you have to expect to be stretched as an IT team. If push comes to shove, I think this is the reason IT takes such a negative, reactive approach. If you ask the question of "what do you want”, you may end up with some expectations that aren’t realistic.

But you can do something towards improving IT services to your firm, and with communication on how to measure quality best and worst case scenarios, you will change IT from a reactive liability to a proactive asset in the firm.

Communicate your best and worst cases along with the measurements

Communication of expectations that come from IT with the help of others in the firm is a great way to increase the standing, respect and visibility of technology as an asset in the firm. It does, however, come with risk. In a firm where the expectation is that IT lives in the basement, for example, trying to establish a communication method that brings IT to a proactive communication model is going to be a challenge.

Here are some quick suggestions to increase communication:

  • Find a bridge between IT and the firm and use that person or team as the vehicle for communication
  • Be regular and speak the firm’s language
  • Make sure to communicate how you are addressing both the best case expectations as well as the worst case scenarios
  • Deliver success stories for both best and worst. Here are examples:
    • Best Email service – we now allow mobile phones to sync if you agree to the conditions
    • Worst Email downtime – Our email backup was in use last week when our primary server went down; no downtime means our systems did what they were supposed to do!

Proactive communication is only possible with metrics that are firm driven and tracked.

Building a proactive, best case/worst case IT strategy can be a considerable amount of work. It won’t happen overnight, but steps can be taken now to start on the path to excellent technology services within the firm. In addition, by holding technology accountable to a high standard that is strategic, the firm can follow suit and become more proactive and strategic in decisions regarding technology.

Let’s close with a variation of our beginning quote.

"Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” Denis Waitley


Tags:  IT 

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