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Christopher Morgan | October 08, 2015

What Type of BBQ’ers Do You Have On Your Team?

If it’s getting close to lunchtime, you may not want to read ahead.  I was going to write about IT team dynamics, but instead I decided that we should have a discussion about BBQ.

Yes, BBQ, the art and science of cooking delicious meat.  The interesting thing is that for the countless styles of finished meals you get with BBQ—Cajun style Andouille sausage, St. Louis Style Ribs, Huli Huli Chicken, grilled steak—(I warned you about being hungry – it’s not going to get any easier) there are just two major ways to BBQ.  Those two tried-and-true, accepted culinary techniques are grilling and smoking.

When one grills, you use a single high heat source below the meat and separated only by either a sheet or slats of conductive metal.  The temperatures are high and you need to pay attention.  Timing, differentials in heat across the surface, and the size and shape of the meat serve as important data points that require constant analysis and adjustment.  You must think on your feet and react accordingly to produce great results.  Grilling is exciting; you watch the fire dance, you see immediate results, and you are fully immersed in the process.

When one uses a smoking technique, however, you cook at a far lower temperature for a much longer time.  That timing is also far more forgiving and less-precise, and the process is measured in hours not minutes.  To prepare meat for the smoker, there is a much longer preparation phase and a more detailed planning requirement.  Most “pit masters” brine or season their meats days prior and also understand the importance of starting the cook hours earlier in order for the meal to be ready by dinner.  Once in the smoker, with its low indirect heat source and a floating mix of flavors, the cook can literally sit back and let the process work itself out.

The difference between the two forms of BBQ is with smoking the harder, more technical work happens before you “turn on the heat.”  With grilling, you can toss the meat on at a whim, but then you need to pay attention and execute on your skills.

Both BBQ techniques have the ability to product excellent results but the skills to achieve success are very different.  Both require skilled cooks but those cooking experiences are different.

When we compare the ways to BBQ like that, it’s actually easy to see how this relates to the dynamics of any IT team.  There are players who are going to be great at strategy, and planning ahead, and preparing for the next big project.  Then there are going to be the players who are better at reacting, and fixing things, and thinking on their feet, and like to troubleshoot.  And generally speaking, your team members are going to be good at one way or the other, but not both.

There’s other analogies that fit into as well.  We can talk about the firefighters who react to the alarms and start spraying the fires vs. the firefighters who designed and cleared the fire-breaks beforehand to stop the spread should fire break out to begin with.  We can talk about airplane pilots with their hands on the stick vs. those who design rockets that shoot straight up.  The difference in people’s strengths are the same; it’s how we leverage those skills within a team.

(I personally do not use the aforementioned analogies because I’ve heard the former used with firefighters vs. the fire chief.  I believe that implies that the planners are more-important and “higher-up” in the organization.  I don’t believe these skills should be stacked and compared that way.  Additionally, with the later analogy, it makes the pilots seem to have a more-exciting role, which is also more-desirable than the one held by the rocket engineers in a lab who must hone their design craft before the launch ever happens.  I also don’t like that comparison.)

As an exercise, I want you to think about the Change Approval Board (CAB) in your organization.  Is your CAB made up of grillers or smokers?  What about your Project Management Office (PMO) group?  What about your tier 1 service desk agents?  Are the personalities in each a good fit for the role?

Let’s now get to the meat of the matter.  As a leader in an IT organization, you find yourself with some important questions on the menu:

How do you identify who is who without hosting a corporate cook-off?

Have you staffed your kitchens with the right cooks?  A balance in personalities is crucial.

Do your chefs have the right utensils and ingredients to complete the meal?

As IT organizations and CIOs morph into service organizations and CSPs – Chief Service Providers – the dynamics of the team are going to be critical.  Service Desks handling Requests and Incidents are most-likely going to be best-served by “grillers” whereas Problem Managers and Change Managers should probably come from your “smoker” ranks.  Remember, Incident Management is getting a service restored quickly to support the customer, whereas Problem Management is the slower discipline of identifying patters of faults, root cause analysis, and feeding back fixes into better system designs.  While in the former, speed and action are important, in the latter we are best-served by analytical minds and accuracy.

Change and Release Management have very little room for “hot heads” as they govern not only new or different systems being introduced or processes being changed, they are the most likely practices in ITIL to disrupt employee service and cause new calls to the Service Desk.  We want any and all Changes and Releases to have at a minimum a back-out plan, a risk assessment, and an impact analysis to mitigate errors and guarantee success and an improved ROI for the business.

Team members in customer-facing roles like Field Services need to understand the nuances* of dealing with frustrated users and respond accordingly.  Time is more-critical for these issues, so we value rapid action that works right the first time.

*(“Nuances” was auto-corrected no less than three times on my machine to “nuisances.”  Being honest, I’m not sure which is more-correct, but I certainly now believe my computer understands end-users more than we’d ever admit ourselves…)

A challenge of any leader is learning and mastering the art and science of people management, but just like having a group of friends over on the weekend to BBQ a delicious meal, there are many paths to success.  Importantly, one needs to have fun with it.  A positive attitude towards your team and their strengths will go a long way to satisfaction and positive results.

ITIL terms used in this article:

Change Approval Board (CAB) – An integral part of the Change Management practice, a CAB is a group of stakeholders from throughout the enterprise that meets to discuss the impact, urgency, and practicality of planned or proposed upcoming changes to enterprise systems or technical solutions.

Project Management Office (PMO) - A group, department, or single contributor within an enterprise that defines and maintains standards for project management within the organization. The PMO strives to standardize and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects.

Incident Management – The ITIL process conducted by an IT team to restore a normal service operation as quickly as possible and to minimize the impact on business operations, services and the users, thus ensuring that the best possible levels of service quality and availability are maintained.

Problem Management – The ITIL process used to manage Incidents and Outages where both a resolution and root cause has not yet been determined.  Problems are generally collections of related Incidents affecting business operations or services.

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Christopher Morgan

Christopher Morgan is a Senior Solution Consultant at EasyVista and an expert on modern solutions for enterprise service management. He is excited to share his extensive ITSM knowledge to help you deliver real business value to your organization. Chris lives in San Diego, CA where he enjoys craft beer, mountain biking and his Belgian Malinois, Ele.