Wednesday, 26 October 2016

My Technical Learning Curve – Working with IT Professionals in Crisis

“Don’t get me wrong, building is a highly complex technical job…which is exactly why I think builders shouldn’t do it!”

A one liner from the comic Jack Dee which I often think of during challenging discussions with IT staff!

A short disclaimer before you read ahead... I have worked with a number of highly capable and willing IT professionals but my observations are of patterns/trends that I’ve spotted over the last 5-10 years.

Brute honesty to start with…In my experience I struggle to trust the judgement and decision making of many IT professionals, particularly during crucial times like during a major incident or business-critical project. I’ve found myself in situations with desktop teams, technical architects, DBAs etc. when the individuals can’t (or won’t) articulate in simple terms what the issue is or even worse refuse to accept there is an issue. It can be so frustrating.

The dynamic, communicative, relationship building resilience professional who works across the entire business regularly meets all kinds of people. In my opinion there is none more frustrating than the IT Department! The rigid, compartmentalised thinking of many teams within IT sometimes make it impossible to develop a good standard of resilience.

As a non-tech apologist I have spent years trying to understand the character types and dynamics within the IT crowds of various businesses because let's face it… virtually all incident management, business continuity, resilience employees all have an interface/relationship with a technology department and it’s important to understand what to expect.

If I’m not a total expert…I’m not helping

First of all, the IT employee tends to know exactly what it is they do and seldom deviate into uncharted territory. This is a challenge because you can watch them instantly become more guarded, dismissive of your questions and quickly become frustrated particularly if you don’t have a grasp of what it is they do. If you want achieve outside the box thinking to for example complete a BIA …. find another box!

The IT “role” in its many forms is very task-orientated with set screens, set code, set parameters etc. and while all seemingly very complex to the untrained eye, the employee in that position will have often trained exclusively in that domain for a majority of their career, taking exams and certifications along the way. In short they know their stuff. Many won’t have ventured beyond their field so wider discussions on technology are usually met with a blank stare because they won’t consider themselves an expert so why contribute? This is odd to me because in the wider business there are hundreds of uninformed none-experts bluffing…. talk about one extreme to another.

Sorry I’m “not technical”

In hindsight, I now see it’s not all IT’s fault! Having worked within an IT department facing out to the business as a service, I now see the weight of expectation and sheer ignorance of business staff (myself included). I cannot count how many times I have heard senior managers say “sorry I’m not technical”, a term which prior to working in IT seemed a fair comment. I now see that for many it is a lazy cop out for trying to not trying understand something. They just want it boiled down to its simplest terms, which is fair enough if it’s complex, but I’ve seen it before many times where managers use this comment to actually get out of ownership or contributing to a project. They will pull this card to avoid any expectation on them to own or understand an issue or risk. This is quite frustrating from an IT point of view. See we are just as bad!

The Lead Singer isn’t the Band!

Many IT departments tend to sit under the radar away from everything else. They typically have a front man in the form of an IT manager/Director/CTO but after the management meeting they go back to the IT crowd (who you never tend to see or hear from unless you have a help desk call). I think this is quite misleading because these individuals are not a fair representative of the character types within IT. It appears to me that many IT staff like to stick to what they know and are extremely reluctant to step off the tools as it were. I don’t see great deals of rapid career climbing (well not at the rate you see elsewhere). Instead, those that seem to progress at a faster pace are those with the soft skills who are highly communicative with the business but they often tend not to be anywhere near as technical having stepped off the tools years before. The gap between the management and the technical operational staff can lead to many a misunderstanding.


IT departments are often fronted by the most charismatic of their group who is typically far less technical than the average engineer often creating a significant gap in real operational understanding. They are usually not a fair representative of the department beneath them but even if you did get a chance to work with the operational staff, they tend to stick to what they know, will avoid any deviation and will get incredibly frustrated if you don’t understand…but it’s okay because
“we’re not technical”

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