All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, says the old proverb. To interpret that for the world of IT technical workgroups, all work and no play is an illusion – the trick is not to allow your manager to spot that’s what you’re doing.
Work is Life
Work is life. Just look at it. They wake, they have cursory contact with their co-habiting loved ones (CLO), they join the stressful commute. They arrive at a job where largely the only thing that is different today from yesterday is the date. They work, but the backlog stays the same size it has been for years. After a day’s effort with no apparent result and scarce appreciation, they rejoin the commute, and have some limited contact with the similarly-burdened CLO before preparing a meal and falling asleep in front of some trivial pointlessness on the telly. On Saturdays it’s the supermarket and on Sundays the DIY store. Rinse. Repeat. For years and years. Where is the soaring, growing, blossoming human spirit in that?
Life takes it out of people. Work shouldn’t. The hours your staff have under your care and direction are precious. They are not just for the duty of production. They are a real opportunity for stretching the intellect, honing the skills, broadening the horizon, deepening the perspective, having a laugh, enjoying the personal validation of the shared experience.
The simple truth is that given that there is so much they have to do just to survive, at work as at home, they need to embrace variety and enjoyment somewhere. And they will find it at work, whether you, as their manager, are involved in it or not. They will make time for the fun stuff. And you will either enable it as a matter of policy and purpose, or its creation and indulgence will be hidden from you. And if the latter, you’ve lost them, and you may never know.
Don’t risk being the manager of a workgroup that hides their own reality from you. You’re a manager, not that jobsworth of a school-teacher with a disrespectful nickname whom you and your mates mocked in secret all those years ago. Make time for the fun stuff. And the key to doing that is to know what you’re up against in the first place.
The easy way – the common way – to be manager of an IT technical workgroup is, well, not to ‘manage’ at all. This perennial IT abdication is everywhere. It is almost always accompanied by two things – first, the desire and practice of the workgroup manager actually to still be a technician for as long as possible; and second, the retained and perhaps professed self-delusion that the workgroup members are all competent, capable people who know what is expected of them and can just get on with it. Boom, manager’s salary without actually having to manage.
And you’ll never get spotted doing this, maybe because your boss is doing it too; but also because unlike in the Servicedesk, the IT management frameworks like IT*L and C*BIT don’t mention your job, and largely ignore the whole concepts of man-management and productivity anyway. So there’s no official instruction, and so nothing against which to measure your management competence and success. All you and your staff must do to be deemed successful is to react to whatever demand is thrown at your collective, whether you prepared for it or not.
So no official measurement then. Only the embedded assessment of you made by your own staff. Which is actually scarier.
Knowing What You’re Up Against
Back to knowing what you’re up against. First, accept that the workgroup members will make time for the fun stuff whether at your sanction and enablement or not. OK, that’s our target: to make official time for staff to conduct managerially-endorsed self-development through structured study of business relevant technologies. Yep, that’s what they’re doing, more often than not when they’re not actually producing. OK, there may be a bit of Fortnite and Facebook, but there’s learning too – that’s how they magically increase their ability to cope with those reactive demands. Learning about tech is probably why they’re in this business in the first place.
Let’s look at it another way. If you didn’t endorse the time they spend learning, then in effect, they have been hiding from you the self-development they had to make in order to do the job you’re paying them to do. Best not to think about that one too deeply just yet. That’s a spiral rabbit hole that demands some serious spelunking, perhaps in another article.
Knowing What’s Normal
So we’ve got our target. Next, we have to know what’s normal. This is going to require some measurement. What was that comment from the back there? That you can’t measure your work because you don’t know what’s going to happen next? It may look that way, but the way to handle that is to increase the scale. Stand back from the detail and look at work patterns over longer timeframes rather than focusing on individual demands. Wood versus trees and all that.
Take the reactive work – how many enquiries typically arrive in a day? If that’s too varied, look at a week. If that’s too diverse, try a month. You’re looking for an average. Once you’ve found it, imagine that number being apportioned among the group. Now it’s manageable.
Now get the group to estimate the typical effort to resolve these requests. Some will take much longer than others – doesn’t matter, go for the average. Be prepared for some exaggeration here – you might find your staff are fearful that you are about to find out that they don’t really have enough to do, and start to worry that their job may be on the line.
Reassure them – their jobs aren’t on the line. You already knew they were spending much of their time investing in themselves, and all you’re trying to do now is find a way they can do that officially, as part of a planned workload.
Now do the same with the Business-As-Usual (BAU), the systems maintenance, the administrative tasks and so on. Gradually build up a picture of how the manpower of your workgroup is consumed.
Now do the same for projects. Refine them down not just to time spent working on the project, but defined portions of it being given time to complete.
Take Back Control
Feel the control returning to you. No longer is this a madhouse of conflicting demands, challenging technicians to leap about as best they can, while being resigned to this chaos being the norm. This is a place where we know what our workload is, we plan for it, and as a consequence we can, by our own choice, also make it fun.
There’s a motivational dimension to this too. Find out how each individual in the workgroup would really like to spend part of their working day. OK, now you will make that available to them – just as soon as they have completed this package of reactive work you have identified. And now watch their productivity soar, as they complete what they must do, to give themselves the officially sanctioned time and freedom to do what they want to do.
You’ve done it. You’ve made time for the fun stuff.
You can learn more about the techniques described here, and get an official qualification at the same time, in the ‘Operational Manager Certificate’ of the ‘Mastering IT Support Delivery’ (MISD) curriculum. Click this link for further information.