Sunday, June 21, 2020

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 2

Second in a Ten Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the second in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #2: Avoid “Other”.  When you’re going down the path of configuring your ITSM modules (e.g. Incident, Problem, Service Request, Change, Release), there are various meta-data elements you’ll be asked to configure.  When a user creates a new Incident record, for example, they will usually be prompted to select the Service being impacted, and possibly the Configuration Items (CIs).  In some deployments, the user may also be prompted to select the Category, Sub-Category, and Item values to be appended to the service record.  In some ITSM deployments, these meta-data can be uniform across all record types.  In others, separate and distinct meta-data may be able to be applied to the different ITSM records. 

In any case, you’ll want to avoid giving anyone in the organization the ability to select “Other” as a valid value.  If you allow users and technicians to append “Other” to a service record, invariably this will eventually become abused will result in reporting discrepancies in your tool. 

The advent of “Other” in the reporting tool arises from a short-sighted or incomplete strategy, so instead of allowing the user to select “Other”, do your homework and determine what the user is really attempting to accomplish.  If you allow a user to select the Service being impacted by the Incident, there should be no “Other” service listed in your Service Catalog.  Likewise, if you allow the user to select the Configuration Item (CI) being impacted by the Incident, there should be no “Other” CI listed in your CMDB. 

Removing “Other” from Category, Sub-Category, and Item drop-down lists can be a little more daunting, but not insurmountable.  Most configurations of Category, Sub-Category, and Item that I have witnessed in production have been ad-hoc, short-sighted, and not valuable.  Further, I have seen reporting built on top of this flawed implementation approach.  My professional opinion is that the combination of Category, Sub-Category, and Item should distinctly identify the configuration item, and the aspect of that CI that is being impacted. 

We can all agree that the only service items that exist in an IT environment are hardware and software.  Let “Hardware” and “Software” be the only choices for “Category”.  Sub-categories under the “Hardware” category would be entries such as, “Data Network”, “Desktop PC”, “Laptop PC”, “Messaging”, “Printers”, “Scanners / Imaging Devices”, “Server – Intel”, “Server – Unix”, “Telephone Network”, and “UPS”.  Sub-categories under “Software” would be entries such as, “Antivirus”, “Business Applications”, “Data Files”, “Data Network”, “Database”, “Desktop PC”, “Desktop Publishing”, “Development Tools”, “Infrastructure Tools”, “Laptop PC”, “Messaging”, “Middleware”, “Operating System”, “Printers”, “Reports”, “Scanners / Imaging Devices”, “Security Applications”, “Server – Intel”, “Server – Unix”, “Telephone Network”, “UPS”, “User ID Administration”, and “Web Browsing”. 

Now you may have noticed that some of the sub-categories that I listed for “Hardware” are duplicated in “Software”.  Take “Printers” for example.  There is both hardware and software that goes into a printer, and each could potentially fail and / or require service.  You want to be able to report on each of these items separately.  Lastly, the “Item” choices would most closely mirror the actual CI setup in your CMDB.  Now you may be asking yourself, “Why do I need to have an “Item” entry if I already have a CI entry?”  The answer is simple; it’s so that you can more granularly report on exactly what is affected by the ITSM record.  For example, if I just choose “Dell Color Laser 5110cn” as the CI affected by the Incident record, I don’t know if its hardware or software that’s the problem.  By applying the appropriate Category, Sub-Category, Item, CI, and Service I can accurately report the true nature of all ITSM records across the environment.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Lessons Learned from IT Service Management Tool Implementation: Part 1

First in a Ten Part Series
By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in implementing an IT Service Management (ITSM) tool.  Below is the first in a ten part series examining my ITSM lessons learned.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to ITSM nirvana.

Lesson #1: Beware of the Integrators.  An “Integrator” is a third party professional services firm that will help you to setup and deploy your selected ITSM tool.  Unless you have requisite development, configuration, and strategy skills & expertise in your organization, you will need to contract with an integrator to get your ITSM platform launched.  The key thing to remember is that the contract between you and your selected integrator is no different than any other professional services consulting engagement; you must clearly define scope, deliverables, acceptance criteria, etc.  Most of these agreements will center on the modules you want to develop and deploy.  Keep in mind that the overarching strategy is YOURS!  Don’t rely on the integrator to tell you how the modules you’ve asked them to develop and deploy will fit with your overall strategy.  While some integrators can offer some level of strategy expertise, the strategy completely depends on your organization’s dynamics and the desire to bring selected modules to market.  The bottom line is that the modules defined in the integrator agreement will be the sole focus of the integrator.  They will attempt to finish the development and release of the contracted modules as quickly as possible, and then move on to the next engagement.  If your organization is not ready to accept their work and deploy into production, your organization may incur additional cost or rework as the overarching strategy evolves.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Cost or Profit Center?

An Important Policy Decision
By Chad Greenslade

An important policy decision to be made is whether IT will be a profit or cost center.  This is a decision made by the organization’s executives, not by IT management.  This is because IT, as a business unit, is subject to the same governance as any other business unit.  Although IT executives may be asked to participate in making that decision, this is ultimately a matter of enterprise financial policy.  Definition of these two options are:

(1) Cost Center: Two (2) definitions for the term “cost center” are commonly used in business.  Although they appear close in meaning, they are different.  In this context, the term is used to indicate a business unit or department to which costs are assigned, but which does not charge for services provided.  It is, however, expected to account for the money it spends, and may be expected to show a return on the business’ investment in it.  A cost center is able to focus awareness on costs and enable investment decisions to be better founded, without the overheads of billing.  However, it is less likely to shape users’ behavior and does not give the IT organization the full ability to choose how to financially manage itself (for example, in funding IT investment).  The other definition for the term “cost center” is used in the context for accounting.  In this context, a cost center is anything to which a cost can be allocated (for example, a service, location, department, business unit, etc.).  They also provide meaningful categories for allocating and reporting costs so that they can be understood and influenced by a wide audience.  Care should be taken to read the context of the term to ensure the correct meaning is inferred.

(2) Profit Center: A business unit that charges for providing services is a “Profit Center”.  A profit center can be created with the objective of making a profit, recovering costs, or running at a loss.  As a profit center, IT is able to exercise greater autonomy, even to the extent that it can be operated as a separate business entity, under the ownership and direction of the corporate entity.  IT will also be able to achieve better cost control over service provision and calculate the true costs of IT by customers.  Charging other business units in the same organization can be useful in demonstrating the value that the service provider delivers, and in ensuring that funding is obtained from an appropriate source (i.e. the customer that uses the services).

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Disrespectful Neighbors

You Are Not Entitled to the Street
By Chad Greenslade

The real question that I truly grapple with on a day-to-day basis is does it make me a bad person for reporting my neighbors' parking violations? 

The rules are clear.  The habitual parking of your vehicle in the street is prohibited.  The rules are also clear that your garage is to be used primarily for AUTOMOBILE STORAGE.  You are NOT to run a business out of your garage.  You are not to store your golf carts, instead of your cars, in the garage.  If you didn’t buy the extra ½ garage, you don’t get to have a golf cart, and if you did buy the extra ½ garage, then that is not meant for your woodworking set.  If you own a golf cart, YOU’RE A MORON because we don’t live on a golf course.  The beauty of this community, which is literally the only thing I like about it, REQUIRES that you keep your vehicles off the street.

I don't report everyone.  I certainly don't patrol the neighborhood.  The things I report are literally right in front of my home and I see them daily.  They intrude on my tranquility.  When I look out my home office window, I don't want to see your car, RV, sister's car, jet ski, etc.  In fact, I the only cars that I ever want to see are the types of cars that get parked up front at Legacy West.  You know, nice cars; cars that you and I can't afford.   

The real issue is that you're disrespectful and you don't care that your life is spilling out onto the street.  You can't park your car in the garage because it's full of your stuff.  You have too many cars to park in the driveway because too many people live at your home. 

I tried to work it out with you.  I placed a very nice, polite letter on your windshield, citing the rules, asking for your concurrence and stressing that the rules are meant to beautify our community.  I gently asked for your compliance and enclosed my contact information.  You were surprised when I was unmoved by your reasons for why you should be allowed to park your cars in the street.  I don’t want to know you.  I just want you to not park your cars in the street.  You proceeded to be defiant and I proceeded to have you fined. 

But back to the real question: am I a bad person for continuing to report you, and others, for parking violations?  Am I evil for taking pictures and making time to follow-up?  Is it odd that I have a folder on my hard drive cataloging your transgressions?  I hope not, but I just don’t know.  Since so many of you do it, it makes me think I am the crazy one.  The one thing that I know for sure is that I’m never going to stop getting angry about seeing your vehicle parked in the street.  I am just wired that way.  Some people call it OCD; I call it getting what I pay for.  When I sit down in the morning with my cup of coffee and look out at the beauty that I have paid so handsomely to create for myself, the last thing I want to think about is you, your life, and all of the reasons why I now despise you for parking your car within my view.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Beliefs Challenged


An Atheist’s Acceptance that God is Love

By Chad Greenslade

A few days ago, I watched a video that made me think for a second about being atheist.  The premise was simple.  They likened DNA to a book.  They placed an actual book in the hands of an atheist and asked the atheist, "Do you think this book could have materialized out of thin air?"

Of course the atheists replied, "Absolutely not!  A book cannot magically appear out of thin air.  Someone must have made it.  Someone must have made the paper, made the ink, created the language, pictures, etc., required to physically produce the book.  A book clearly has a creator." 

Then, the narrator goes on to explain how DNA is the instruction book for every living thing on this planet, and how every living thing, when it comes time to make a cell for a certain function, refers back to it’s DNA book in order to produce the cell to the correct specification.  The narrator got the atheist to agree that DNA is a book, and then re-presented the atheist’s previous conclusion that a book must have a creator.  All of the atheists interviewed were speechless.

So, I thought about this.  I thought about this in the context of religion, science, evolution, the age of the universe, and my limited but interested, understanding of chemistry, physics, space and time. 

My initial rebuttal is that comparing a physical book to DNA is false equivalence.  A physical book simply cannot be the same thing as DNA.  After all, DNA is a chemical; it’s an acid.  But apparently, in that acid sits a code, and that code can be compared with a book that has three billion pages.  For humans, 99% of those three billion pages are the same.  The remaining one percent makes up the differences between you and me.  The other three billion pages are reserved for every other form of life that exists on this planet.  So, when you think about it like that, simply denying that DNA is a book is not enough to justify mine, or anyone else’s, atheism. 

After my initial rebuttal, I thought some more, and here’s where the “DNA is a book” analogy breaks down, at least for me. 

I’ve observed every living thing on this planet have defense mechanisms.  These mostly biological responses serve to protect an organism, and in certain situations, other organisms like them.  We see protective responses all the time.  In animals, we see them when mothers care for their young, and when species live in packs.  We see plants chemically warn other plants of impending destruction.  None of these living organisms has a god, none of these organisms stand to benefit by recognizing that there is a god, and none of these organisms will ever think about being punished by a god.

From the Miller-Urey experiment in 1952 that proved amino acids can be built from inorganic precursors while simulating the conditions of early Earth, to the Abiogenesis theory that that the transition from non-living to living entities was not a single event, but an evolutionary process of increasing complexity involving molecular self-replication, self-assembly, autocatalysis, and ultimately the emergence of cell membranes, it’s clear that electricity, a natural phenomenon, jump-started, and was later harnessed by, molecular self-replication (a.k.a. “life”).  At a sub-atomic level, molecular self-replication used electricity to assemble a chemically-encoded instruction set for how it came to be, and how it could continue to be.   

This chemically encoded instruction set was “the book”.  So what created the book?  It’s simple.  It’s obvious.  It’s the only answer that’s ever stood the test of time, and probably ever will stand the test of time.  We did.  Life did.  It’s always been us.  It’s always been life.  The book was required for life’s self-preservation.   

When I set this theory against the backdrop of time and imagine the elements forming organic compounds in a primordial soup, chemically instructed at a sub-atomic level to preserve themselves, to look after each other, aging, evolving, using new materials and chemically recording their experiences, given the vast expanse of time and space (Earth is 4.53 billion years old), I can see how the book accumulates three billion pages.

I think it was slow at first and probably suffered some setbacks, but with electricity (lightning) as the catalyst for the specialized chemistry of carbon and water, building largely upon four key families of chemicals (lipids, carbohydrates, amino acids, and nucleic acids), after one billion years, these organic compounds began manifesting their destiny.  With enough time, they’ve recorded enough intelligence in their chemistry to animate themselves and evolve in many different directions, resulting in an explosion of life in the oceans.  Within the first billion years of Earth's history, life appeared in the oceans and began to affect Earth's atmosphere and surface, leading to the proliferation of anaerobic and, later, aerobic organisms.

Some geological evidence indicates that life may have arisen as early as 4.1 billion years ago. Since then, the combination of Earth's distance from the Sun, physical properties and geological history have allowed life to evolve and thrive. In the history of life on Earth, biodiversity has gone through long periods of expansion, occasionally punctuated by mass extinctions. Estimates of the number of species on Earth today vary widely; most species have not been described.  More than 99% of all species of life forms, amounting to over five billion species that ever lived on Earth, are estimated to be extinct.

But I digress.  This post is not necessarily about theories on the origins of life, but more about disproving the existence of god. 

Look, I get it.  People need spirituality to feel connected.  A feeling of connection is how we reproduce.  Often, people need to feel that someone somewhere is looking out for them, preserving them.  This, innate, biologically-encoded ideal is the origin of the god construct that has plagued humankind’s psyche since the beginning of their existence on this planet.  We only have it because our brains are evolved enough to operate above an instinctual level.  This has freed our mind to wonder, and for early humans to derive supernatural explanations for the unexplained.  These leftover supernatural explanations gave rise to modern day religion.

So what is god?  God is a defense mechanism.  It’s a defense mechanism we construct for ourselves, in order to feel connected, to feel preserved.  But, if defense mechanisms come from a chemically-encoded instruction set for how a being came to be, and how it continues to be, it can be argued that the innate feeling of preservation for ourselves and others, is the real defense mechanism, and that “God” is merely a figment constructed by the conscious mind.  What else do we call it when we take action to preserve ourselves and others?  Love.  We call it love.      

That same feeling, that same energy, that drives us to hug our family and friends, to pamper our pets, and to water our garden is the same energy that pushed the building blocks of life, all those eons ago, to band together and simply look after one another, to take care of each other, so that it, whatever “it” was, could continue.  Over time, life came to realize “it” as reality.

You don’t need a deity to mask your love.  You don’t need a deity to justify your love.  You don’t need a deity to augment your love.  You are able to generate the same amount of love with or without your idea of a god.  Love is not simply a feeling; so much as it is the actions you take from those feelings.  If there’s a universal force, it’s undoubtedly electricity, a predictable and sometimes controllable physical phenomenon.  Once that force jump-starts the reaction, self-preservation, or love, is what sustains it.  The explanation of god begins and ends with love.  At least the bible got that part right.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Leadership in Times of Crises

Keep Calm & We’ll All Get Through This
By Chad Greenslade

I went to get my car inspected on Fri Mar-20, as part of renewing its yearly state registration.  The lady at the car shop said to me, "You might want to wait, because with all this craziness and everything shut down, if they can't process your registration renewal in time, you're just going to have to get it inspected again!

I thought about it for a quick second, taken aback, the only response I could think of was, “Yeah, but it’s a mail-in application.”  I knew it wasn’t a very strong retort.  She again says, “Everything is shut down; the driver’s license office is shut down!”, as if she was actively trying to get me engaged in her hysteria.

Having a very skeptical view of her impassioned argument, along with my quick determination that she appeared to be hysterical and ignorant, and given the fact that I had already taken the time to drive there, considering the mere $25.50 inspection fee, I decided to risk it.

My renewal application hit the mail on Sat Mar-21.  Yesterday, Fri Mar-27, I received my sticker.  When you subtract mailing time, that’s a three (3) day turnaround for the county tax assessor’s office to deliver my registration sticker, which apparently, is still functioning.

My point with this anecdote is that everyone needs to remain calm.  Here’s a lady, right in the middle of Prosper, TX, actively spewing uninformed garbage like it’s gospel, stating the government is shutdown and I should forego my legally required automobile inspection and registration.  How many other people did she convince of her narrative? 

The world is not ending.  Do you know what I’ve done since this quarantine began?  Work.  Work every day.  Long hours.  It has upended the Clients that my company serves and we’ve had to pivot sharply.  We all have a role to play.  Go to work, if you can.  Pay your bills, buy your groceries.  I think we can all manage to keep ourselves indoors if we’re sick and only venture out for essentials for a while.  Take a socially distant walk.  Exercise.  Listen to the leaders that you trust; you know that you have a few whom you consider to be moderate or reasonable.  Pay attention to what’s happening at the federal level so that you can take advantage of the $2 trillion in cash that’s about to hit the market.  If we all don’t freak out, we can adapt to this crisis with grace and class.

I’m fortunate to have a job I can do from home.  My Clients, however, are in all industries, and are all struggling to make sense of the new world.  As a leader in my company, I have to act level-headed at all times.  The biggest call to action for me was to keep everyone focused and on-task.  Find ways to push forward.  Listen to Clients and Employees and quickly adjust.  Succinctly communicate facts and limit opinion.  Be open and honest, diligent and principled.  New opportunities will present themselves that can benefit everyone.  My largest account is shrinking by 50%, but I have other Clients that are increasing demand.  I know that my company can’t effectively respond to these changing conditions without leadership at all levels, acting like leaders. 

We are all leaders of something or someone in life.  Maybe it’s your children.  If you have the word “manager” in your work title, someone in an actual business, that participates in the actual economy, is looking to you for direction.  Step-up.  Engage.  Don’t indulge in fear and paranoia.  There will be no nationwide martial law, no FEMA concentration camps.  There will be no nationwide suspension of habeas corpus.  If the military does get deployed, it won’t be nationwide and it won’t be for long periods of time.  When it does happen, remember, THEY ARE AMERICANS AND THEY ARE THERE TO HELP.  Trust me, they’d much rather be in the US helping people than in a war zone. Look at what the National Guard is doing in NY State; building hospitals, distributing aid.  No one’s coming for your guns.  Governor Abbot just clarified his order that gun stores can remain open; god bless him.

There’s no place I’d rather be for this crisis.   Texas is a proud, strong state.  We pull together in times of crisis, not push apart.  We’ve seen it time and time again.  Every time a disaster happens, neighbors help neighbors.  We don’t pillage and loot.  We don’t take advantage of others.  Our Republican government is clearly focused on getting our economy restarted, above all else.  Economies don’t work when society is in a state of civil unrest.  No one wants that.  Everyone is pulling in the same direction; care for the sick and get the economy restarted.  In third-world countries ran by actual dictators, they’d simply round up all the sick and burn them to death.  Think about that and why it will never happen in the US.  We’re armed to the teeth.  There are more civilians than soldiers.  Eventually, it’s just a numbers game.  No pilot is going to fly a bombing campaign over their own people; it’s an illegal order, and pilots know that.  Finally, I highly doubt any service member would ever take up arms against fellow American citizens.  The government, the military, FEMA, everyone – it’s all us.  It’s you and me.  We all know (or were) someone in the military, someone that works for the city, county, or state, someone who is a police officer, etc.  In this particular crisis, we’re seeing state and local leaders step-up, at least as much as the federal government.  Democrats and Republicans may be bickering, but I believe that most are trying to do their best and protect the citizens under their jurisdiction or representation.  Both Democrats and Republicans are being forced to work together.  Our government may be slow, but we will eventually rise to the challenge.

Fellow Gen-Xers, I’m looking at you.  We are uniquely qualified to navigate this crisis.  We’ve lived through countless other crises.  Not much fazes us.  We have a duty to help those who are struggling to cope with this crisis.  This is our opportunity to step-up.  At best, this is just momentary blip at the midpoint in your life; at worst, decisions we make now will impact the remainder of our lives, and most likely the lives of others.  Consider this weight when acting.  

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Driving Adoption of Project & Program Methodologies, Templates, & Standards


Driving Adoption of Project & Program Methodologies, Templates, & Standards
Gaining the Buy-In You Need to be Successful

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked how I have been able to drive adoption of project management methodologies, tools, and templates.  Below is a high-level strategy that you may find useful. 

How were you able to drive adoption of a project / program methodology templates & standards?

This is the whole stick and carrot analogy of getting folks to change behaviors.  In general, I have found that most folks buy into the concept of a uniform delivery methodology for projects and programs.  The key items that drive folks away from following a uniform delivery methodology is if they perceive or witness the methodology either (1) not being followed by their peers, or (2) not adding value, or not being valued by management, when followed. 

When presenting the case for following the methodology, for the carrot portion of the analogy, I have started with the top-down view and began the discussion with, “this is what will give ‘Executive Smith’ the most insight into the project investments being made across the organization.”  I start with a high level dashboard, and explain to the project leaders how the various reporting elements are changed as the project progresses through the methodology lifecycle.  The next item that I stress is the tailoring options for the project.  No two projects are 100% identical and the ability of the project leaders to tailor the methodology based on project complexity places the rigor decision squarely with the team executing the project.  Tailoring allows the skipping of templates that provide no value (given appropriate justification) while allowing the overall project to remain compliant to the methodology. 

Finally, related to the “stick” aspect of the analogy, I emphasize the audit aspects of the methodology.  Ideally, you will have either an internal or external auditor conduct an audit of completed projects.  I have wrapped incentive items (recognition awards, small prizes, etc.) around successful completion of each of the items above, especially when initially getting the process started and institutionalized.  I have also incorporated completion of these items into project manager performance evaluations.