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Will You Survive IT Evolution: Becoming a High Performance Team

Updated on December 7, 2012

Change is not easy...

Just like a tadpole turns into a frog or a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, IT is meta-morphing into something completely unknown and unfamiliar.

I've seen the confusion first hand - CTO's and CIO's doing re-organization after re-organization to sort out how IT should be set up to support a business that is trying to keep up with today’s fast pace.

Watching as everything IT related converges because somehow magically what used to take years and months is now expected in weeks and days. And what used to be the normal IT operations has changed into some new tribe called DevOps with a completely different culture.

Why all the change? Because IT is evolving to keep up with the leaders...

For example:

Think of how many products Apple has released over the last three years. Now think how many new models of iPads have been released over the last six months – heck, before any dust settled on the iPad 3 with retina display, Apple released two more models, and a new iPhone, and various different iPods and MacBook’s. Apple’s pace is incredible!

RIP Status-Quo IT

This may be the first time you are hearing this but I've heard this phrase a few times recently and think it is the next iteration of change that is coming to IT departments everywhere – are you a High Performance Team?

Let’s start with what a high performance team is not:

  • Does your team struggle to do the most routine task?
  • Is your team always reacting to fires that take too long to recover from – missing SLA’s?
  • Are your system administrators and engineers so set in their ways that things are still being done like it is still 2002?
  • Are your people still doing what systems should be doing such as manual patching of servers and desktops?
  • Does it take 2 weeks to get an IP address, and another 2 weeks for firewall ports to get opened, and another 2 weeks to provision a virtual or physical server – a total of 6 weeks to deliver one VM to the development team?
  • Does each of your SA’s build a “work of art” every time a server is provisioned, every artist doing it their own way?
  • Does every project still follow the same waterfall path and nothing gets completed before 3 or 4 more projects are started?
  • Does your help desk or service desk have 300 – 400 day old incident tickets in the queue because they have fallen so far behind because everyone’s focus is on who calls the boss and complains the loudest?
  • Is there a feeling of accomplishment after adding new server or network hardware because your system has failed?
  • Is piece-milling a solution together over weeks the norm because nobody sees the big picture?
  • Is your team always trying to make something work or fit because nobody did their due-diligence to ensure the right part was ordered, or because they were not involved in the decision to order it in the first place?

The list above could go on but I’m hoping you are starting to get where this is going. Each example I have given is an indicator that you do not have a high performance team.

Let’s Put Things into Perspective

For a moment think football or more specifically the team currently with the best record. They did not get the best record by accident.

These high performing teams practice hour after hour, running plays that are designed, planned and thought out by masterminds with years of experience. And these masterminds are not who they are by accident either, they have been taught by other great minds to do things right.

Each of these teams has systems they follow that have been trimmed down and polished to get the most value out of the least effort. Each system is designed with just the right parts and is practiced until it can be executed perfectly - even the water-boy has a system.

Now think of the last time your team did a go-live of something new – how did it go? Did your IT team execute the plan successfully or was it rolled-back? If it wasn't rolled-back you may have something to be proud of, but on the other hand, if your team’s record is rollback, after rollback, something is broken and needs to be fixed - fast!

High Performance Teams Are Not Status-Quo

What does a high performance IT team look and act like? What are some of their characteristics? Of the three different teams I have managed, here are some of the lessons and takeaways I have to offer you.

Characteristics of High Performing Teams:

  • First and foremost, the leadership is chosen because of experience and subject matter expertise, not because they have been around the longest time.
  • The support staff are chosen because of skills and experience - but above all, a willingness to do it better each time. This means they adapt and change, and are not set in their ways.
  • Automated systems or tools handle routine and repetitive tasks – these systems are not set in stone and improve as time goes on.
  • People are taught to think and see the bigger picture – service oriented versus tasks oriented. It's all about the best service and not the servers.
  • Things are never left in limbo or for chance that someone will do it – loops are intentionally closed.
  • You measure only what is important and stop wasting time on metrics that only frustrate the person who has to figure out the math and do the report.
  • Meetings are kept short and to the point, and should only include the people required (15 minutes).
  • Vetting of ideas is encouraged and is allowed to root out bad ideas that waste time and resources, and that cause redo-work.
  • A clear definition of what “done” is defined and agreed on so everyone understands what is expected.
  • Bad apples are terminated without haste, and team players and role models are praised and rewarded.
  • And finally, practices that are old and tired are retired for new and improved ways of doing things. Value-ad and efficiency is key.

This list only covers some of the many "good" and "best" practices some high performing teams do.

Conclusion

Many of these practices will not be easy to do because some IT managers and staff are so set in their ways that they have made traditions out of their processes or because they have fallen in love with how they do things. To survive you must see the big picture.

So I ask and leave you with this thought - will you survive the IT evolution that is going on? Will you work on becoming a high performance team that is able to pivot on a dime and adapt to anything, or will you stay and fight against the change? Visualize this - tadpole or frog, caterpillar or butterfly - Super Bowl Champ?

Other topics: 5 Insider Tips To Help Start a Career in Virtualization and 10 Must Ask VMware Interview Questions

Read more IT management topics on Joe's Blog or check out his eBook: VCP for Hire on Amazon.

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