Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mr. Indispensable

TeamLast week, I got the unpleasant, though not unexpected, news that two CEOs who I greatly admire are stepping down, Steve Jobs from Apple and Jim Sinegal at Costco. In both cases, longtime lieutenants take over the reins which is why the stock price of the respective companies has already bounced back. Within IT, key-man risk may not immediately affect the share price but I know numerous examples where the departure of an individual led to significant project delays and unforeseen cost overruns.

Let me first define key-man risk. Key-man risk is the danger that one guy getting hit by the proverbial bus can ruin the whole show. Though I am sure you all sympathize with this guy (why not let him win the lottery instead), you must be wondering how ITSM can help him avoid that fate. Well, it cannot. But ITSM can be instrumental in making sure that the IT department continues to function after that bus has flattened our man. Better still, ITSM helps the IT department run more efficiently by preparing for that contingency.

Note that the key-man risk is not necessarily limited to people who are just exceptionally good. It can also be a person who has taken one or many of the recommendations to heart about how you can make yourself indispensable. Or it can simply be a matter of your IT people being stretched so thin that there is simply no time to spend on knowledge transfer as everyone is too busy hanging on for dear life and being relieved and amazed at 5, 6 or 10pm that they managed to keep everything running for yet another day.

An integrated ITSM solution is, before anything else, a knowledge sharing environment. The simple fact that you can see who resolved an incident, how this was done, how a root cause was removed and why that particular solution was opted for, means that a knowledge base is automatically built that is accessible to the entire IT staff at all times. This knowledge base will make sure that next time someone else can perform the same task, and do it more quickly.

Team with 1 memberAn ITSM implementation is also helpful in identifying your key-(wo)men. That happens almost naturally when the assignment teams and members are defined for handling requests, problems and tasks. I first saw this a few years ago where it turned out that the organization had two teams, each supporting a business-critical service, that consisted of only one person. And to make matters worse it turned out to be the exact same person. Upon completion of the project, steps had already been taken to reduce the risk the company was running by expanding these teams. This did not mean that more people were hired, it simply meant that some colleagues got the chance to broaden their horizon and also become subject matter experts for those business critical services. The organization did not stop there. It turned out that even within the teams with multiple members certain issues might as well immediately be assigned to one team member as that person was the only one who could address those issues.

It is interesting to note that the IT specialists were not grumbling at all about the requirement to name backups for their responsibilities. Their management had done an excellent job communicating the objective by stating that within a year everyone should be able to go on vacation without his or her BlackBerry.

Lastly, many people still believe that being indispensible is something to strive for. Such people are reluctant to share their knowledge. For those, I would like to end this blog with a rule from Avinash Kaushik’s nine rules to work/live by: "Never make yourself indispensable. If you do you'll stay where you are because you are, well, indispensable."