We all like to believe we are doing a good job. We all take pride in our achievements. But sometimes those of us who work in IT focus on the wrong things, particularly when the successful completion of technical tasks can be so satisfying that it takes on a life of its own. Clearly, we must be technically proficient. But it may be less obvious that technical proficiency is simply NOT enough. Unless we focus on creating value for our customers, whatever we do simply won’t be good enough.
One organization that I worked with had an IT configuration manager who was a real expert in his field. He deployed data collection tools to gather all the information that might be needed, and he carried out regular audits to make absolutely sure that the configuration data was complete and accurate. He was very proud of the quality and quantity of information that he maintained. When I asked him who used this information, and what they used it for, he confessed that he really didn’t know. He had never thought to identify who his customers were, or what information they actually needed to do their jobs. I talked to some of the other IT people in the organization and discovered that nobody used this configuration data at all, for anything. The time consuming and painstaking configuration management work had absolutely no value, to anyone!
In an oddly similar manner, relying on superficially straightforward and cost effective measures may prove misguided. One company had an air-conditioning unit that failed during the night. The computer room overheated, but because there was insufficient monitoring nobody noticed. Eventually the servers and storage got so hot that they failed, causing a lot of expensive damage. After all the equipment had been repaired the organization decided to prevent a repeat occurrence. They decided that the monitoring needed was too expensive, particularly as they could simply instruct the building’s overnight security guard to check the air-conditioning unit every hour throughout the night and sign in a book to show that this had been done. During a visit, I noticed that the unit had a red light displayed and I asked what this signified. The facilities manager explained that a resilient component had failed, that the replacement was on order, and the component would be replaced in a few days. That night I asked the security guard what he had done about the red light. “Nothing” was his reply. “Why not?” I asked him, and he replied “Nobody told me to check the lights.” The guard had diligently checked that the air-conditioning unit was still in the computer room once an hour, an activity that delivered no value.
I’m sure we all think that these stories are extreme. This couldn’t possibly happen to us. But they do illustrate a really important point. We must make sure that the work we do contributes to a value chain. When we think about what we do, we should all ask ourselves “Who is my customer?” and “What value am I creating for them?” If you can’t answer both of these questions then maybe it’s time to go and find out.
Even if you do know who your customer is, and what value they are getting from your work, there is a further step you can take. Find out how the things you do contribute value to the overall organization, and to the people who pay them. If you work in private industry then you should probably be creating financial value for your customers; if you work in the public sector, then the value you create may be a contribution to some social good.
I once had a very wise manager who said to me, “I want you to stop what you’re doing, at least once every day, and ask yourself ‘If the paying customers knew that their money was funding me to do this, what would they think?’ If you are not 100% confident that they would be happy, then stop doing that, and find something more useful to do.” Following this advice enabled me to focus my efforts on the things that create value for my customers, and was probably the biggest factor in helping me to become a service management expert. Moving from a technical focus to a value focus is difficult, but the payback can be enormous in terms of customer satisfaction, as well as your own career progression. I have been following this advice for more than 30 years now, and I heartily commend it to you as a way of ensuring you focus on creating real value for the people who fund your organization.