Dysfunctional IT attitudes: processes are more important than people
The service desk phone rang one morning. The guys were busy attending to other jobs, so the manager picked up the call, “Morning, IT service desk, Jake speaking. How can I help you?”
“I had asked for Consolidate to be installed on my new computer, but have just noticed that it wasn’t.” The lady at the other end of the line sounded irritated. The software should have been installed on her computer – it was on top of the list she had provided to the service desk when she’d put in the request for her new computer.
“Have you logged a service request?” enquired Jake.
“Yes,” she said, ‘but this is urgent. I have to send my sales figures for the month to head office this morning, and I can’t do it without Consolidate. Could you please send someone up right away?”
There was a short pause at Jake’s end. “I’m looking at the SLA right now, and Consolidate isn’t listed as a business critical application. There’s no way we can do this right now.”
“Look, it’s critical as far as I’m concerned. It’s got to be done right away or head office won’t get their sales figures. So, when can I expect a response?” Her annoyance levels were starting to increase
“Not before tomorrow, or may be even day after, depending on how soon we clear other, pending jobs.”
“I think I’ve made it clear this is important. Can’t you do it sooner?”
“No.” Jake clearly thought that no further explanation was necessary. Can’t have folks jumping the queue; service desk processes were put in place for a reason.
She took a more conciliatory tone, “Please understand,” she said, “I wouldn’t make an issue out of it if it weren’t important… the sales figures must be done by this afternoon. I just need the application installed; it shouldn’t take more than five minutes.”
“Sorry, you’ll just have to wait.” He didn’t sound sorry at all.
She’s starting to get really ticked off now. “It was a help desk mess-up in the first place. You should take responsibility and fix it now.”
“Perhaps you didn’t hear what I said; someone will come by tomorrow or day after. That’s the best we can do given that Consolidate is not a business critical application. You’ll just have to wait your turn.” There was no response from her side, so he added, “We have processes in place. We can’t bypass them for just any request.”
Jake’s reference to processes only annoyed her further, “Obviously your processes – whatever they may be – don’t work. The application should have been installed when I got my computer.”
“I’m sorry about that, but I can’t make any exceptions to the way we deal with service requests.” He sounded even less sorry now.
She seethed. “Thanks….you’ve been so very helpful.” Her tone made it clear that she thought Jake was being singularly unhelpful. She hung up, not waiting for a response.
Jake had a point: proper functioning of a service desk depends on processes. Bypassing these can lead to problems – not the least being that everyone would expect an instant response. Service desk processes ensure efficiency and transparency. Everyone knows what they can expect when they lodge a request; expected service levels being documented in excruciating detail in service level agreements. Yes, all this is true, and can’t be argued. Even so, I can’t help but think that the lady deserved better. Jake could have explained his position in a more acceptable way, or damn it – even got off his rear and fixed the issue himself in five minutes flat. He would have bypassed his beloved processes, but gained much goodwill in doing so.
Over the years, processes have become entrenched in corporate IT, as witnessed by the plethora of best practices such as ITIL and CMMI. Implementation of processes based on these frameworks and methodologies helps standardise the way corporate IT carries out its functions. This, in most cases, is a good thing. Yet, processes aren’t the be all and end all of IT. At the receiving end of IT services are ….yes, real people doing real work that keeps businesses ticking. Conflicts between IT and the business occur when IT folks forget that people are more important than processes; like Jake in the true incident described above. This holds not just for operational IT (like the service desk), but also for development work (i.e. projects) as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post. Trouble is, processes trump people more often than not. When that happens, things aren’t working the way they should- processes are intended to help people, not to hinder them. This is something folks who work in corporate IT would do well to keep in mind; especially these days, when business leaders are being seduced by the call of outsourcers and the IT-as-utility crowd.
All too often, IT management thinks of processes as a panacea for all IT ills. The way I look at it is a little different: processes are fine and good, and even necessary; but the people who are served by IT must come first. If that means making the occasional exception to a mandated process, then so be it.