Some common reasons for inefficient IT Operations!
Let’s not discuss numbers or present graphics, let’s talk about day to day realities that greatly impact the overall efficiencies of an IT department when it comes to supporting a complex SAP landscape – and other landscapes as well. Let’s instead hear Jim, the manager of SAP Application Support at Company xyz, discussing over lunch with a project manager. Jim is explaining events where inefficiencies resulted in waste of energy and stress.
“You will never believe what happened. Yesterday, the CRM system went very slow.
Nick saw in Solution Manager an alert turning to red. He tried to find out if this was a real issue, or a false alert, but he couldn’t find anyone who was able to analyze the alert. The IT department at xyz is very siloed, the responsibilities are not always defined clearly, and this precious information didn’t raise any attention outside of Nick.
Shortly after, emails started to fly around, and calls occurred from VP to VP, I received 50 emails in no time: the CRM system was too slow. I could not control communications that occurred in all directions. I got pulled into a conference call with the business and IT upper management. At the same time, I had to call Ann, the CRM Functional Lead, to get her feedback on the team’s investigation. And I ended up spening 2 hours with my two phones pressed to my ears.
Once the root cause of the poor performance was found and the fix was under control, I had to run to meet with other support teams. The IT department has the ‘meetingitis’ – a 1-hour meeting a day to discuss incidents and changes internally in IT, followed by another 1-hour meeting with the business. I had no time to prepare and to consolidate the different worksheets used in the 2 different meetings. I had to do this over the meeting.
In the meeting with IT, I was hoping to get some updates on the code change required for a specific change to be able to initiate testing and get back to the business in the next meeting with some progress. The developer in charge was not able to work on the change as agreed the day before. His priorities had changed – the famous LIFO rule: the last request in must be the first one out. And of course the new developer’s priorities were not aligned with what had been presented to the business.
After the different meetings, I asked Ann to confirm that the fix to the performance issue had been properly handled including documentation and testing. The next step in the process was to get the approvals for the emergency transport which took time as well. I had to stay late to get this approval and to request the transport. There are no internal service levels to support business expectations and service level agreements where emergency fixes are to be transported by 7pm. The Basis team had left at 6:30pm and it took me additional time to find the basis team member on call to prepare and execute the transport.”
This is just one day in Jim’s life. And he is right to complain!
Resolving some of those recurring and deeply annoying inefficiencies doesn’t necessarily require a huge project or big investments. Many have their roots in bad habits and lack of understanding between the teams.
Maybe there is a way to improve on some of those issues – finding a common solution to the most important pain points using a creative way: Design Thinking!
Design Thinking in few words
If you read the story of Jim’s day above, you just have participated in three of the most decisive methodologies in Design Thinking. The “Persona”, “A Day in the Life of …” and “Storytelling”.
“Design Thinking is a human centric approach for solving problems by creating new ideas. Creativity is not a talent, it is a way of operating.”
Based on the Design Thinking approach, the team assembled to solve issues does not only talk about the ideas generated, they show what and how it feels like! Design Thinking is based on prototyping solutions and failing early and often. If a prototype fails validation by the rest of the team, a new one can be created in little time. It establishes a culture that encourages failure to move to solutions. And it is focusing on the most important person in the scenario, the user.
This approach helps to ensure that the right solution is built and that development teams are equipped to do so. The effort in the beginning to understand and validate what the right problem is avoids expensive redesigns in later phases.
The Design Thinking methodology is based on 7 phases around a divergence – creating choices – and convergence – making choices – mindset. All ideas are acceptable, open communication and creativity are the key elements of this methodology.
Why would this work!
We used some key words to support the examples of IT Operations inefficiencies we mentioned at first. Let’s look at those words again and see how Design Thinking could bring an innovative and constructive way of solving issues.
Groups within IT departments are often siloed. Each group performs well in its own area, but lacks communication and understanding of the other groups’ activities. Members of the different groups working together in a Design Thinking workshop will look at the integration and dependencies between the activities between the different groups and how much efficiencies are lost when the overall IT department is not working as a single team. All members will bring their own reality to the team, which make the solution stronger.
When it comes to the lack of control of communications, Design Thinking is all about communication. Listening and speaking, expressing any idea, not judging at first, understanding the others’ point of view, in an organized manner. The flow of exchanges follows a structure to get to a realization, communication moves towards a goal in a finite time. A great experience that all will want to repeat in their daily jobs afterwards
To help break the silos and get into a creative and talkative mode during a Design Thinking workshop, there are several short activities. There should be one based on meetingitis where people would rate the quality of meetings they attend on attributes like attendance, delays, agendas, action items and outcomes – attributes would be measured using colors (green for effective attribute, red for ineffective attributes) for each meeting – the resulting winning color of the IT department would be a great outcome starting point for discussions – together with the number of measurements.
Changing the priorities of team members impacts in most cases the work of others awaiting answers. Working together in a Design Thinking workshop on the pressures and priorities team will shed light on the workload of the different teams and the key priorities to respect in order to minimize the disruption on other teams: team members often do not realize the activities that take place after the ones they have achieved, like the impact of changes in the solution documentation on training and user material that needs to be delivered at the same time than a change in business process. Delaying the documentation greatly impact the ramp up of users
There are no formal agreements on internal service levels for cross-activities leading to delays and stress. Defining a Persona, like the one you met at the beginning of the blog, or several Persona, one of the key steps in the Design Thinking methodology, will help team members understand what their peers or users really need and want and what the impacts of their work will be on their day. Side discussions in a relaxed atmosphere will help uncover other gaps in cross teams expectations.
And I forgot the fun! Design Thinking workshops are not only creative, they are fun to attend. Work on the Marshmallow Challenge with the director of infrastructure and it will change your relations with him.
But what clearly makes Design Thinking appealing is the human approach to solving inefficiencies, as a team of people, not as technicians, project managers or developers.
How many times do we hear that IT has no budget to implement any internal improvement project? The business is not willing to pay for the improvement of activities invisible to them. It may not be fair, but one way around the lack of budget is to continuously improve the way IT works with some smaller initiatives and to recognize that the biggest pain points may not require big investments: Design Thinking will help understand those pain points, agree on them and find solutions.
SAP Data &Technology Services has a lot of experience with optimizing SAP IT Operations and delivers Assessments for SAP Operations to analyze end to end IT operations processes and support organizations. A Design Thinking session can be a very good complementary and fruitful addition to such an assessment.