Why don’t we ask the users? (2015)
Very often IT organizations embark upon IT improvement programs to become more customer and service focused. More often than not the end users are not involved nor asked what THEY want and NEED, with a result that too many initiatives don’t get the hoped for value or customer satisfaction. I’ll never forget a real answer I received from a senior IT manager when I suggested a User workshop – “Users!? What have they got to do with IT? We know best what they need”! Or another senior IT manager who said “If we ask the Users they will just complain and we will set expectations….we don’t need that, it will make things worse”!
A Belgian city council invited 50 of its IT ‘Users’ to two ABC (Attitude, Behavior, Culture) workshops as part of an IT transformation initiative. The Mayor introduced the workshops explaining the important role that IT plays in all business services within the council, and how this role is becoming even more critical, as many of the services would become digitally delivered to the citizens. The mayor announced an audit of IT technology and capabilities as the start of a digital transformation.
The ABC workshops would be part of the audit and would be used to allow the ‘Users’ to give their input to an eventual IT improvement program. The ABC workshops would explore current ‘undesirable practices in Attitude, Behavior and Culture within IT’ serving partly as a customer satisfaction survey.
“As the 50 or so delegates shuffled into the room we could hear murmerings of ‘thin client…hrrumph!’, ‘printer codes….snort!’,’Monthly password resets….tschhh!’. The delegates huddled in small groups at the back of the room warily eying the two ‘IT’ people (Us) standing at the front of the room….The CIO as the only council IT person in the room stood bravely to one side with some of the council board members for moral support….”
It was known that the users were critical of IT and there was a risk that the session would be a blame session targeted at IT. However it was vital to understand the level and the areas of frustration.
Using the ABC of IT cards, which contained 52 worst practice cartoons of both Business & IT behavior, 10 teams were given the following tasks:
- As an ‘Individual’ – choose the top 3 ABC worst practice cards that you recognize, ones that irritate and frustrate you the most.
- As a team select from the cards chosen at your table the TOP card – which card has the most ‘negative impact’ on business value. Give concrete examples and describe the impact in terms of ‘lost productivity’, ‘delays’, ‘angry citizens’, ‘wasted money’ etc.
- Name the most positive aspect of the IT ABC – what does IT excel in.
- What behavior do you want to see change in IT to solve the recognized worst practices, and which stakeholder must display that behavior?
The top scoring cards from the individual exercise were:
- 9 to 5 culture. (chosen 27 times)
- Everything has the highest priority according to the users (chosen 15 times)
- Maybe we should have tested that change first (12)
- The solution the customer sees isn’t the one that IT sees (12)
- Avoidance culture (9)
- Too little business involvement in requirements specification and testing (9)
- No understanding of business impact and priority (8)
- Them and Us culture (8)
- It thinks it doesn’t need to understand the business to make a business case
- Not empowering people to do their work
The teams discussed and chose a TOP card and recorded the business impact of these worst practices. These were some of their findings?
- ‘Loss of productivity – people unable to carry on with work’
- ‘Wasted money – solutions that were not fit-for-purpose’
- ‘Angry citizens unable to obtain service in a timely or accurate way(especially week-ends)’
- ‘Failure to obtain a subsidy as information was not made available on time….losing business opportunities’
- ‘New employees and volunteer staff unable to work for weeks. Impacting services to citizens in care support’
This is what created the frustration – the impact on business operations and the impact to the end customer – the citizen. Users were frustrated that IT was apparently unaware of this impact.IT was not aware of this impact.
No understanding business impact and priority’ has been a TOP scoring ABC card for more than 10 years in these exercises!
What does IT excel in? There was unanimous praise for the helpful, friendly and willing IT help desk staff and specialists, however IT specialists, it was felt, were not adequately empowered to do what is needed.
The first half of the session had looked at ‘undesirable behavior’, after a break we switched over to ‘desired behavior’ and working towards solutions.
What needs to change?
The teams brainstormed and presented their suggestions as to what behavior needed to change and which roles needed to display this change in behavior to solve the TOP card – to reduce the business impact and the risks for the digital transformation.
There were a number of surprise findings from the workshop. It did not turn into the expected blame and complaint session but was a highly constructive exercise in which the Users felt they were now being engaged and listened to.
The Users were happy with the help desk and the most positive point they named unanimously was ‘IT willingness, friendliness and desire to get the job done’ however they were unable to do so because of ‘No management commitment’ – and by management commitment the users recognized this meant not simply IT management but also Business management (ineffective governance of IT).
Another surprising finding was the high scoring card ‘Too little business involvement in requirements specification and testing’. It wasn’t that the users didn’t want to, or could not be bothered to…..they really wanted to be engaged and involved but were not given the chance!
When the actions were defined ‘Who needs to display what behavior?’ it was surprising to see that the Users recorded almost as many actions for Business managers and themselves as they did for IT. It is also interesting to see that although Users obviously have no understanding of ITIL and its concepts many of the improvements they suggested can be directly related to ITIL’.
Some of the suggestions:
- “Send IT staff into the business to learn how we use the services and the impact of outages, this will help change their attitude”.
- “Business services need a ‘super user’, somebody able to translate business into IT and IT into business terms so that we can understand each other better’.
- “Let the users make a list of simple, repeatable requests, such as ‘Introduce a new employee’, and delegate authority to IT technical staff to carry these out. Currently requests ping-pong around at manager level and can take weeks”.
- “Let the users sit down with IT and make a priority mechanism that reflects real business impact (such as ‘End citizens unable to have access to Service’ , ‘Amount of users unproductive within specific departments, especially critical departments and services’)”.
- “Ensure that the board of directors invites IT expertise into decision making meetings to present options and explain the impact of IT decisions already made by the board”.
- Ensure all IT projects have business representation at the start and throughout, especially for testing, validating and agreeing solutions fit with the user functional needs’.
- ‘We must have a balanced assessment on changes and change impact, we know the business wants and needs but these must also be balanced with IT’s needs – there are often down-stream complications and costs and risks that only they can tell us, we must ensure this is also fed into the decision making and investment prioritization’
- “The helpdesk must have some kind of mechanism to decide which calls to handle first, we should be involved in deciding this.“When the requirements for a new IT solution are being discussed we want to be involved in this and we want somebody from IT to help us specify this in IT terms.”
- “When changes are being tested we need to be involved to ensure it meets requirements and is fit-for-use and fit-for purpose’.
Why don’t we ask the users? Perhaps they can help us solve to continual business and IT alignment GAP?
Worst practices? Surely we should be focusing on the positive?
One of the administrative personnel didn’t look comfortable in the exercise ‘I don’t like to do this exercise looking at worst practices, it feels like I am blaming my colleagues in IT’
I asked her ‘Do you recognize these cards’? “Oh yes”! She said. “Is this behavior frustrating and irritating to you”? “Oh yes!”she said. It wastes time, wastes money and is sometimes frustrating!” “Does IT know this?” “No, they have never asked us and we never told them”. “If we don’t do this exercise, how will IT know what to improve?” I asked. “If we don’t hold these cards up as a mirror to IT, they will unknowingly carry on with this behavior. Is that what you would prefer”?
I also explained that the exercise was an IT initiative. IT recognized an ‘Internal focus’ and wanted to engage with and involve the business in the improvement program to help transform not just the digital capabilities but also the attitude, behavior and culture within IT.
“ummmmm” she said, “In that case can I only choose 3 cards?”