The 3 Hammers of IT Management
I get some version of this question all the time: “Why can’t you just do it for me? It won’t take you long, and isn’t that what you’re supposed to do anyway?”
Ah, the life of an IT professional. My answer is always the same: “No problem! Just submit a ticket in our system. Oh, sorry. I couldn’t help noticing you rolling your eyes. I understand your frustration; I really do. Sometimes it takes us a while for us to get to requests like these, and I realize you are looking to get it done now. I have an idea that might help. What if I show you how to complete this request for yourself, and then you never have to wait on IT again for this kind of issue? Is that something you would be interested in?”
Most of the time, I’ll get one of two answers: “Never mind.” Translation: “I don’t really need it.” Or they’ll say, “Fine, I’ll fill out the request form.” Translation: “I need it, but it’s not as urgent as I made it out to be.”
That’s usually the end of the conversation, as both of these are acceptable outcomes. But every now and then, you hit big on the long shot, when someone replies with, “Sure, let’s go for it.” Translation: “I really do need it now and am willing to do whatever it takes to get it.” When someone gives this answer, get excited, because you’re about to hand someone a hammer. If you get lucky, they may even come back to you and request an upgrade to a sledgehammer. Either way, that’s less often you have to use your jackhammer.
You only have a few jackhammers, which were very expensive to obtain and required a lot of training. If anyone needs any jackhammering, they need to fill out a form and wait in line. There is also a very high cost to using the jackhammer.
In this analogy, jackhammers are IT department resources. Only large requests should be handled by the IT department, since these resources are very expensive, and there is a limit to how much they can deliver at any one point in time.
You can hand out a sledgehammer to anyone willing to use one, but you’re obligated to provide some training. Someone who has their own sledgehammer can use it at will, without filling out a form or waiting in line. The cost is also much lower.
Sledgehammers are an analogy for power users. With some training from IT, a power user can learn to perform advanced functions on their own. This eliminates their need to make a request to IT, thereby reducing IT’s workload, while at the same time eliminating the wait for the power user. Not everyone can become a power user, though, so you need to set an expectation for all power users that they will handle all of their own requests — and the requests of others in their department.
Regular Old Hammers
You have a lot of hammers, and you probably want to hand them out to everyone whether they request one or not. Hammers require little to no training, and they drastically reduce the strain on the jackhammer. Hammers have a one-time fee, but they’re essentially free to use after that. The best part is that someone swinging a hammer can do so on their own schedule without having to request time from the people holding the sledgehammer or jackhammer.
Hammers are an analogy for self-service tools, like a password reset tool. Without creating and distributing such a tool, a company needs to use a jackhammer (IT) to drive in every nail (password resets). By creating or purchasing self-service tools, however, an IT department can decrease their cost of operation, lower their queue times and increase customer satisfaction. For those keeping score at home, that’s a win-win-win scenario.
- Thesis: Jackhammers are an expensive tool for driving in a nail.
- Problem: No one wants to wait for IT to perform small tasks, and small tasks keep IT from focusing on large tasks.
- Solution: Train individuals or department admins to perform small to medium-sized repeatable tasks for themselves.
Once you understand each hammer’s function and how to best deploy them to your users, you come to realize that it doesn’t make economical sense to use a jackhammer (the IT department) to drive in nails (simple tasks). The IT department should build or buy self-service solutions (hammers) for those tasks. It also doesn’t make sense to give everyone in the department a hammer to tear down a wall (semi-complicated tasks). Nor does it make sense to use a jackhammer for this particular task either. The IT department should work on finding suitable people to swing sledgehammers (power users) and provide the necessary training needed to do so. By handing out hammers and sledgehammers, your jackhammer is then freed up to do what it was intended to do: break up concrete (build applications, keep the servers running, analyze data, etc.)
Every IT department’s goal should be to hand out as many hammers and sledgehammers as possible and rarely make an exception to use the jackhammer to perform a job better accomplished with a hammer or a sledgehammer.
Jackhammers, after all, are an expensive tool for driving in a nail.