07 October 2008

Incorporating IT Service Management: Digging In The Right Place

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.


As I pored through research on IT trends, the economic impact on those trends and the forecasts over the past few months, a line from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark kept popping into my head:

They’re digging in the wrong place!”

For those of you who have not seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, everyone in the movie is in a race to find the Well of Lost Souls, which houses the Lost Ark, which contains power that would be useful to any army. (Bear with me.) In order to so, they had to have the map to the Well of Lost Souls, which was inscribed on a medallion. The villains in the movie did not get the medallion; however one of their henchmen had the information burned on his hand from trying to grasp it in a fire-encapsulated building. The problem with the approach: he only had half of the information. The medallion had location information on both sides and, as a result, the baddies exhausted resources and man hours by digging in the wrong place.

It’s the same thing with the implementation of IT Service Management.

In today’s market, many IT organizations have embarked on the multiple-year investment it takes to implement IT Service Management so they may improve their quality of service to their business customers. Many of those IT teams focused solely on functions, processes and services.

While it increases the IT organization’s service delivery maturity, this approach is still missing an important component. The biggest oversight is the lack of organizational adoption of the compulsory cultural changes associated with executing the ITIL framework as part of IT Service Management.

How does an IT organization successfully incorporate IT Service Management practices into their way of working? How does it dig in the right place?

  • Foster Cultural Awareness. When IT Service Management models are adopted, IT becomes a strategic asset during times of growth and economic downturns. IT Service Management is a culture, not a project. It is not only important for the IT organization to understand this, but it is also critical for the departments they serve (HR, Sales, Marketing, Finance, Purchasing) to know this, too.
  • Talk is Good. While the ITIL framework provides a common IT language, understanding business-speak is equally important in securing the cultural adoption of IT Service Management. It is important for an IT organization to be well-versed in both IT Service Management processes and sound business management practices.
  • Conversations are Better. By having conversations – be they round tables, strategy sessions, departmental meetings or social network discussions - IT organizations will have a better understanding of the Businesses they serve. They will drive their service strategies and service development, and will continually improve their existing functions, processes and services.
  • Understand the Definition of ‘Value.’ An IT organization may have excellent subject matter experts, solid processes, standardized tools and defined measurements and metrics, but all of that means little to the customers they serve if it doesn’t demonstrate value to them. By doing so, IT will be able to capitalize, exploit and maintain their functions, processes and services to meet existing and forecasted business needs.
  • Use a Lifecycle Approach. IT organizations further enhance its strategic value to its business customers by employing a Service Management lifecycle approach. In this manner, the IT organization embraces a business and IT alignment through the use of ITIL’s Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, and Service Operations best practices. In addition, ITIL’s Continual Service Improvement ensures IT isn’t resting on its laurels. It provides an IT team with the ability to create meaningful internal and customer-focused metrics and helps it provide purposeful and powerful reporting for management and executives.

IT Service Management is a discipline for the efficient and effective management of information technology systems, philosophically centered on the customer's perspective of IT's contribution to the business. It is a culture, not a project, and provides sustainability to IT’s relationship with the business. By digging in the right place - looking beyond tools, templates and technology and seeing the cultural and business impact IT Service Management will have -IT organizations will be able to function effectively and get arms around their current operations.

Copyright (c) Veris Associates, Inc. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Comments contents are the opinions of the person posting the comment (commenter) and not necessarily those or endorsed by Veris Associates, Inc. Veris Associates, Inc. reserves the right to remove any and all comments it wishes without any recourse of the commenter. Decision of Veris Associates, Inc. is final.

Building the IT Process Framework – Part 3 – Blending Culture Before It Curdles

Neal Leininger

Neal Leininger
Project Management Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.


As the Fall season approaches, we are all reminded of the never-ending changes that life brings. The cycle of life if you will. It also reminds me of the ways we adapt to change and embrace it in our daily lives.

The last few sessions we reviewed some
PMO Pitfalls and Process Framework Highlights. In this article we will be discussing key strategies to introduce IT Service Management (ITSM) into your culture, and to ensure continual commitment and momentum.

As with change in any culture, it often is met with resistance. In my opinion, there are a number of ways to re-direct and harness that energy:

  • Leading by Example
  • Mentoring / Consultative Actions
  • Employing Top-Down Leadership

For those un-familiar with the term “curdle,”curd is a dairy product obtained by coagulating or curdling milk with an edible acidic substance, such as lemon juice or vinegar, and then draining off the “whey,” or liquid portion. It is essentially cottage cheese or paneer; an unaged, acid-set, non-melting farmer cheese. Milk that has been left to sour (raw milk alone or pasteurized milk with added lactic acid bacteria) will also naturally produce curds, and sour milk cheese is produced this way.

This brings the question:

Q: Is “Curdling your culture” a bad thing? It does, in fact, yield a useful product.

A: I think in some examples, there comes a tipping point, where a cultural decomposition is necessary; as it is said in our Declaration of Independence “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Call me a patriot, but there comes a time when the “long train of abuses and usurpations” of a company’s right to a good process requires throwing off the old, and establishing new guards for their future security.

I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but to obtain curd, you must practice patience and deliberate precision in its preparation. This is no going back after you’ve made the curd, so before you go down that road ensure you’ve exhausted all other alternatives.

Let’s take a step back and look at ways to prevent unplanned curdling in your culture.

Q: How do I instill change in a culture?

A: There are a number of approaches for enacting change.

First, leading by example will show people that you’re serious, and more importantly, successful at what you’re doing. By adopting a “Lead by Example” approach, those key members of your staff will see the vision and direction, and will feel more comfortable walking outside their comfort zones, which is a large part of the battle.

Secondly, by mentoring and taking active consultative actions, you’ll demonstrate you are confident in the direction you are leading, and will also begin to add value at a very tactical level. Maybe it’s helping someone put an action plan or continual improvement plan in place. Or perhaps it’s taking a leadership role in building a communications tour, or helping someone put together a presentation and being his or her sounding board. Either way, it demonstrates that you’re serious, and you don’t mind “getting your hands dirty.”

Lastly, show them the vision. The best way to do that is to have it come from a high visibility and known-quantity leadership individual or body. It is one thing for you to have a vision, and to drive it; it’s another thing entirely if they hear it from an Executive Leadership figure driving the direction of the company. Everyone wants to feel connected to their company, and by knowing that the path you’re paving is the same as Executive Leadership, it will help alleviate fears of being left in the cold.

Q: How do I ensure continual commitment?

A: Engage your experts. Seek out Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), whether consultants or full-time employees. Don’t be afraid to be mentored or to solicit the help of experts. The key is to trust that knowledge and expertise.

Understand this is part of delegating responsibility and letting go of those “pieces,” when things don’t go as “planned” according to your view; give those experts a wide berth. Even if you feel they are truly failing, or not achieving a particular bullet-point on a particular roadmap, you must demonstrate that they are truly empowered.

We learn best by our mistakes. Encouraging those experts to lead, for others to grow wings and fly on their own, will also reverberate in your organization. If others see the first misstep is a “Career Limiting Move” (CLM) for that person’s upward mobility, they will surely avoid every aspect. On the other hand, if they see those “experts” being given the support and latitude to empower experts of their own, those key individuals will seek the same. Those are the “Future Experts” that will help take your wonderful “
Process Garden” and translate it into bountiful profits.

So to answer the question at hand, “How do I ensure continual commitment?” I say, show them continual commitment; not commitment that dries up during a hiring freeze, tough market conditions, or an unpopular presidential candidate. Nay, you must foster the roots of your organization and the roots of your experts, so that they can withstand the fiercest of storms and droughts. Dare I say, they may serve as an oasis for you and yours when the time of need arrives.

Q: How do I keep momentum?

Understand that this is not an easy task; leading change will often challenge you to re-evaluate everything you know about Business, Technology, and Life at large. Keeping momentum is so very important because without it, all your vision, your hard work, and sweet “milk” will succumb to the acid of the old guard. Whether or not you like cottage cheese, it will be the only thing on the table.

Momentum can be felt in several areas.

  • Tactical change: The day-to-day changes; both from what is worked on to how work is done on those things.
  • Strategic change: The horizon will change for those leaders and future experts. They will realize your organization is heading to a new place, and will exhibit renewed fervor.
  • Communal change: The self-imposed status-quo will be lifted and redirected; those around your “area affect” will recognize a change in the tempo and tempest of your organization.

So the important piece to this is recognizing those three areas, and addressing them in a methodical manner. By enacting steady tactical changes -- not too fast, not too slow, and at the right time -- it will be in their faces, undeniable proof that change is happening. For them, not to them.

By enacting Strategic change, they too will recognize the change in the tone at the top. By knowing and seeing how they tie together, it will reinforce changes are necessary and important, and subsequently, they will feel a connection unlike anything they’ve felt before.

Lastly, I feel Communal change is one of the most important and influential aspects. It is palatable at the water cooler and at lunch tables. It’s that sense of belonging to something bigger, and also the sense of being accountable to your peers -- that if you don’t get behind this change, it will let your peers down.

Q: So what does culture change have to do with Curd?

Nothing, and everything.

Curd is a by-product of milk standing still and spoiling, the milk would be wasted, so the cycle of life takes over; it makes something useful from something useless; in this case, perhaps an IT department, in a town not too far from your own. In a business sense, when an organization stagnates, and spoils, there rises to the surface these “clumps,” which when strained and repurposed, makes a wonderful new product.

However, if it’s unintentional, it’s disastrous.

So my advice is this: When you’re blending change into your culture, don’t put your precious resources in the position to spoil. Frequent communication checkpoints with your Subject Matter Experts will keep you in tune with the process. Also, ensure proper precautions are in place to let you know when you’re reaching a resource’s “expiration date.” Lastly, if your intent is to let it curdle, make sure you have good recipes for that curd, and of course; make sure the executive branch likes cottage cheese.

To Recap:

  • Curd isn’t a bad thing, but it’s an acquired taste, and requires some careful planning;
  • Change keeps your culture from spoiling, tune for desired results;
  • Communication keeps you in tune with the process, regardless of the desired end product;
  • Continue to lead by example, and to build executive leadership’s buy-in; and,
  • Commitment and Momentum will keep you on track.

Thanks for your time; I look forward to your feedback at nealleininger@verisassociates.com, or in our blog’s comment section at http://veris-pm.blogspot.com/

Copyright (c) Veris Associates, Inc. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Comments contents are the opinions of the person posting the comment (commenter) and not necessarily those or endorsed by Veris Associates, Inc. Veris Associates, Inc. reserves the right to remove any and all comments it wishes without any recourse of the commenter. Decision of Veris Associates, Inc. is final.

Five Tips for a Great Performance Review

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.


The anticipation.
The flop sweat.
The fear it won’t go as well as you want it to go.

It’s the annual performance review. Those aren’t the doubts of the employee. They are the uncertainties of the manager.

Everyone’s been there at least once. We’ve had memories of performance reviews, even when they were positive, where we wished the manager worded something differently, or clarified information in their message, or provided enough time for us to express an opinion about what was said. These are the reviews that scar new managers or propel them to vow they will ‘do right’ by their employees during evaluation periods. Then the time comes and they find themselves tongue-tied, nervous and unsure how to proceed.

One of the more weighty responsibilities of any manager is providing annual reviews to his or her staff members. They are a wonderful opportunity for both manager and employee to get one-on-one time and to discuss important career milestones and objectives, achievements, and opportunities for improvement.

While managers are given standardized documents and a process for capturing information about an employee’s performance, companies leave out how to process all the feedback, consolidate the message and deliver the positive and constructive information.

Some may debate delivering a performance review is more art than science; less formula and more finesse. To be sure, managers must possess a certain level of diplomacy when they convey what is in the evaluation. But, there are steps managers can take to ensure the experience is a just and fair one for their employees.

Following five straightforward rules of engagement, managers at any level of experience can deliver great performance reviews:

  1. Be prepared before you walk into the review. In reality, there should not be any surprises to the employee if the performance review process is executed properly. There should not be any surprises to you as a manager, either. Employees expect managers to have a comprehensive, accurate picture of their performance during the year. Collect feedback from others who work with your employee, even if your company does not have a 360 review process. Do not disappoint them by consolidating the feedback without reading or understanding all of it. Go back to the contributors and ask questions if you are unsure of the information returned to you for your employee.
  2. Focus on the strengths. Traditionally, there is polarity in the delivery of performance reviews. Much wasted time is spent on opportunities for improvement or focusing on weakness. Mention them and then move on. What is it that makes employees valued assets to the company, to the team, and to you? Emphasize those qualities, and discuss ways the employees can continue to flex their muscles in these areas.
  3. When delivering tough messages, place the spotlight on behaviors and not the individual. No one likes to hear negative feedback, especially if it is a behavior they unintentionally exhibited. Assume merit and positive intentions, but address the damaging behaviors that impact individual employees, their colleagues and the company. In order to properly course-correct without retribution, you must be just and fair in the approach. Come prepared with specific examples of how the behavior, not the individual, caused issues and provide suggestions on how the behavior might be altered to create positive results in the future.
  4. Use your ears as much as your voice. Allot time for employees to express their concerns and their expectations. As much as it is a review of performance, it is also a forum for them to talk about their career outlook and aspirations.
  5. Develop a measurable and meaningful action plan. Close the chapter on the year in review, and look to the future. Explore career growth, and how their strengths may be applied in achieving both their goals and your organization’s objectives. Map out a strategy that has clear milestones and deliverables, and discuss how these will be achieved realistically. Don’t be afraid to add challenge to the plan, but make sure to tie deliverables back to the agreed-upon plan.

How about you? Do you have any managerial tricks of the trade you employ when delivering performance reviews? Share them with our reader community.

10 September 2008

Getting to Win: 3 Negotiation Tactics for Better Agreements

David A. Zimmer

David A. Zimmer
Practice Manager
Corporate Learning & Training
Veris Associates, Inc.

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Mention the word “Negotiation” and watch the reactions. Some shrink in fear, others start to salivate, some run for cover, and others sport a worn, plaid sports jacket. It is a word that means many things to many people. For the majority, it is a negative term. For those who “got one over,” images of fond memories come to mind. Why is that? Why can a word have so many meanings and evoke such variety of emotions?

Know The Basics

It boils down to the fact that most people are not taught the basics of negotiation, and yet each day, they negotiate some agreement. Granted, many agreements don’t have dire circumstances like a hostage crisis or millions of dollars saved by getting a lower price by just one penny.

Most negotiations happen without people knowing they are negotiating. For example, ask someone for a pen to sign your name and you’ve just “negotiated.” Disagree about a particular method of work and come to a consensus of a better way is negotiation. Speaking with your manager about the priority of work creates a negotiation session. And so forth.

As a project management specialist and managing many projects, I’ve had the opportunity to negotiate – some pleasant situations and some not so sweet. As project managers, typically we have responsibility for certain work being accomplished but no authority to make it happen. As a result, everything we do could be considered negotiation. Those who learn tips and techniques to gain the desired outcome do much better than those who bulldog their way through life. Ignorance in this case is costly.

Negotiation: Art not War

Let’s understand negotiation is not the art of war. Depending on the situation, we might need to strategize and map a course for our negotiation. Regardless of the circumstances, we must realize the art of negotiation is really the art of cooperation. While in the middle of it, it may not appear or feel like cooperation, but if neither side cooperates, no agreement will be struck. Cooperation from both sides is critical to successful negotiation.
Negotiation Definition

Negotiation is defined as:
  1. to deal or bargain with others

  2. to manage, transact, or conduct

  3. to move through, around, or over in a satisfactory manner.
All the definitions bear on negotiations between people. Therefore, three tactics help you become a better negotiator and arrive at better agreements.

Tactic 1: Know Your Opponent

Many people approach negotiation in a defensive manner. They clinch their teeth, steel their gut, and prepare for war. They know what they want from the deal and never stop to consider the other side’s viewpoint. Good negotiators understand their opponent.

Here are the areas to know:

  • Background. What is their background – culture, economics, social status, educational level, company position, etc. Are they putting on a front or air that facts don’t support? What are their goals? How will they benefit from the deal?
  • Needs. What does the opponent need from this agreement? What are the minimal requirements for them to feel satisfied? What desires would create a very satisfied opponent? Are they important to you? What is their motivation for the agreement?
  • Win. What would they consider a “win?” Can you give it to them without compromising or jeopardizing your position? Why are they negotiating? Why now? Can they wait for a decision or do they have to gain consensus immediately? If immediately, what is pushing them to that point?
  • Style. What is their style during negotiating? Are they laid back and unassuming or are they harsh, blusterous and forceful. Do they demand or are they willing to converse?

Interesting fact here: Most people don’t prepare themselves for the negotiation. They think they know what a win looks like for them, but they don’t understand their opponent.

What if you don’t have time to prepare or you can’t seem to answer some of the questions listed above? Simple. Ask! That’s right, ask your opponent those questions. You will be able to tell from the answers if they are bluffing or not. More importantly, it builds a rapport between you and them.

Three Types of Win

There are three types of “win:”

  1. Full Load – The agreement that gives you everything you could possibly want and more. It has all the bells and whistles. It even comes with whipped cream and a cherry on top. It is the ultimate deal.
  2. “True” Win – It has all the necessary components and desires met. It doesn’t have the bells or whistles, but it is complete.
  3. Negotiated Win – you’ve compromised, given some things and removed some things but overall, a very satisfactory result.

You need to understand the three types of wins for both sides to be truly effective.

Tactic 2: Know Your Plan

To be effective, you must create and know your plan. You must identify three things about your plan to be effective:

  1. Know What You Want – make a list of the items that must be in the agreement for you to feel satisfied. Consider this your True Win state. You’ve agreed to the important parts of the deal and gained some additional aspects. It meets more than your minimum requirements. It might have a few bells and whistles, but it won’t have the whipped cream and cherry on top. That’s ok; you’re on a diet anyway.

  2. Know What You Will Give Up – always enter a negotiation with things that add value to the agreement for you, but you are willing to give up to move the negotiations along. It must be something tangible and valuable to you, but you agree to not make them a sticking point. Your opponent will see it as your willingness to come to agreement.

    By the same token, you should have a list of items you are willing to give that provide value to the opponent but don’t “cost” you much in terms of the agreement. Both gestures give the impression of willingness to reach agreement – very important for a good deal on both sides.

  3. Know When To Walk Away – taken from a Kenny Rogers’ country-western song, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and you’ve got know when to fold ‘em.” Know your “walk away” level. No matter how important the deal is, there is a point where it is no longer profitable to continue the discussion or to strike the arrangement. It is better to walk away and do without than it is to come to settlement. You’ve have to decide that point BEFORE you start to negotiate. Make the decision before it becomes necessary and than stick with the decision when the time comes. Negotiations are inherently emotionally driven. In the heat of the battle, hanging in longer than the walk-away point does no one any good.

Tactic 3: Know Several Styles and Methods

Know your style of negotiation. Here are a few:

  • Pushy/Bullying – intimidates the other party into submission. Works for a very short period of time, but the other party is coerced and will eventually ruin the agreement
  • Confidently Promoting – Someone who appears to know what they want and waits to get it. They have all the time in the world, especially when you don’t.
  • Quietly Manipulating – very subtle approach using innuendo to convince you a particular requirement you stated is immaterial or minor to the situation when it might be a very important component to you. Mimics the peer pressure approach you experienced as a teenager.
  • Carefully Suggesting – one side suggests a particular “benefit” because they are looking out for the other sides’ best interest. They can come across as best friends with sage advice.

If you know your natural style, practice the other forms. By knowing and practicing different styles, you can use them to your advantage and switch as needed to best fit the situation. In fact, you might switch styles several times during the conversation.

Don’t settle on just one style or method. Have several types you can use at any time.

In A Nutshell

Negotiation is an every day event. We do it all the time without thinking about it. It is a necessary part of life. We negotiate with our spouse, children, friends, co-workers, bosses, neighbors, store clerks, doctors, lawyers, law officers, and more. In most cases, we don’t formally call it negotiation. We just do it.

To many, negotiation is scary simply because they haven’t done so well in the past and didn’t work towards satisfying agreements. Understanding three simple tactics can accelerate better agreements and more rewarding experiences.

Take the time to understand your opponent and their needs. Look at the agreement from their angle. If you help them meet their desires, they will usually turn around and help you meet yours.

Understand your plan. Know what the ultimate decision would be, back it down to “true” win for you, and most importantly, understand your walk-away point.

Negotiating is not really that hard. In fact, it can be down right fun.

02 September 2008

Building the IT Process Framework – Part 2 – Translating Alphabet Soup into Satisfying Results

Neal Leininger

Neal Leininger
Project Management Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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In Part 1 of "Building the IT Process Framework," we covered some of the common PMO Pitfalls, and a few suggestions on how to improve “Everyone’s PMO.”

In this article we’ll discuss some common “Alphabet Soup” methodologies seen in Project Management Offices (PMO) today; how to best leverage their advantages, and explore some of their weaknesses. This article provides information about:

· Six Sigma

Vegetable Soup?

As I was planning my garden this year, I was contemplating some of the “Companion Plants” to compliment my tomatoes and peppers.

For those un-familiar with the term, Companion Plants are combinations of different vegetable, herbs, and spices. They benefit from each other’s flavors, but also provide other benefits of their natural characteristics, such as:

· Attracting Butterflies and Bees for pollination
· Repelling pests and other detrimental insects
· Enhancing the flavor and aroma of surrounding vegetation
· Providing nutritional and structural support.

I use this analogy to illustrate an approach that I’ve used numerous times with PMO implementations, as well as multiple process improvement efforts. By combining different methodologies, the overall process becomes stronger and more vibrant than any single framework could ever possibly attain.

For those unfamiliar with the alphabet soup of IT acronyms, I’ve summarized a few of the methodologies which have strategic relevance in today’s information technology industry.

ITIL – Information Technology Infrastructure Library

A framework which defines how IT delivers services to the business. It is often the basis on which the organization begins to define IT’s role to the business as a set of services delivered to customers (the end users). ITIL’s strength identifies “what” should be delivered, but it is not prescriptive about “how” it should be delivered. Often cited as a deficiency, ITIL best delivers a customized solution based on the business’ initiatives. There are no “out of the box” process improvement frameworks that effectively deliver services congruent to the business. By defining the “what,” companies can align their solution to business needs. Technology is fitted to the business, not the other way around.

SDLC – Software (or Systems) Development Life Cycle

A framework designed for managing the development and deployment of applications or systems, typically using a Waterfall, Spiral, Rapid Deployment or “Tinker Till It Works” methodology. As disparate programming languages and the methods in which they were developed matured, this methodology adapted accordingly.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma, originating from the manufacturing industry, focuses on removing defects or errors in manufacturing or business processes using the DMAIC methodology cycle - Design, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

COBIT - Control Objectives for Information and related Technology

COBIT, a control framework, concentrates on definition, implementation, auditing, measurement, and improvements of controls across a specific process. As you can tell, it is very pertinent to the auditing and compliance world. In fact, auditors created it to place measureable controls on processes. A control measures the performance of a process or method against its defined objective or goal. For many, it means, “It makes sure your garbage is certified garbage, it doesn’t necessarily mean your garbage is good.”

Q: So what makes the best methodology?

Good question, however the answer requires some due diligence, research and dare I say, soul searching.

A: No super seedlings here. The methodology of choice varies with the maturity of the organization, the level of IT governance, the integration of matrix organizations, the complexity of the IT solutions deployed, and the Regulatory restrictions of the business – Just as the soil pH balance and water sources must be carefully accounted for in planning a garden, all of these aspects will help you determine the appropriate size and complexity of your “Process Garden.”

Here is what I’ve learned:

ITIL is a process oriented framework. Seriously consider it if you’re deploying SDLC or Six Sigma methodology. Both require massive amounts of data. Without a firm process framework, you will quickly outpace your staff’s availability and willingness to change. The scalable ITIL process framework allows you to tackle the age old question of “How do I eat an elephant;” and the answer is “One bite at a time.” Its scalability makes it a perfect choice for organizations that are planting their first “Process Garden.”

Q: Which comes first, the process or the controls?

A: Should I plant the garden, then put up the fence, or vice versa? As silly as these questions appear at first glance, it’s a discussion that warrants attention. Controls are typically seen as detrimental knee jerk managerial decisions. They seem to only benefit the receiving end of the control, and not the user. At first glance, that is.

By utilizing a process-based approach, we can see the critical path, and thereby determine the best place to “put up fences.” Without a comprehensive process plan framework, we have increasing difficulty illustrating the overall picture to our neighbors, not to mention the tangible benefits of putting controls in place.

Process engineering can leverage any methodology you throw at it, whether it’s SDLC, Six Sigma, or COBIT for that matter. So long as the process comes first, you will always win.

Control methodologies, like COBIT, use metrics and measurements to ensure control. Without a process methodology first, where these data points are identified as viable, and then collected and evaluated, the control points are empty. You may build the perfect fence, but to the determiment of your garden’s health and prosperity.

Q: How does a methodology differ from a framework?

A: Quite simply, a methodology systematically approaches the measurement of quality against a framework. A framework provides governance and overall accountability to a process. Without a framework, measurements typically fall out of focus and lose their context. Without a methodology, a framework is simply a picture on the wall, without the context of “how does this help me?” A framework keeps you on track, and helps explain why you are tilling the ground and researching fertilizer, instead of just throwing seeds on the grass; and hoping for the best.

Q: Which combination do you prefer?

A: As my career has evolved, I’ve found a correlation between the number of methodologies available and my propensity to utilize less of the “whole” and more of the “pieces.” I think that without a PMO, process improvement frameworks become almost useless. Without project prioritizations and clear connections between the business and IT, executive support withers faster than a garden fed by saltwater. Define your “water supply” and irrigate accordingly.

Secondly, depending on the maturity of the PMO, some methodologies must first be introduced to facilitate that preliminary PMO framework, such as SDLC or Project Management. These methodologies typically help the PMO, and IT as a whole, simply because they help everyone “DO” a lot better.

Thirdly, at a critical threshold, as the PMO’s portfolio has started to take root and the framework you have chosen has reached it’s breaking point; it is best to re-invest through an overall process improvement framework such as ITIL. It helps build the continual improvement plan across all disciplines, regardless of the methodology. It’s best to realize the weakness of the organization and the frameworks or methodologies early. Without organizational self-awareness, the propensity for day-to-day interruptions will turn a tool into a self-destructive force of its own.

Lastly, a governance model is an important piece to the puzzle. Without a fence, varmints and well wishers alike, will trample your garden.

So to recap:

· Keep it simplePick framework and methodology “companions” that compliment your organization
· Be self-awareUtilize a process based approach, so your controls don’t starve or saturate your organization
· Just start doing it, within your meansCareful planning will foster a bountiful harvest of efficiencies and profits
· Don’t forget to re-evaluate your executive “water sources” and lessons learned after the first “harvest.” What may work one season, could ruin your “soil” the next.

I look forward to hearing about how these strategies affected your organizations, please give me feedback by way of the comments section on this blog.

In the next article of this series, we will address how to blend methodologies, and more importantly, how to do it without being tarred-and-feathered. Until next time, choose your companion plants carefully!

Copyright (c) Veris Associates, Inc. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Comments contents are the opinions of the person posting the comment (commenter) and not necessarily those or endorsed by Veris Associates, Inc. Veris Associates, Inc. reserves the right to remove any and all comments it wishes without any recourse of the commenter. Decision of Veris Associates, Inc. is final.

15 August 2008

When Solving A Problem, Get To The Root Cause, Don’t Redefine The Symptom

David A. Zimmer

David A. Zimmer
Practice Manager
Corporate Learning & Training
Veris Associates, Inc.

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I recently read an article appearing in CIO Magazine titled “Common Project Management Metrics Doom IT Departments to Failure” where the subtitled mentioned a report by Forrester Research stated the metrics used to measure IT project success influences the perceptions of failure. It goes on to say that we need to change to increase the perception of success instead.

We’ve all heard the adage “perception is fact” implying perception is not fact, it only has the allusion to be factual. I don’t know if it is my sense of humor, but the statement of “increase the perception of success” was strangely funny. Did it mean the project was actually a failure but we make it appear successful? Does it harken to another well-tread cliché, “In project management, we simply redefine the parameters and declare victory. That’s how we have successful projects!”

The article further details four things the PMO can do to help increase the perception of success. While I agree with them:

  • keep project steering committee on task,
  • improve communication with project sponsor about changes,
  • improve reliability of project plans, and
  • better communicate estimates of costs, schedule and resources;
I believe they miss the fundamental basics of the problems – the root causes.
According to the
Standish Group, IT projects have only a 29% chance of succeeding. You would think with the advance in technology, the development of quality processes and increase of understanding humans; we’d have a better shot of being successful. In 2003, the Standish Group estimated we spent $382 billion on IT projects in the US alone. They further stated $82 billion was an outright waste. Using the 71% failure rate, we spent $271 billion on failed projects. Maybe that’s why we need to increase the perception of success – so we can balance the books!

Based upon my years of managing IT projects (I’ll admit, not all were successes, perceived or otherwise) and experience training more than a thousand people in the art of project management, I believe the following are the root causes for IT project failures.

1. Project managers are chosen, not trained.

In my training seminars, I ask how many people actually chose project management as a career. I have had only three people raise their hands. Usually, we are selected because we are doing well in our “real” jobs and seemed to be organized getting things done. One day, as we arrive in our office, twang, we are dubbed project managers. No training.

Then I ask how many have any sort of formal training in managing projects. Regardless of the industry, the percentage is basically the same, only 20% have had any form of training. I reduce the definition of training to the ridiculous of a one hour discussion and very few additional hands go up. Only 5% have more than a day and 1% go on to be certified through Project Management Institutes’ Project Management Professional certification.

It is not we aren’t intelligent and can’t learn the ropes, but usually we learn by observing others who have gone before us. They learned the same way – by observing others. As a result, improper methods are learned and used rather than industry accepted practices. We just gitter dun – whatever it takes, nights, weekends, extra shifts, Herculean efforts – we gitter dun.

As a result, we don’t put the proper measures in place to give the information business people need. Worse, we really don’t know where we stand in our own projects. We can’t repeat our successes because we don’t know what we did to be successful. We don’t always learn from our mistakes so we are doomed to repeating them. And finally, many projects we considered successful really weren’t causing us to repeat bad habits because we believe they are good practices.

Through training, we learn proper techniques, why certain processes should be followed and the tools we need as project managers. To contrast untrained project managers with a failure rate of 71%, studies have shown using trained and certified project managers – PMPs specifically – succeed close to 75% of the time.

Root cause #1: project managers aren’t trained to do the job we ask.

2. No formal change process in place to determine success or failure.

In the CIO magazine article, someone placed a comment contrasting construction project management with IT project management. He stated IT methods are primitive to constructions processes. I agree totally.

First, construction follows a methodical, time-proven method. They work from blueprints with every detail shown. They research the site and understand what lies hidden before digging. They understand the necessary inventory of materials and labors in advance of the start date. But most importantly, they have a change process.

Once the deal is signed, any changes to the agreement require a change order with signatures. The change order details the impacts to schedule, increase to budget, amendment to the project scope, etc. Each party must sign before the change occurs, otherwise, the original plan holds. No changes are made unless the boss says so.

In IT, we take a different tack. Again, from my survey of many attendees, only three or four people stated their company had a formal change form and process. Worse, they reported changes to the project can come from any where through any channel to any member of the project team. Since many things are considered “easy,” the impact to the rest of the project and beyond is never considered. If a change is formally documented, no one dares sign it. Accountability is forbidden.

As a result, what is defined to be the project is not really the project. As time passes, changes are requested but not tracked. The project morphs and twists into something other than the original definition. As a result, the original project may have been successful using the traditional metrics, but no one can prove it because no clear definition of the project exists.

Additionally, changes come through various portals. There might be a formal request sent from the CIO to the IT project manager. Another request comes from the sales manager tapping someone on the shoulder in the hallway. A third and most insidious is the IT staffer who “sees something needs to be done, and does it” without tracking the impact to the overall project.

Solution for such a situation is two-fold: a well defined and followed project scope and a formal method for requesting changes.

Root cause #2: No formal change process which defines a single point to funnel change requests.

3. Project Expectations Not Defined In Detail

A successful project must meet the expectations of the stakeholders. Even if it comes in on budget and on time, if it doesn’t meet their expectations, it failed. Unfortunately, we don’t document the expectations. We document the technical requirements, the inventory list of hardware and software needed, select the team of implementers, etc., but we don’t seem to jot down the expectations.

If we don’t document the expectations, how do we know when we are finished? If the expectations are met, we would have success by definition, correct?

Of course, the stakeholders don’t always reveal their expectations for us to conveniently document. In fact, their expectations change over the course of the project. Even if we met the original expectations, we still fail because we didn’t meet the current list of desires.
As a result, project managers must spend a good deal of time understanding the stakeholders’ motivations, desires, intents, and rationale for the project. Periodically, he must check in with the stakeholders to verify current understanding of their needs and make adjustments accordingly.

Root cause #3: lack of understanding expectations leading to no formal documentation listing motivations, desires, intents, etc. of stakeholders.


I don’t feel it is right to simply change the perception of IT project success. To me, that’s cheating and we don’t solve the real issues. We need to change how we “do” IT project management to be successful. Proper training is key number one. I, like many, managed many projects before I was formally trained. Boy did I learn about my bad habits and improper ways of managing projects. As I instruct others these days from my lessons learned, I see the same transformation in them.

IT doesn’t have to suffer the fate of poorly run, failing projects. Solving the root causes for those problems would go a long way in better return on investments, fewer dollars wasted, and happier IT people. Once these are fixed, we can begin to work on the list from the CIO article.

Veris Associates, Inc. offers a series of project management seminars to equip your project managers with the proper knowledge, processes and tools to be successful. Click here to see our topics and schedule. We help companies implement functioning PMOs through proper, industry-accepted practices and procedures.

Copyright (c) Veris Associates, Inc. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Comments contents are the opinions of the person posting the comment (commenter) and not necessarily those or endorsed by Veris Associates, Inc. Veris Associates, Inc. reserves the right to remove any and all comments it wishes without any recourse of the commenter. Decision of Veris Associates, Inc. is final.

28 July 2008

Lady Tech, Be Thyself: Authenticity As An ‘IT Girl’

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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I read two interesting articles over the weekend. They could not have been from more different sources, nor could they have been more interconnected. One was from the May-June 2008 edition of Psychology Today called Dare To Be Yourself. The other was the August 2008 Wired Magazine cover story, Internet Famous: Julia Allison and the Secrets of Self-Promotion. In Dare To Be Yourself, it is noted the basic psychological needs are competence, a sense of relatedness, and acting in accordance with one’s core self or, being authentic. In the Wired Magazine article, the Machiavellian subject pictures herself as the main character of a magazine profile, establishes her story through random blog/Twitter postings and in-person appearances at various ‘important people’ functions, then builds her internet street cred with every response from fans and haters.

There’s a part of me that appreciates Ms. Allison’s moxie. She understands the game of being famous and plays it like an expert. She certainly tapped into at least two of her psychological needs – relating and competence – to be successful in accomplishing her goal of being a cult figure. I leave the authentic part up for debate; while I think she’s mastered the art of promotion, I’m not quite sure if she’s promoting herself or the persona she wants her public to know.

The two articles made me think about my career in IT. I work as an IT infrastructure consultant. The majority of my counterparts and customer sponsors are men. Don’t get me wrong: I dig working with the men folk. I’ve not only learned a great deal about the process, politics, bits and bytes of information technology, but I am now relatively up-to-speed on all things sports. (Although, Ultimate Fighting still eludes me.)

I’m happy to say I’ve had good female IT role models, too. I’ve learned a lot from them and it’s wonderful to have colleagues who understand the ups and downs of the IT sisterhood.

Geekdom Stigma

However, while overall employment rates in IT rose in 2006 from 2000, the number of women employed in IT has dropped almost eight percent. It’s a little disheartening to think the sisterhood is declining. Anecdotally speaking, there are a few reasons women are leaving or choosing other paths. Some say it’s a cultural issue. Historically, IT has not been generally known for its flexibility, which is important for working mothers. Some say it’s the image IT promotes. I know this is shocking, but there are many women who do not want to emulate the persona of guys with pocket protectors who can quote episodes of Monty Python and Dr. Who verbatim. (Although, I am a staunch Lost fan and feed the frenzy among my co-workers and customers who also watch.)

In other words, these items in the IT world conflict with women’s needs to be true to themselves.

How Do You Relate To IT As A Woman?

So, what if you are a woman who enjoys the challenge of what IT has to offer? How do you relate to the “it’s cool to be a nerd” environment? How do you remain true to yourself in a culture that doesn’t necessarily scream female-friendly?

It’s not a question of competence – because you know you can do the job. It’s a matter of having that sense of community and of being happy as a woman in a male environment without giving up what it is to be you.

Wondering how to do that? Here are a few guidelines:

• Learn the game. Know the rules of engagement before you act – or react. IT shops can be frustrating if you don’t understand the players, the work practices or the politics. Reduce that frustration with observation, understanding the way you learn and work, asking questions and your role as it relates to the company’s objectives and the department’s needs.

• Embrace the IT Sisterhood – and Brotherhood. If you are feeling like you are stuck or in a rut, remember there are other women – and men - who have been there, done that and still wear the battle scars. Consequently, become part of the experiential and knowledge collective and share what you know with other colleagues. It makes for a great support system.

• Find your bliss. Don’t try to be something you are not. When you know IT is for you, don’t be discouraged if the IT shop you are in originally doesn’t match up to whom you are and who you want to be. IT is a beautiful thing in that you can go everywhere and anywhere with the profession.

I wasn’t sure IT was the right gig for me when it first found me. After a few years in the industry, I discovered the joy and beauty of process in IT services. Process development feeds my need to have daily work challenges and to be creative. For other women who I know, there’s nothing sexier than database development and administration, or building applications, or creating new web spaces, or developing web portals, or providing ITIL best practices training. It’s all about finding what’s right for you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be what people in non-IT fields define as an IT career.

• Feed the passion. Once you’ve found your bliss, don’t stop there. Read industry white papers, magazine articles and books. Register for classes. Find an IT networking group, whether it’s a formal organization or one you’ve established with your work colleagues.


It’s not about gender but about who you are that matters. Find your passion and pursue it. Whether you build applications, develop process, or work directly in the data center, do what you love. It’s true in any field but even truer in IT – if you stop growing, it becomes mundane and the little things begin to bug you. Embrace the bliss, reach out to others in your field, and make IT work for you.

What Do You Think

Let me know how you feel or what you think. Let me see your opinion. If you’re a woman or a man and this resonates with you – or if you disagree - voice an opinion. Hit the comment button below.

16 July 2008

Building the IT Process Framework – Part 1 - PMO Pitfalls

Neal Leininger

Neal Leininger
Project Management Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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As a technology consultant working in and around technology for over a decade, I’ve seen my share of false starts and good intentions being driven to the end of long dark alleys to be put out of their misery. Due to confusion, redirections and busyness of daily life, valid ideas are driven into oblivion.

The concept of a successful Project Management Office (PMO) rings near and dear to my heart. However, many of today’s process frameworks have interdependencies woven so tightly I find it indistinguishable when departing from one methodology and into another. Which one or two . . . or three or more should the PMO use?

This article is the first in a series to clarify the limits, purposes and blending of four frameworks as they relate to the PMO:

  • ITIL
  • CobiT
  • SixSigma
  • SDLC
Q: So what makes the perfect PMO?

A: Boy, talk about a loaded question. Process implementations are a lot like beauty, much belies the eye of the beholder.

For those who have worked in the software industry for any amount of time, we recognize the old adage “Fail Early, Fail Fast, Fail Often.” I think that summarizes the best approach for a PMO and process improvement in general. (One hint: learn from the failure, don’t repeat it.)

Perfect is a four letter word in most production engineering departments, meaning: Perfect never ships. At the end of the day, we all are very imperfect animals, trying to build very perfect processes. The quickest distance between two points is failure. Only by failing do we learn the true weaknesses and stress points identified. It’s about keeping ourselves accountable to the process, no matter how gruesome the image is in the mirror.

Q: What About Overzealous Advocates?
A common approach for most PMO implementations is to “reign in” the factions causing chaos within IT and putting policies in place that are not conducive to the typical business environment.

A: Walk a mile in their shoes: Make it everyone’s PMO. A true PMO is guided by the principle that made all great teams work together - “what’s in it for me.” Regardless of how unpleasant those factions may be, use the friction to weld them together. Heat makes two pieces of metal one, cleanses the surface and prepares it for another wave of improvements whether it is a complete refinish or some touch-up on the glazing.

Q: What About Overloading the Process?

Even a good process fails under over-utilization. Even though it seems like a good idea at the time, ramping up too quickly slows you down. It starts to feel like you’re fighting a counter-insurgency battle as the plights and wailings of overburdened process users fire emails at you at an alarming rate. These resistance emails seek exceptions and various special accommodations because, after all, their application, project or process is “special.”

A: Start simple and stay accountable. The measure of a process isn’t how fast or big it is. The process’ efficiencies, effectiveness and compliance to the framework win in the end. The visible success of the process encourages others and moves the organization to the next level of process implementation. As the adage says, “Nothing breeds success like success.”

Q: “Kill Switch”-ophobia

One of the telling metrics for a PMO is its kill rate: the rate at which projects are rejected or “killed.” It’s often too easy for a technology department to say “YES” every time there is a request made. The measure of the alignment between the business and a technology department is evident as you examine the kill rate and the justifications behind it.

A: Start simple and kill things. This isn’t an advertisement for the NRA. By failing early, fast and often, you learn a lot by understanding the issues that caused you to stumble. Even if it means creating a PMO request that you know will be killed, go through the exercise and understand the process: engage the business and understand their true alignments. Set criteria and provide evidence for projects to survive or die. Set a metric on the kill rate.

By walking through the process with a very simple, controllable example, you build the template for those un-imaginably complex projects that need to be killed. Remember, not all projects get killed at the request stage. Prepare for killing those “woefully poor initiatives that just aren’t going according to plan.”

Understand several facts:
  • Killing projects sooner than later saves tremendous money and effort.
  • Any project can be killed at any stage.
  • Unsuccessful or never-ending projects impact morale, other projects, budgets and your credibility – your most important asset.
  • Before recommending a project cancellation, do your due-diligence, have all evidence organized, readily accessible and in front of you. While Superman could stop a speeding bullet with his teeth, only your hard, cold facts stop the one fired at you.
  • A high kill-rate is good. Some companies are aiming for 66%! A low kill-rate can mean two different things: you’re letting too many projects through or your not keeping up with the changing business with improvements.
Warning: Beware of the landmines – those special pet projects of someone who has major, impacting power on your career. These types of projects must be handled with special detail. Before suggesting a pet project be cancelled, conduct a full study with extra detail and evidence as to why it should die. We should never back away from killing such a project, but our reasoning must be mine-proof, otherwise, you will blow-up instead of the project.

It has been said, "Buy into a business that's doing so well an idiot could run it because sooner or later, one will." I think that rings very true to the embodiment of a successful PMO. If it’s not easily understood or articulated, then the PMO “Governance” will be jeopardized and those who truly believe in the concept will struggle explaining it to their customers, and subsequently, stop speaking at all.

  • Keep it simple, make it easy enough for an idiot to understand because, well you finish the sentence.
  • Kill it, in order for us to say “YES” we must be willing to say “NO”; and mean it.
  • Start small and simple, which is how we learn best. After we’re comfortable with simple arithmetic, we can throw some extra zeros on the end and start talking about calculus.
  • Seek friction and make the best of it. Nothing beats free heat.
  • Don’t cripple the business, they need to keep the lights on too. Engage them in the policy framework so they buy-in in from the beginning.
  • It won’t be perfect the first time. . .or the tenth time. It’s a living process and the better we get at failing, the faster we can close that gap with perfection.

In our next article, we cover how IT framework methodologies are blended to minimize organizational confusion and optimize operational efficiency.

Veris Associates, Inc. offers training in Project Management and IT Service Management methodologies. See our calendar of events for specific times and places.

Copyright (c) Veris Associates, Inc. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Comments contents are the opinions of the person posting the comment (commenter) and not necessarily those or endorsed by Veris Associates, Inc. Veris Associates, Inc. reserves the right to remove any and all comments it wishes without any recourse of the commenter. Decision of Veris Associates, Inc. is final.

Getting Control of IT Shared Services - Utility Services Part 1

Cheryl Croce

Cheryl Croce
Sr. Consultant
Veris Associates, Inc.

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In this first article of a series of five, the author explores how to relieve three of the nine common pain points associated with Infrastructure request fulfillment. By doing so, companies can transform infrastructure request fulfillment from a checklist activity to an organizational strategic asset – request fulfillment as a utility service.

Start at the Beginning! Making Requests Make Sense

Did you ever notice it’s the little things that create the biggest impact? That’s the way our clients and prospective customers feel when it comes to Infrastructure Request Fulfillment.

In general, we know we must conduct thorough analyses, provide cost justifications and maintain the allotted budgets for larger projects. However, it’s the requests that stem from daily operational needs and organizational growth that come as the big surprise at the end of the budget year - things for which project allocations do not account.

The IT Pain Points

In the white paper,
The Games We Play: Conquering the Challenge of IT Request Fulfillment, we identified the following common pain points Infrastructure teams and management experience when it comes to request fulfillment:

Shock to the System: The multiple ways in which Infrastructure teams receive requests - e-mails, telephone calls, taps on the shoulder, and help desk tickets.

“Needs” Brain Freeze: When customers forget there might be rules when they want it and they want it now.

Request Definition Wish Bone: Many customers don’t get what they want or need, because the requirements of the request were not collected or provided.

Purchasing Apple: That lump in your throat may be the realization you’ve overspent on purchases for equipment and third-party services.

Spare Parts: You didn’t realize you had the part already in stock. Or, there’s a part you’ve purchased that’s gone bad and you have no idea where you’ve installed it or what the serial number is for it.

“Architect’s” Elbow: Your technical team’s elbow grease is gone, because they’ve expended it. And you have no idea how, when or why. Change Management is missing from the equation.

Testing Butterflies in the Stomach: Testing is such a fundamental activity within System Development Lifecycle, because in general there are test labs. That’s not the case a lot of times with infrastructure related requests. So, a “let’s try this and hope it works” approach may be used when rolling new components into production.

Writing Communications Cramp: As much as we are connected (you might be reading this on your BlackBerry device or iPhone), it’s interesting we’re still not communicating.

Broken Hearts All Around: Customers look at the end result and say, “That’s not what I wanted. Now what do we do?” And when they say “we” they really mean you, which equates to re-work and exhausted, cranky staff.

Perhaps some of you now are nodding your heads, as these items may look familiar to you. Share your experiences with us: What have you seen in your workplace?

Most IT teams are deluged with requests through different means, and a lot of times this concept is not acknowledged. For example, when we interviewed individuals at a client site about how requests were received, we heard different responses. The CIO told us all requests came through the company’s help desk system. The staff members, on the other hand, told us they received requests not only from the help desk system, but also by e-mail, phone call, taps on the shoulder, hallway conversations, and internal meetings with their IT counterparts.

The Requests Cometh

The requests obtained outside the help desk ticket system are often quickly scribbled on post-it notes and in notebooks.

This ad-hoc repository causes three issues:

Inability to Prioritize Work is Shocking! Managers have no true view of where their team members are engaged, and therefore they assume they are free for major projects. As a result, managers didn’t understand why they have low morale or higher turnover, and team members are frustrated their managers don’t understand how to prioritize the workloads to meet customers’ demands.

We Know You Want It Now, But Is the Request Valid? Then there’s the question of whether a request is valid at all. We live in an “I want it now” society. We blink and technology is obsolete. We blink and our company has decided to go in a different direction. Now. Not tomorrow. Not when you can get to it. But now. That’s a difficult expectation to manage for IT. IT is a multiple personality. There’s the side of IT that needs to maintain its architectural integrity and protect its structure from changes that do not make sense for the environment. Then there’s the other side where customer service and fulfilling customer needs is inherent. How do you say no when clearly a request is a square peg in a round hole?

Request Definition - What Was That Middle Part? When IT team members are eventually able to get to the requests recorded outside the help desk system, they generally remember the broad scope of the request. However, there’s only so much memory can provide in terms of understanding what the requirements are. Depending on where the request came from and from whom, team members may be less inclined to go back to ask questions and instead, knock the request off their list of things to do. The end result of this approach is low customer satisfaction.

Fixing the Pain Points

How do you fix these pain points? We recommend the following:

Start At The Beginning. Establish a single point of entry into your request fulfillment process. No exceptions.

3 Es - Educate, Empower and Evangelize. At Veris Associates, we love how a good process can make a difference in a customer’s way of working. However, we also acknowledge process isn’t worth a hill of beans if you haven’t incorporated it into an IT organization’s and customer’s culture. Once you’ve established a single point of entry, educate your IT staff – including the CIOs, Directors, and Managers – about the single point of entry. IT Leadership will need to provide customers with communications on this expectation, especially if it is a new concept. As part of this awareness campaign, IT team members must be empowered to steer customers to the single point of entry.

Remove the Square Peg From The Round Hole. As part of the single point of entry, you may want to add questions to help you determine if a request is valid. For example: Is this request tied to a project cost code? Does this request tie to a business objective? Do you have funding? What is the business need? Do you have business and IT Senior Leadership approval?

Talk to Your Customers – They Won’t Bite! You want to know how to mend a customer’s broken heart? TLC – Talking. Learning. Communicating. Time and time again, we see top ten lists come out stating one of the top challenges IT faces is communication with the business. With the single point of entry, a need has been identified by your customers. This is your opportunity to start the conversation and gather information on what the customer wants and needs. If what they need doesn’t align with what was requested, you as the IT expert have the knowledge to provide them with alternative solutions. In the end, your customers appreciate it. You and your team will have a clearer understanding of what’s needed to fulfill their requests.

Make sure you grab a copy of our latest whitepaper: Games We Play - Utility Services with Veris. Simply register and the whitepaper will be sent to you.

Copyright (c) Veris Associates, Inc. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. Comments contents are the opinions of the person posting the comment (commenter) and not necessarily those or endorsed by Veris Associates, Inc. Veris Associates, Inc. reserves the right to remove any and all comments it wishes without any recourse of the commenter. Decision of Veris Associates, Inc. is final.

03 July 2008

Classroom Training vs. e-Learning Training

Ron Przywara

Ron Przywara
ITIL Certified Consultant
IT Service Management
Veris Associates, Inc.

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Classroom training vs. e-learning training: In the never-ending drive to get ahead of the curve, which road gets you to where you want to be?

If the decision is made using numbers on a balance sheet the obvious choice would seem to be “e-learning”. The direct cost of distance learning is generally lower than a classroom instructor-led course (average 40%-60% less) and there’s no travel expenses (mileage, hotel, etc.). The choice though is not as simple as the expense. Like any business decision, the cost is an influence, but there are other components in the equation that require consideration. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the components, both positives and challenges, of e-learning and classroom instructor-led training and present you with the information to help you make an informed business decision.

Why training in the first place? Define your goal. What do you want to accomplish with your newly acquired education? Is success measured by a certification, the physical proof of your knowledge? Or is achievement demonstrated by your application of a newly acquired perspective or capability? Perhaps it is a blend of both. The answer to the first question will in part drive the training method you choose.

Objections to Classroom:

Aren’t there books I can read?

There is a great deal of published information available on almost every topic. What is appropriate for your current stage of understanding? What is appropriate for your end-goal? Individuals retain material at different rates, but in general adults follow these retention guidelines:

o Adults retain approximately 20% of what they read
o They retain approximately 50% of what they read and hear
o The retention moves to almost 90% when adults read, hear and actively participate in the material

I’ve had prior experiences with a lousy instructor.

A past experience can have an influence in your decision, but don’t let a single poor instructor be your last memory of the classroom training experience. There are a great deal more instructors who show true passion for their students, the classroom experience and the material.

I can’t be away three (four, five) days away from work.

This is a challenge. The best way to overcome this barrier harkens back to the first question again “What do you expect to get out of training?” If your answer involves any of the following:

o Career advancement
o Improved job performance
o Development of new opportunities

The time away from work is required and involves commitment on your part and probably your company’s commitment. Instructor- led classroom education is a business decision and not a vacation planning event. You and your company have made a commitment to improvement, increased efficiency, greater effectiveness, insert training goal here________.

Objections to e-learning:

I can’t find the time to complete the course.

Sitting in front of a PC regardless of location and reading material can be mentally taxing. The time away from the day-to-day focus of work is real when attempting distance learning. Distance learning requires a level of dedication to complete the material. The course window available to satisfy the time course can usually be stretched over multiple weeks.

It’s boring sitting in front of a PC for hours.

Again, we’re back at the commitment factor. Usually a distance learning course is designed to be completed in a number of shorter, palatable pieces just for this reason. There is generally an approach to the course materials that provides greater activity, visual stimulation or action designed to keep the attention of the student.

Aren’t there books I can read?

There is a great deal of published information available on almost every topic. What is appropriate for your current stage of understanding? What is appropriate for your end-goal? Individuals retain material at different rates, but in general adults follow these retention guidelines:

o Adults retain approximately 20% of what they read
o They retain approximately 50% of what they read and hear
o The retention moves to almost 90% when adults read, hear and actively participate in the material

Every person responds differently to the various communication vehicles used to deliver information. Additionally the use of graphics enhances the written word by stimulating multiple parts of the brain.

A few examples are:
o PowerPoint slide decks (visual)
o Books (visual & tactile)
o Workbooks (visual, tactile feedback)
o Instructor dialog (auditory)
o Electronic quizzes (visual, tactile feedback).

Both classroom instruction and e-learning training utilize a blend of communication delivery mechanisms to capture and maintain the attention of the adult student, ultimately improving long-term content retention.

Classroom instruction offers the ability in real-time to modify the blend of interaction, instruction and stimulation. The scenarios being vocalized by the instructor and the students often enhance the experience and aid in the retention of the material. These dialogues can stimulate practical discussions of the various ways the new knowledge can be applied by the students in daily practice.

There are challenges to the discussion forum. Oblique tangents of discussion or the distraction of non-aligned topics can derail the time management of the course. Experienced instructors manage both the time and direction of the class discussion to the benefit of the attendees in a professional manner.

E-learning courses on the other hand are designed to maintain a focus on the material in a very structured manner. This format requires a controlled educational environment managed by the student. By establishing a dedicated, usually scheduled, time and location, the student provides the appropriate level of isolation to minimize distraction and satisfies their educational needs.

Numerous academic studies show both options can be effective learning experiences with long-term retention of the materials. Now that we’ve reviewed the basic concepts, consider the following questions when making your decision:

o What is your desired goal? What is your plan once you acquire this new skill/knowledge?
o What is the material? Technical? Theoretical? Does it require discussion or is it primarily facts you need to know?
o What past experiences do you have with each delivery method? What about the delivery organization (training company)?
o Where do you feel more comfortable?
o Where do you feel more focused?

Take the time to answer these questions before you make your choice. Whatever way you decide, classroom or e-learning, the most important decision is already made: you want to learn.