There is no substitute for doing front-line work to understand what is going on in your organization. In lean manufacturing, this is called “Walking the Gemba” and it is powerful.
One of my favorite times each week is the hours I spend working on the front line of our computer help desk, which is the nerve center for our group. As the CIO of a large university, it is very difficult to understand what it is like for our students, staff, and faculty to use our systems. Working on the help desk has been invaluable in understanding, strengthening my relationship with the team, and improving the services we provide.
The beginning of each semester is crazy and I want to be able to help during these busy times. So I started spending two hours each week getting trained and working on the help desk a month ago to be ready when school starts in the fall. Because we need to cover large surges of demand, the Client Services team is launching the “Ambassador” program this summer and asking staff from across Computer Services to volunteer to help during busy times. I am the first Ambassador in the program. The training materials that have been gathered to train me will be used for the other ambassadors. The entire network engineering group has signed up! It has been wonderful to watch the willingness of people to pitch in and help.
I have seen first-hand the pain of some of our processes and convoluted systems. I ask a lot of questions about why we are doing things a certain way. As a result, we have been able to have conversations across campus that have improved processes and systems.
As an example, we currently ask prospective students to login to our portal to see their decision about whether they have been accepted to the university or not. Many of these prospective students don’t remember their credentials and can’t get into their account, which is frustrating and time consuming. It is especially frustrating if the student is not accepted to the university and may have to spend 30 minutes logging in only to be disappointed. When we brought this up with the Admissions office, they agreed to change the process to notify the students in email rather than requiring them to login. My experience on the front line reinforces how critical it is to listen to staff at all levels for suggestions.
Another thing about working on the help desk is that it is very rewarding. When you help to solve a technical problem, most people are grateful and happy. Whether it is assisting an employee print their tax documents on tax-day or helping a student get into their account and hearing the relief in their voice, it feels great knowing that you made someone’s day better.
The best part is the help desk team. They are amazing! They have been so welcoming and patient with me. When I wake up and see on my calendar that I have my help desk time, it makes me happy. I know I have become officially part of the team because I was invited to join the team squat session. I was quite impressed to find that there are several team members who do 100 squats each morning and afternoon. Ken Ward, the self-appointed squat leader, let me off easy my first time. We only did thirty. And I was sore for the rest of the week even though I exercise every day!
My challenge for you this week is to “Walk the Gemba” to get to know the people in your organization and understand how things really work.