When good users go bad

Well, that was certainly an interesting week. The icing on the cake for me was a Friday afternoon knock-down, drag-out, yelling, screaming, swearing, back-biting session with a business analyst (like, a business business analyst, not an IS business analyst) in one of our operating divisions.

Well, that was certainly an interesting week. The icing on the cake for me was a Friday afternoon knock-down, drag-out, yelling, screaming, swearing, back-biting session with a business analyst (like, a business business analyst, not an IS business analyst) in one of our operating divisions.

It’s been a long time since I had one of those. Now it’s Monday morning, we’ve had a subsequent slightly more civilised meeting, got to the real issues and sorted it all out, but the whole episode has got me thinking about how we do what we do and just how, sometimes, you can’t win no matter what you do.

User expectations are a dangerous thing. I learned very early on in my IT career that managing user expectations was the key to managing IT. Set expectations too high and you’ll end up letting people down and making yourself and your staff look like a bunch of lazy, incompetent idiots. Add to this scenario the fact that most IT people (myself included) are young (well, okay, relatively young), enthusiastic, optimistic and generally pretty passionate about what we do and you’ve got a guaranteed unhappy ending. When asked: “When will it be done?” the answer is almost invariably the most optimistic estimate.

But then what happens when other more urgent tasks come along and bugger it up? What usually happens is that we start to look like a bunch of lazy, incompetent idiots. This was the main subject of my, ahem, “full and frank discussion” on Friday.

Mental Note #1: Be pessimistic. Multiply every timeframe by at least three and never use words like “easy” or “trivial”. Make it seem like everything is a real effort and you’re doing an enormous personal favour every time your organisation does anything for them. Make ’em all think you’re a bunch of lazy, incompetent idiots so they can’t possibly be disappointed. You’ll look and feel fantastic.

Something else I’ve worked out in the last two years is that a helpdesk operation will always require several more people than you’re able to throw at it. About two years ago, I bolstered our helpdesk operation with two fresh new analysts. Perhaps for the first time ever, the helpdesk had the capability to be, well, helpful. The number of calls logged each day grew and grew along what all the industry pundits would call a “hockey stick” curve because users found they were getting a favourable response. Our flash new helpdesk service rapidly became a victim of its own success. The expectation has grown out of all proportion and we’re simply unable to deliver the level of service that’s expected. The helpdesk, because the guys are personable and — like I said — helpful, is seen as the solution to everyone’s IT woes. Whenever one of the guys has a bad day or — god forbid — isn’t able to answer the phone in within, like, two nanoseconds, the word goes out that IS are a bunch of lazy, incompetent idiots.

Mental Note #2: Brief helpdesk staff to be unhelpful. “Shut up and reboot” should become the standard solution to all possible problems. Make ’em all think you’re a bunch of lazy, incompetent idiots so they can’t possibly be disappointed. You’ll look and feel fantastic.

Mental Note #3: Cheer up and have a better week this week.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons. Email Jim Swanson. Send letters for publiction to Computerworld Letters.

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