There are many professions who have to be on constant standby when everyone else is asleep or on holiday. Family doctors, for example, often sleep with one eye open. Not literally, because that would be disturbing. But if they are the General Practitioner who is assigned to be ‘on call’ over the weekend or during a national holiday, they have to modify how they spend whatever ‘down time’ they have available. They prepare themselves for the fact that they may be called upon at any minute and must be in a fit state to concentrate.
All members of the emergency services have similar controlling mechanisms, buried somewhere in the subconscious, reminding them of the responsibilities that may present themselves if circumstances change. It’s worth noting the mechanisms they use for preparing themselves for such a period of ‘suspended responsibility’. A CIO has the added burden that, given the global nature of most IT operations, they are very likely to have stakeholders in countries that don’t share the same holiday seasons. So they’ll be expecting business as usual.
Arguably, the most volatile element of your system is its users. Each human being has an organic computer: the brain. Far more complex and sophisticated that IBM’s Watson supercomputer will ever be. But if you can prime these users (and their complicated brains) in advance, you can head off all kinds of complications.
The user’s psychology, which can be likened to a sort of human operating system, can be pre-configured with charm and empowered with useful information. So fully briefing them on the situation over the holiday and telling them all they need to know, or at least what route to take on their journey to discovering that information, will be an investment of time that could reap massive dividends.
Humans respond well to recognition too. For example, when warning the team that the systems may be down at 6am on Sunday morning, you could kick off your briefing with a little flattery. “Knowing how conscientious you are, I thought I’d better take the precaution of warning you that the Customer Relationship Marketing system won’t be available on Sunday between 6 am and 10am.” Maybe remind them that their magnificent brains can be rejuvenated through a period of restful thought processing. AKA: sleep.
However, too much unstructured data has a diminishing effect on any system and the human brain is no different. Keep each briefing email short and to the point. If you have time, you could even tailor a different message to each department. Some judicious finding and replacing of key phrases could speed up the process of personalisation. But that’s a tricky balance.
The main preparation needed is to tell your constituents what is happening on the system, why it will benefit them, who they should talk to if they need help and where they can find further information.
There’s an old military saying that has much resonance with the life of a CIO. Assumption is the mother of all c*ckups. It’s a classic human failing to assume that someone else will take responsibility because, up until now, everything has just seemed to work. We all do it.
The assumption mantra is particularly true of the work of a technology manager, because today’s business process are highly complicated, with multiple handovers of responsibility – be they between humans or machines. At each stage in these automated chains of events, when control is handed over, something could go wrong. You have to anticipate what could go wrong and, if it did, who takes responsibility for fixing it and how.
A simplified version of this could be prepared for the holiday period with a priority list. Such as: What are the seven most likely things to go wrong, what contact information people should have, who can resolve them and how.
Arm Your Users
It might be a good idea to anticipate what problems users are most likely to have and give them simple steps to resolution.
The assumption rule applies here too. Writing a handover briefing for the colleagues that are sharing responsibility is a good way to nip problems in the bud.
Finally, as we alluded to earlier, if you prepared for absolutely every eventuality you’d never leave the office.