Boy, is IT complicated! Really IT?

„You do IT” or similar beginnings of conversation are very common to me for years now. After those opening words colleagues and friends tell me about their adventures with IT. How complicated it all is and that IT was meant to simplify life, etc. An example story goes like this, names and roles were intentionally left out.

User: “I change to the purchasing department on December 1st and have to apply for a user in the EiKaSys42 system”.
IT: “That’s what you should do in the UserPortal, I’ll copy the link in the chat for you”
User: “I have already searched there”.
IT: “Ah, okay, I’ll take a look… You can find it at Misc→external→purchasing→process→role”
User: “OK, Thanks”
…10 minutes later
User: “I cannot submit the form without the entry in the fields AssKeyU, EiRoMan and HerNoMo. Also my employee ID does not fit into the field.”
IT: “That’s where you enter your international employee ID, which is 6 digits long. AssKeyU stands for the key user assigned to you and EiRoMan for the division. I don’t know what HerNoMo is either, I’m just IT”.
User: “But I don’t know a key user or division, nor have I ever heard of an international employee ID”.
IT: “I can’t help you with this, I am only responsible for IT”.

You probably also know such a famous relay race, especially as a new staff member or with new procedures. Sometimes it takes days to gather all the information or users simply guess entries which leads to a lot of trouble later on.

Another common scenario is a business department provides an automated process that users must perform once a year or even less. This machinery then queries similar cryptic entries, temporary results cannot be saved and help fields contain very luminous entries such as “In the HerNoMo field you must enter the HerNoMo of your area without leading zeros”.

Who is really the problem there? From the user’s point of view the problem is often “the IT”, because otherwise they wouldn’t tell me these stories. But this is not quite accurate. Yes, a decent IT could be more consultative. It would be very nice if a consultant team in IT didn’t dump all nonsense into portals and workflows without involving affected end users and extensive user stories. Often such a procedure is rushed in as the last action before a new business application is introduced, without much trial and error.

However, it is also the responsibility of the departments to keep entries to a minimum. To provide a docket and a contact person for new employees. In my opinion – at least from the point of view of the company as such – it doesn’t make sense to throw non-specialist employees into specialist processes. The working time wasted there due to ignorance of the processes, the (non-intuitive) operation of specialized applications and incorrect, misplaced entries could easily be put into a back office that asks the user appropriate questions and serves him courteously.

So do me a favour and build systems and portals that are user friendly even when it comes to non-IT processes. The users will thank you.

Improvise good lighting for video conferences

I have been witness to a number of video conferences where participants were shown as a shadow in the blazing backlight of a summer day or wonderfully only jaw and nose were visible. Not pretty, even though uncombed video snapshots are currently becoming fashionable…

At present there are no professionally illuminated video conference rooms available, so I have some ideas for improvisation.

A large amount of diffuse light is a good start. A bright full spectrum health lamp pointing towards a white wall is great for the job.

White curtains are not bad, especially if sunlight could shine towards the webcam. Coloured light, through a dyed curtain or an illuminated painted wall, should be avoided. On some webcams, you can adjust the white balance, but that doesn’t really work out nice.

Place the main light source behind the monitor. A work lamp, desk lamp or table lamps behind the monitor are well qualified. LED lamps are especially suitable because of the low heat development with high light output. Please make sure that the LEDs are flicker-free. Either purchase new ones or check their fitness individually with the webcam or mobile phone camera.

In closing, a note about the nose position of your camera. If you have to use the camera integrated in the laptop, please place a pile of books, cooking pot, cardboard, etc. under the laptop for the time of the conference. The same applies to mobile phones and tablets. Build a stable base 30 to 40 cm high, depending on your seating position, so that the camera is at your eye level.

Lean Management for Consultants

At Fujitsu, a Lean Management methodology called Sense&Respond® is widely used for service delivery in many areas to achieve improvements in IT operations. Some time ago I was interested in this methodology, then it became fascinating and about 2.5 years ago the idea came up to use it in my area, i.e. for presales consultants.

We are a team of Presales consultants for End User Services, which means that we are many times on the road in different projects to advise customers, to explore the business value of Workplace, to develop solutions together, to submit offers or to solve problems.

Applying Lean Management encountered two typical answers. First, “Lean is old and obsolete, why don’t you do something agile?” or second, “Lean is for production, not for consulting.

If you agree with me, I might be able to stimulate you to read (and imitate) the following keywords:

  • In the key area “Blueprints” we have increased twice as much productivity
  • We have our training 100% under control, which is a real advantage in view of the current rapid developments in the Workplace area.
  • Overtime and travel times (approx. 30% of the time) are far lower than the market average, and
  • We actually know our value as advisers to the client, which means we know what to deal with and which is trash.

The problem was indeed all lean management methodologies and testimonials revolve around products or services. Usually an ongoing manufacturing process in which the entire team has a common task. For us, only the “consulting” approach is similar, the current “business value creation” products are very different. It was therefore quite a journey to apply Lean Methodologies to our consultants. I would like to tell you about this trip in the following article, but an important warning first.

A mindset like Lean unfolds its value, in such a way that team members themselves raise potential for improvement and one responds to it together, hence the name of the method Sense&Respond: Recognize something and react appropriately to it.

If you check out our methods, please take them as an example. It could be that they are useless for your area (but of course they can be sensational). Tools and methods are a construction kit that has to be adapted. Methods must not be a meaningless extra work, rather they must have a value.

Lean Management is a journey with errors and insights, I cannot switch it on by a switch or delegate it to a quality team. So you are warned.

My team is spread all over Germany, that actually worked quite well in the past, but the spatial distribution is not exactly conducive for the introduction of Lean Sense&Respond. For the first steps like defining the mission it took us a long time and the first problem Solving Sessons lasted forever. In fact, small sub-groups are responsible for speeding up the process, preparing and coordinating a measure for the most part. The preparing steps may seem like fulfilling a duty, but they create a sound shared understanding.

The most noticeable breakthrough for me was Quality Function Deployment (QFD). We asked our internal and external customers what they really wanted from us and why. So what do you want from a presales team, not what do you want from the services we help to sell. We already knew many of the points we found, but the QFD has put them in the right priority, also points have come out that serve for our further development. For example, customers prefer to have their costs reflected 1:1 on their cost center structures. The disadvantage, however, is that such a procedure changes the given price sheets. But this suggestion is absolutely vailde, because only so costs can be avoided really effectively. From the QFD we have created a set of orientation rules and consulting know-how, which allow us to estimate procedures well and also contain some No-Gos.

We have restructured our weekly virtual team meeting, this is now facilitated in turn and successes, such as concerns (Concerns) structured. Follow-up activities are derived from concerns that address the team or the organization. This can be a problem solving session, for example. The most important thing that has emerged is mutual responsibility.

When we started Sense&Respond I drowned in Concerns that were assigned to me. On the one hand because we are the first presales team at Fujitsu, i.e. our neighbours in the organisation didn’t know about it, on the other hand because we didn’t fully understand the mandate which Lean gives to each one of us and haven’t yet accepted the responsibility for it.

I have to admit that I was always uncertain during the whole journey to our own quality improvement toolbox. Many of the methods and procedures we invented turned out to be useless in version 1.0 after a few months. They started to smell like bureaucracy, were annoying or information graves. We have sharpened our methods for the third time in the last 2.5 years. Some of them were actually only polished up because they had forgotten over time that this method is valuable and others were completely rebuilt or thrown overboard. In general, one can say whenever we create a new methodology or approach: It typically takes a year or a redesign to get everyone’s fun going.

After months of experience with Sense&Respond, the main result is a team that works closely together to address shortcomings, improve quality and promote efficiency. Even if this has always been a very stressful time for an organisation and its clients. My team already was a great team, but now we have a deep understanding of our added values and shortcomings. We promote the added values, help each other with our imperfections, and that much more naturally than before.

I started this blog post as the beginning of a small series, because I am sure that lean methodologies will have a long future with us in the team and can also inspire other consulting teams. I will be happy to tell you more details here, but I will also be happy to talk to you at any time.