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Problem Management: Is Your Money Going Down the Drain?

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Like most everyone in a typical IT organization, you are “invited” to regularly discuss customer alignment. In many cases this is a bunch of IT people gathered in a large boardroom discussing what they “think” that really means. In some cases there may even be actual discussions with representatives from the business. Unfortunately, this could also be a discussion with disjointed IT functions in a crowded room with maybe a motivational poster on a wall. What needs to manifest itself in reality is a discussion by all IT functions on a strategy to working with the business towards one common business goal(s).

From a Service Management perspective, a starting point is to break down what is happening behind the scenes to ensure our ability to achieve success. In many cases we are quick to point out the incidents that impact our ability for the business to get to the next level. However what we really need to address is what the cause of those issues is; this is where problem management comes into the discussion. When this is brought up, the brain trust in the room will nod their heads, indicating that they are in agreement, but the question that might get asked is—where to start?

To illustrate what Problem Management can bring to the table, let’s walk this through an example:

The Business (Organization) – AnyCorp

  • One of your customers’ business goals is to reduce costs in overtime across all units including IT.
  • While you leverage Incidents, you currently do not have a formalized problem management process.
  • Your IT Operation support team has an 8 week on-call rotation.

The Issues

  • This team currently gets called out weekly for an application issue that requires someone to restart services to get the error to clear.
  • Each “call out” is billable to at least 1 hour.
  • Each week this application issue is called out (after hours) at least once between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. local time.
  • At the end of the quarter, the escalations increase to 2 calls per week.
  • The impact to your analyst is minimal as they see it, and they get a few extra bucks in their pocket for the minor interruption.

What does this mean?

Assuming the average call outs, this equates to 55 to 60 hours of on-call per year for these escalations. This may be time that no one is even noticing… except your customers, whose expectations for service have degraded to a point where there is an expectation that the service in question will have particular challenges or downtime.

Forget about the downtime outage costs, the overtime costs. The cost that represents your representation (which you may not be able to quantify) is priceless!

Enter the Problem Manager, or the person who will help facilitate the problem process.

After some discussions with the Operations team who has been dealing with the issue, the following facts surface:

  1. While the analysts dealt with this issue, they did not see it as a major problem (since each person only saw it once every 8 weeks from their perspective).
  2. The analysts were not aware that each other was creating and closing these application incidents.
  3. Reporting was not set up to “look” for these types of problems.
  4. Since there was other on-call overtime allocated to the team, this expenditure did not throw any flags.
  5. Discussions with the application team responsible indicate that they were aware there may have been issues with the latest release but have not heard of any issues from anyone on this until now.

Where do we begin?

We need to stop the assumption that we know what the customer wants.  Work with your customer. Regular touch points with business stakeholders should be held to ensure we are hitting the mark on service delivery.

We must stop assuming that the left hand in IT knows what the right hand does. Communication is key. Having regular meetings within IT to discuss issues which may be impacting customer service should be held. “How can we help each other help the customer?” should be the theme.

We need to align IT to help customers achieve their business outcomes. Work smarter, not harder. Work with the business to know what the business outcomes are, and align IT goals to support them. Fine-tuning underlying processes (in this example Problem Management) should be kept simple. See where areas for improvement from a supporting process standpoint are.

This example is fairly simple in nature, but it shows what can be accomplished if you can look at the big picture. In some cases just improving your communication skills and simplifying the way you work will enable you to find the low hanging fruit and improve the customer experience.

 

For more brilliant insights, check out Ryan’s blog: Service Management Journey

About Ryan Ogilvie

Ryan Ogilvie is a Service Management consultant in Calgary, Alberta with Blackfriar Consulting inc. While working with stakeholders to achieve their business outcomes is his main focus you can also catch his commentary on his blog – Service Management Journey. You can connect with him via the various links below.

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