Chapter 10: Don’t Peek Behind the Curtain – Catalogs, Services and Portfolios


‘What do you want’? snapped Sue, without even looking up from her terminal. Her fingers never paused for a moment, as they jumped across the keyboard. Sue was manager of IT’s desktop support team, and, judging by the cluster of people waiting outside her office, she was in high demand.

She followed up with, ‘You’re blocking the door for people who need to see me. So move along and try to be productive, like maybe earning your pay, by doing whatever it is that you do.’

I’d been unsuccessful setting up this meeting with her. She’d declined every invitation, and wouldn’t take my calls. In desperation, I’d reached out to Lee, but even he wouldn’t take my calls. Finally, I camped out at his office, and ambushed him when he arrived at work. That was enough for him to intercede with her leadership, and the meeting was arranged. His parting words to me had been, ‘You don’t have what it takes to stand up to her. I won’t be there, so I expect you will have a major fail, but that will be your fault, not mine.’

I wondered if Lee had ever given anyone anything other than a putdown. Following Lee’s advice was going to be hard, when he always ignored me and was dismissive of everything I did. He spent more time pandering to the executives than he did helping his team. And for me, that was the mark of a lousy manager. I knew he would get great personal joy from pushing me toward the exit, and I didn’t even want to think about trying to find an interesting and decent, paying job in this market.

‘I’m Chris. We have time scheduled, so I think I have priority over those people waiting to interrupt you, unless they have some kind of critical business issue. I’m here at the request of Jason and Jacob, to help sort out some concerns about equipment for the field that have become critical.’

Sue stopped, turned her head, and scowled at me. ‘Critical? You don’t know anything about critical. You ever have a corporate officer throw a fit worthy of the most truculent two-year old child, just because his mobile phone can’t access the Internet for 30 minutes, between the time they clear security and the time they reach the boarding gate, so they end up missing two quarters of streaming basketball? You ever have a divisional VP try to get you fired because all of the division’s laptops went down with viral attacks they picked up from her computer, after she let her daughter turn off the anti-virus on her laptop to download an illegal copy of a new movie as a Mother’s Day present’?

She turned back to her screen and began typing again. ‘Come back and see me when you know something about priorities and critical issues. And get my manager’s approval before you waste my time again.’

I took a deep breath. I could call Lee and he would call her boss’ boss, and force her to meet with me. But if I wanted anything more than simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, I needed her co-operation. If I made an enemy of her, I’d get nothing. If I folded, walked away, and tried to reschedule, I’d get nothing.

I sat down in the chair across the desk from her and said, ‘Sue, I want your attention for five minutes, please. And I am not leaving here until you give it to me.’

She ignored me for a minute, but then looked up and asked, ‘You still here? Are you stupid or what’?

‘I won’t insult you and pretend you don’t know why I am here, or who set this meeting up. If you help me, and give me a few moments of your time, I will do everything I can to reduce the number of complaints you get from the business about enabling new users. And given how this meeting was set up, I do have the ear of some people who can influence that. But I cannot help you unless you let me.’

Sue stopped typing, and turned around in her chair. ‘Okay, there are 24 more minutes left in your time slot with me. Go for it.’

‘The issue is simple. People in the field are not getting the secure access, desktops, laptops, and tablets, on the days they requested, and people are complaining that the process is too hard and cumbersome.’ I pulled one of the documents from my folio. ‘I’ve got a note here from the central region VP, telling the CIO that he expects her to absorb the expenses of his new hire, who’s spent the last week sitting around doing nothing because they weren’t kitted up when they were supposed to be. The service desk …’

‘You can stop right there,’ she said. ‘The service desk may have a lot of desks, but it provides little service to anyone but themselves. All they do is complain and point fingers. Think about it. What value does the service desk possibly add for IT? Aren’t we supposed to be in this together … to have each other’s back? They’re supposed to be a buffer to keep us from idiot questions and constant interruptions, but they can’t even do that.’

‘So what should they do with user questions and concerns’?

‘Either know the technology, or trust those that do. Do you argue with your surgeon about whether to use interrupted, mattress or continuous stitches, when they sew you up after you’ve been in a car accident? No, of course not. You trust their training and knowledge in that particular area is greater than yours, and let them handle it. You tell them what you think is wrong, and then leave them alone until they tell you everything is fixed.’

Sue took a deep drink from a dirty, stained coffee cup, that looked like it hadn’t been washed in years. She reached into a cabinet and pulled out an enormous black vinyl, three-ring binder. The plastic cover was torn on one corner, and it was stuffed so full that some of the pages were starting to slide out. She slapped it down on her desk with a thud. It was the same binder Jacob had shown Lee.

‘And so you won’t think we’re a bunch of anti-social geeks, take a look at this. It’s the IT service catalog. It’s got everything we do in IT. Anything that we could possibly do for users is in there, along with its costs, purpose, support levels and time to deliver. All those users need do, is select what they want on the appropriate request entry screen, and it gets taken care of. How hard is that? The service desk could do it. It’s so simple, even a child could do it.’

‘Who has access to this’?

‘All the admins got copies when we printed it up two years ago; service desk, too. So they all should be using it. If they’re not, and they have problems, then it’s their own fault. The users order some of the dumbest configurations you can imagine, and we don’t have the time to do their work for them. And the service desk isn’t smart enough to help them figure out what’s right. That’s why it can take so long. We have to make sense out of the nonsense they send us. You’ve gotta remember, our job is not to tell people what they need. Our job is to execute tasks. That’s what our SLAs and goals are based on, and far be it from me to go against the wishes of leadership. If that’s what they value, then that is what we execute.’

Sue pulled a chart down that was taped to the wall beside her PC screen, and slid it across the table to me.

‘Look at those KPIs. We are green all across the board this month, just like the last 18 months. We’ve never even come close to having a yellow. We have a fixed amount of time to accept, and then execute a legitimate request once it is assigned to the proper group. We meet that tight schedule almost without exception.’

She leaned across the desk and smiled. ‘There’s just one thing we can’t fix here.’ She pointed a finger directly at me. ‘We can’t fix ignorance.’

I opened the binder. Kourosh had not shown me anything like this. Neither had Manuel. And I’d never seen an admin use one either. I’d seen Jacob give one to Lee, but this was the first time I actually got a look inside our service catalog.

Most of the pages were discolored, stained and worn. It seemed to be organized by the IT functional team; one section for network, one for storage, one for systems. Fortunately, there was a section for desktop and laptop systems. As a test to see if I understood what was in there, I tried to gather the information I’d need to order a laptop. I quickly jotted down a list of what I thought made sense and passed it to Sue.

‘Would this be a good request and get me what I need for a new laptop’?

Sue scanned it and began shaking her head. ‘Not bad for a first try. But you can’t use that much memory if you’re only going to order a 32-bit operating system …’

‘So I can get something more than 32-bit’? I interrupted.

‘Sure,’ said Sue, as she fanned deeper into the binder. ‘We’ve got 64-bit, too.’

‘And that would let me have more memory’?


‘But where do I find that’?

‘Everyone knows that. But it doesn’t matter because our VPN client doesn’t support 64-bit anyway. So if you want the ability to connect with the rest of the world when you’re not in the office, then you’re better off sticking with 32-bit.’

‘So why are there three brands of laptops in here? I thought we didn’t have a choice and were standardized on one.’

‘We don’t. Actually there are four. What you see in there are two that we used to have when the catalog was first done. The third one was the one we were moving to, and now that’s our standard, but we’re retiring that one for another in three months, but it hasn’t made it into the catalog yet.’

‘Huh? So two of the three available choices today are invalid, and the new option isn’t even listed? You’re making it easy for people to get it wrong.’

‘We need to show both the obsolete and the pending standards in our service catalog, so we can give Ian the information he needs to properly track assets. If you ask him, I’m sure he’d tell you that making sure none of the equipment disappears, is a lot more important than whether or not some sales rep can’t watch videos on a laptop for a couple of days. We don’t do anyone any favors by making it difficult for Ian, or the IT groups, to get the information they need to support the company.’

‘What about the changes to the catalog’?

‘We haven’t updated the catalog in a while. We’ve been too busy. Besides, we sent out an e-mail to everyone we sent catalogs to, so they should all know about it, or pass it on to those who do it now.’

‘And if they don’t’?

Sue’s voice got louder, and she started poking the catalog with her finger. ‘Then they should be ashamed of themselves. Each of us needs to do the best for the corporation. You just don’t get it. This is a good deed that we did. None of our goals or objectives are tied to executing legitimate requests. If people aren’t happy with the fact, they are too ignorant to know what they want. Then the source of the problem is with them and not us. It couldn’t be plainer.’

‘But how can a user trying to kit-up a new employee, be expected to know all this? Do you see how they could get things confused’?

‘Then they shouldn’t have that job. You don’t drive a car unless you know the rules of the road, and you shouldn’t order equipment unless you know what you’re doing. If they don’t know, then find someone who does. And if they can’t find someone, then get someone who does, or get some training. No one is born knowing any of this, and if I can learn it, then so can they.’

Sue pulled down some creased and marked books on best practices. She grabbed the top one and waved it at me. ‘When we did the catalog, we specifically relied on best practice advice to communicate with the business in terms of services, so that’s how we arranged the catalog. And unless I miss my guess, that is still best practice.’

‘So installing memory, or a hard drive, when building a server, is a service’?

‘You got it. Just like us giving you a new laptop or desktop computer is a service.’ She jabbed a finger at one of the best practice manuals. ‘We are aligned with the other high-performing IT shops around the world. We are a textbook example of how to implement these best practices. I know. I’ve read them.’

I had read the book Sue was poking with her finger. It was the latest guidance. I didn’t remember all the specifics, but it would be unlikely she would claim to be in compliance with something I could so easily verify if she were not. I just couldn’t let her know I didn’t remember. It would be embarrassing and make me look weak if she thought I didn’t know it by rote and had to look it up.

‘Yep, you are right about that,’ I said.

Sue stuffed the best practice book back in her cabinet. ‘We’re not going to waste any time trying to fix something that is not only done right, but is also aligned with best practice. Unlike you, we have real work to do.’

Sue pulled the binder back from me and squeezed it into her cabinet before locking it, and the best practice book, inside. Looking up at the clock, she pointed to the cluster of people gathered outside her office. ‘Your time is up.’

Tips that would have helped Chris

Miscommunication between people in IT and the business happens because they see the world through different contextual lenses. IT tends to see the world in terms of tasks and projects. However, their clients tend to see the world in terms of capabilities and activities. The former focuses on things with defined beginnings and ends, whereas the later views things as ongoing activities and deliverables. In other words, IT sees the business from an inside-out perspective, and the business sees IT from an outside-in perspective.

IT people tend to think of services in terms of products, platforms and projects they deliver, such that they view building a server as a service. Whereas from the business perspective, it’s not a specific technology that is the service, it is the capability that technology provides. There should be several service catalog views, each relevant to their audience.

Make sure there is clarity on IT’s role and responsibilities. Many times these fail because of failure to pull a RACI matrix together. A RACI matrix identifies which role is Responsible (Doer), Accountable (Owner), Consulted (Subject Matter Expert) and Informed (Gets Status Updates) for each activity and process. Be forewarned that some people don’t like RACIs, because it prevents dodging ownership and accountability.

Documents, resources, catalogs and best practices, are not static objects. The moment you see them being locked up, unused, dusty, then you know there is no continual improvement and they are not being used as part of the ITSM process.