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IT Maturity Part 2: Behaviors of a Successful IT Organization

Having figured out how our survey organizations define success, we needed to look and see what else we could tell about those organizations. Our goal was not necessarily to figure out how they were successful, and that's something important to keep in mind as you read. Correlation does not always equal causation, and we were mainly looking at correlation here: Observed characteristics of an organization that just so happens to be successful under our metrics. We specifically tried to avoid cracking into how these organizations achieved their success; we wanted instead to look at the less-visible things that helped to organically support that success. Here are some of the major things we noticed:

  • Automation is endemic to the culture. People in successful organizations do not run graphical wizards for anything they need to do more than once; they find a way to automate it. Sometimes, those ways are hack-y and ugly, but they're there.

  • Any problem, which has occurred more than twice, has a documented response plan and, when possible, an automated first-response plan. Frankly, we'd expected this to be "more than once," but there appears to be a bit of tolerance overall.

  • There are concrete criteria around performance, and these are often communicated to and visible by end users. In many cases, these are intranet-based "dashboards" that display rolled-up performance data (think simplistic meters). Users understand not to complain about anything that's "in the green," and know that anything else is already under alert and being looked at.

  • There's remarkably little "throw it over the wall" with tickets. Tickets get escalated only when it's absolutely necessary; higher tiers handle the problem and tend to never drop things back to a lower tier. Getting back to the automation bit, we saw higher-tier people solve problems in ways that could then be handed off to lower tiers, or turned into self-service solutions. The general feeling in this organizations is, "I'm only going to fix this once, and it'll be fixable by other people from then on."

  • Nobody goes into the datacenter unless they're repairing broken hardware or installing new hardware. Period. We were actually surprised at the degree to which this held true. Data centers were literally "lights out" almost all the time.

  • Above the first tier, where this varied quite a lot, we saw a lot of consistency around training. Most IT staffers got two to three classes per year on top of a conference, and they self-selected almost all of that based on their interests and where they felt their skills needed supplementing.

  • Tools were in use. Our successful organizations utilized something like three to four times as many third-party support tools as less-successful ones, and utilized something like 10 times as many home-grown tools (which plays back to the automation thing, in large part).

Interestingly, we saw little formal structure to make any of these behaviors happen. People's job descriptions never mentioned automation. There were no long, complex processes detailing how to handle every possible situation. In many cases, we didn't even observe a managerial mandate to document problems. We simply had to conclude that these organizations had kick-butt IT employees who just wanted to do a good job. Management certainly supported that, and likely drove it to some degree, but having enthusiastic employees who want to do a great job is clearly important.

We also noticed that about two-thirds of our "successful" organizations had a remarkably lower management-to-staffer ratio than other "successful" organizations, and that ratio was also lower than most "unsuccessful" organizations. We saw ratios like 1:20, which flies in the face of a lot of management theory (this was direct reports to their immediate manager; we didn't look at middle tiers). Again, this is correlation, not causation, and we certainly saw a third of our successful organizations with more traditional ratios of 1:5, 1:8, and so forth.

Read the rest of this blog series here:

Posted by Don Jones on 04/22/2012 at 1:14 PM


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