Let’s face it. Everyone loves a superhero. The Avengers, Batman, even Mighty Mouse (or is this just me showing my age?). IT departments are generally sources of heroes – our IT heroes. We all know that one person who seems to singlehandedly save the world (or at least the business) day-in-day-out. That person who knows everything about the business and its systems and who isn’t fazed by anything.
However, it’s an approach that only ever works short term. What happens when our IT hero goes on holiday or gets the flu? Sadly, over time, relying on one individual can lead to an IT department that’s overly reactive, has people-based bottlenecks, and struggles to cope.
Here are five ways to overcome “superhero syndrome” in your IT support team.
Tip #1: Know your people
Everyone has different strengths. There’ll be some members of your team who know all the ins and outs of the corporate environment as well as all the gotchas and quirks. There’ll be some team members who are very process-driven and who love documentation. There’ll be some who love nothing more than playing with sparkly new IT toys or tinkering with code. All very different skills but all are valuable. Once you know your people you can play to their strengths. You’ll also able to identify and fill knowledge and skills gaps.
Tip #2: Know your customers and their needs, and share this knowledge
Spend time getting to know your business customers and services. A typical IT service provision list will probably include the following:
- File and print services
- Microsoft Office
- Network services
- Voice services
- Corporate applications
Can you, hand on heart, say that everyone in your team has a solid grounding in all these areas? If not, now is the time to set up knowledge-sharing sessions such that everyone has at least a basic understanding of each service tower.
Tip #3: Minimize, or eliminate, technical debt
Technical debt perpetuates the IT superhero culture because the organization becomes dependent on one individual or team to fix the issues related to certain systems. Technical debt occurs when you decide to accept something that isn’t quite right in order to save time. You might promise yourself that you’ll go back and put it right later. But as we all know, life happens, we get set different priorities, and before you know it, what started out as a small bug has spiraled out of control causing error messages that no one understands, missing documentation, or overly complex configurations.
Examples of technical debt include:
- Code that’s suboptimal but the development team state that it would take too long to fix
- That file server that’s on its last legs but the business won’t accept any downtime on
- The cabling situation that makes your data center look like spaghetti junction because no one has the time to retrace and label all the trailing wires and cables.
There’s no silver bullet for dealing with technical debt but having a known error database filled with workarounds and long-term resolution plans, embedding a culture of continuous improvement, and using something like Kanban boards to increase visibility and reduce work-in-progress will go a long way to reducing and mitigating the debt. And with it the reliance on your IT superheroes.
Tip #4: Get shifting
Left that is. All too often we tell ourselves as IT professionals “I’ll just Google it.” The reality is that being able to Google something doesn’t replace solid training so let's all collectively level up.
Shift left is the principle whereby the most experienced technicians make their knowledge available to second- and first-line analysts – upskilling them and helping them to deal with more challenging questions and issues. This knowledge can then be shifted even further – out to end users in the form of self-service portals or how-to guides.
Worried about getting started with shift-left? Here are some ways to start:
- Ask technical teams to have guest knowledge-share slots at the monthly IT service desk meeting
- Ask if first-line support analysts can spend time shadowing second-line technicians
- Create a knowledge base. In an ideal world you’d have this as part of your IT service management (ITSM) tool, but if you don’t have that option get creative and use SharePoint, OneNote, or Google Drive.
By sharing knowledge freely across teams, you open them up to resolving more issues, increasing resolution rates, and reducing the time the customer is unable to work.
Tip #5: Seek to change your IT department’s culture
So many people hear the word “DevOps” and immediately think that it’s all too much to deal with, but the fact of the matter is that it’s much simpler than that. All DevOps is, is a way of working that makes production support more accountable for product quality by being more involved in the design and test phase and development teams more responsible for quality and documentation by being more involved with early life and production support. Simples.
By creating a DevOps-like culture you’re creating a way of working that empowers your people to work together as one team rather than having lots of individual bubbles or silos (and IT heroes). This will result in greater transparency, shared ideas, and the availability of knowledge when and where it’s needed.
So, instead of having individual superheroes you have a team full of superheroes. What’s not to love?
So, that’s my five ways to help tackle superheroes in IT support. What would you add? Please let me know in the comments.