Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A Week in Provence - Part 1


I've been threatening to write about cycling analogies and ITSM for some time. I've just returned from my annual cycling trip so this seems as good a time as any to do so. In this part I'll talk about he links to ITSM initiatives, in Part 2 I'll look at the links to everyday ITSM delivery.

A sensible pace
Strictly speaking I should say I'm currently retuning from it, since I'm writing this on the TGV between Montelimar and Paris at 320km,which is a lot faster than we've been cycling all week.

The TGV at Montelimar 

We've been cycling at a steady touring pace, all thirteen of us maintaining the same basic rhythm and going at the right speed to get to our destination at round about the right time. If it looked like it might start raining in the afternoon we've speeded up a little, if we wanted to take in the scenery a little we slowed it down. What we haven't done is to set off at break neck pace and found ourselves exhausted by lunchtime and struggling to continue after lunch.

ITSM initiatives need to find the right pace. It is better to be consistent than to rush ahead chasing the low hanging fruit only to find the imitative runs out of steam after the first eighteen months

The Chain Gang

Of course if you threw a random thirteen cyclists together the chances are they wouldn't all want or be able to cycle at the same pace. Our group isn't random though, having first met over ten years ago we've self selected from a wider gene pool so that we end up cycling with a group who stay together from the first day of the holiday. 
The team in action near Les Baux

That wasn't always the case in the early days. Typically the end of the first day would find us stretched out across the countryside in various states of health. We would still wait for each other but it wasn't very efficient. The reality is that even now we have variations in pace, for instance I'm never going to be the world's fastest climber, but I can set quite a pace on a flat road for long periods. Overall it all balances out.

Here comes the ITSM lesson:

ITSM works best when the teams and improvement initiatives delivering it can work at a similar speed and don't have to play catch up. Too often an imitative in one area gets delayed waiting for the other areas to catch up with them, and often by the time the others have caught up any benefits from the first teams effort in achieving an early delivery has been dissipated

Just Getting Along
Lets talk about the team for a bit. We have a lot in common, but there are also intrinsic differences that are inevitable when you bring together Belgians, Brits, Canadians, Minnesotans, New Yorkers and the Swiss. To get on we have to make compromises, and we have to accept our differences rather than pretending they don't exist. Needless to say humour plays a big part in keeping us a cohesive unit,even if our humour differs as well. There is also a language issue, made worse on years like this one where we ware cycling in a country foreign to all of us. For my part I spent less time perfecting my French than in improving my colloquial New York expressions, though pronouncing “Howudoin” remains beyond me.

Humour,compromise and making an effort all make ITSM more effective, as does recognising that teams, and the business have different but legitimate agendas.

We had two new team members this year. One will be invited back, one won't. Lets call the one we won't be inviting back: Carping Cathy. You know the type. Egocentric, constantly finding fault , unable to adjust to the mood of those around them and passing on information at critical times that is either irrelevant or out of date. How do you cope with them?

In the short term you ignore the whiners, and leave to the people who brought them on to the team to deal with them. In the long term you remove them from the team. If you don't you'll lose other good people I've seen far too many ITSM initiatives founder as a result of trying to bend backwards to keep those sorts of people happy


Some objectives are inherently hard to reconcile. I go cycling to lose weight. In Ireland that's easy, but in France, where I got to eat well, it isn't so easy. This year is the first time I've come back weighing more than at the start of the week. On the other hand few things are worse than cycling when you are hungry, or getting to a town at the end of a day to find there isn't a decent place to eat.
Pistou - the local soup

Maintaining morale and energy is vital but you also need to balance the different objectives. Another common mistake in ITSM initiatives is mistaking the kudos of accepting an ITSM project of the year award as the main objective, not delivering continued QoS to the business.

Don't Climb Every Mountain

Our route passed the foot of Mt Ventoux, one of cycling’s most famous climbs and the the site of the death of one of Britain's cycling heroes. As reasonably fit cyclists, who the previous day had done a 350m climb before lunch, It would have been very tempting to fit in an attempt to cycle up the 21km route with its constant climb and several sections of 1:10. Tempting but silly. None of us had been in training for a ride like that and we were using rented bikes that weren't really suitable.
That is yesterday's ride in the background

Just because a goal is in front of you doesn't mean it is a good idea to go for it. Of course you could spend a lot of time and effort implementing a CMDB, but do you really believe the effort would meet with success and merit the effort and pain involved?

It is all about the bike

Those of you who follow me on twitter will have picked up that as a non car driver I own a variety of bikes. Each has a purpose and each has limitations. On this occasion we were riding heavy hybrid bikes. They had the gears to get us up any hill, eventually whilst carrying a heavy load, but they aren’t the kind of bike I ride at the weekend when I want to cover 80km before lunch. The tools you have often dictate the path you take.

My steed for the week

If you want to do something different you might need a different tool, but you should expect that to have limitations in turn.

Its not all about the bike

If you aren't au fiat with cycle racing it is hard to get over how fit racing cyclists are. The best bike in the world ridden by an overweight forty eight year old is still going to struggle going up hills. Then again on the last day, having left the 350m climbs before lunch behind, we were cycling through the dead flat marshland of the Camargue and it was hard to stay excited, especially since the pink flamingos remained elusive. Needless to say we compensated by upping the pace considerably.

An exciting road in the Camargue marshes

As with the equipment side of the equation you have to adopt what you do to the capabilities of your team. At the same time a team that isn't being stretched is going to get bored so you need to make sure their personal and team capabilities are enhanced

Dealing with Novelty

I love my American cycling friends dearly, except when it comes to roundabouts. They just aren't used to them. Cycling in the UK roundabouts are an unwelcome and dangerous occupational hazard. Cars cut you up, it is hard to match your speed to the traffic flow, and all I want to do is get off them as quickly as possible. And to add to that on the other side of the channel I have to remember to cycle around them anticlockwise (With great timing as wrote that last sentence the Eurostar I'm now travelling on entered the Channel Tunnel ). On the other hand my American companions appear to have no conception of giving way to traffic already on the round about, and see roundabouts as as nice place to have a stop and chat about the scenery.

You say rest stop, I say roundabout

It is easy to underestimate the risk inherent in novel situations. The team need educating in new ways of behaving. Old ways of behaving run the risk of leading to a Darwin Award for removing yourself from the gene pool.

Changing direction

Even when we are highly skilled we can find external circumstances forcing us to do things we hadn't planned. In my case it was a lorry coming the other way down a very narrow road. Essentially I had tow choices. I could have braked hard or I could have swerved onto the gravel. Unfortunately I was day dreaming at the time and made the mistake of trying to do both things at once. The result was I skidded hard, jammed the rear brake on and lost my chain. The side of my leg also made contact with the side of the bike which wasn't a pretty picture the next day. The moral?

When you have to change direction quickly prioritise actions and try and keep your reaction as straightforward as possible rather than trying to change everything at once

Which way do we go?
There were lots of great things about this trip but the standard of the road book provided wasn't one of them. One of the team members provided an excellent translation of them from French into English, but the problem was that the original French instructions were incomplete and inaccurate. Remind you of anything? OK that link was a bit obvious even by my standards.

What would have made life a lot easier would have been a good map on which we could have plotted our route in advance and clarified any discrepancies between the instructions and the map. It goes without saying that we could have used Google earth or one of the specialist cycle route mapping tools to do that – if we had had access to them in the mountains and if the data roaming charges weren't so excessive.. Unfortunately high tech solutions often let us down when we most need them

Don't take the quality of frameworks like ITIL for granted and make use of other frameworks like COBIT, ISO 20000 and ISO 38500 to provide a wider context

Where Next ?
Here I am at the peak of my fitness regime for the year. I can look back on a successful trip with well earned satisfaction, but if I sit back and do nothing for the next twelve months I'll be flabby and unhealthy. So it is important that I keep my cycling routine going, even through the winter months when the sun of Provence will be a distant memory. And what better motivation can there be than planning next year's trip when hopefully we will be returning to Ireland for the masochistic pleasure of hills, rain, wind, cold and over priced Irish cooking.

ITSM doesn't finish with the end of an implementation initiative – that's when the really hard work begins

Friday, 9 September 2011

Episode 9: Downtime is Forever

Brandon Lane CIO blinked. He was still recovering from the visit of the Ghost of ITIL Past, and now the Ghost of ITIL Present stood in front of him. The blinking having not worked he tried a heavy sigh.

Jimbofin, for such it was, raised an eyebrow and said nothing. Eventually Brandon gave in.

“I guess I’m still dreaming?”

Jimbofin smirked.

“Of course you are, but you are in good company. Look outside your office door.”

Brandon got up and looked outside the door. He was greeted by the sound of loud snoring and the sight of his IT department slumped over their desks. Everyone that is except the help desk staff, they were still hard at work answering calls. Jimbofin and Brandon walked up to them. Brandon spotted Kelly walking towards them and was about to ask her if she’d noticed anything odd, when she walked right through him.

“I don’t get this” said Brandon, “What’s going on?”

“Well, let us start with your help desk first. They can’t afford the time to dream, but they are so busy dealing with the reality of the impact of poor service on the users they also can’t afford to take any notice of management. It is as if you don’t exist to them.”

There was a commotion as one of the help desk agents collapsed at their desk.

“I thought you said they were too busy for dreaming?”

“They are, he’s not dreaming, he’s just collapsed from exhaustion. It is a totally different phenomenon. You know it is funny, but it can be hard to tell two things apart that look similar but underneath the surface are totally different. Look at this for instance...”

Jimbofin had wandered over to the desk of Richard, the help desk manager, who unlike the rest of his team was clearly dreaming. Jimbofin was pointing at a large pile of books on Richard’s desk.

There was something both familiar and strange about them. “What are they?” Brandon asked.

“Behold ‘ITIL 2011 Edition’ in all its weighty glory. Richard never stops telling anyone who shows the slightest sign of interest that this is an ITIL v3 shop, if you could see into his dreams you would see him standing up in front of an audience at an itSMF conference telling the world how this is the first organisation to become ITIL 2011 Edition compliant thanks to his initiative”

“Really? That’s....interesting...what would it mean?”

“On the basis that the difference between v3 and 2011 Edition is that all the inconsistencies and mistakes have been taken out then someone as literal as myself might suggest it would mean you’ve stopped being inconsistent and  blindly following what ITIL says even when it is mistaken. In reality of course it means nothing at all, especially since your department can’t get the basics right. For instance, what did you ask Richard to do when you spoke to him earlier?”

“I told him to get out here and find out what the issues with the changes to the MFD IP addresses were.”

“Did you? That sounds sensible. I’m sure he dashed back here and set up an online conference to get to the root cause of it all, having stopped only to brief the helpdesk team on a consistent message to give out to callers. Shall we have a look at what is on his screen?”

Brandon leaned forward to look. Then he stood back and looked up to the heavens, before looking back to Jimbofin.

“What should I do?” He asked, “It is so much worse than I realised.”

“Oh I don’t know, I think he did quite well to get ten euros for his old ITIL books on eBay.” He paused. "Perhaps it was unfair of me to use your account to make the bid."

Brandon glared at him.

“Oh don’t worry, it isn’t like we are in real time here. We are in the IT department time-zone, things are different here. For instance down here if there is an hour’s downtime one week time heals itself so that the IT department forget about it as long as they still meet their SLA at the end of the year. Not in the business though, up there that one hour becomes indelibly etched into the corporate memory and stretches into an infinite perception that the systems are always down”

“Well thank goodness that this is just a dream. It would be dreadful if whilst everyone was dreaming down here the rest of the organisation was trying to get on with its normal business.”

“Yes that would be quite awkward wouldn’t it, er, yes. Did I actually say that? Remember what I said earlier about the help desk being too busy to dream? Perhaps you’d better listen in on one of these phones...”

Brandon raced to the desks and picked up the first headset he could find


Brandon sighed. He would recognise the sound of the CEO’s voice until the last syllable of recorded time.