Supporting team members who have ideas for improvement

“Dreaming and Doing” by Sam Howzit is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the foundational practices in DevOps and Agile is to support team members who have ideas for improvement. This is difficult to do because we have a lot of work to get done and trying out new ideas creates more work. When the idea crosses organizational lines and normal job duties, it is even more difficult to take action. We have implemented Wonderful Wednesdays as a way to give time to explore ideas and practice creating self-organizing teams. A recent example reaffirmed to me why this practice is so important, especially when you are trying to transform the way that your team works.

Like most organizations, we have a help desk with software that we use to track all of the requests for support. This software is managed by the help desk team. One of our new help desk team members, Dominic (Dom) Malfara, was looking for ways to be more efficient in updating the software. He wanted to be able to upgrade the software in the middle of the day and be able to quickly recover if any part of the system went down. He reached out to our infrastructure engineering team, who were investigating how to use Kubernetes containers to automate and modernize our server environment.

That team embraced Dom, recognizing that if they could containerize our Remedy environment, which consisted of many servers with a vendor that didn’t support containers, it would be an ideal environment to learn for the entire team. The team leader invited Dom to the team’s daily stand-ups, Trello board, and Teams channel. Throughout the project the entire team was inclusive and accommodating. Despite org chart lines, Dom felt like he was part of their team and it was exciting working towards a goal with them. The infrastructure team reprioritized their work and helped Dom identify all of the layers of systems and management tools needed to fully automate and containerize the Remedy servers. 

This took several months and required full support from the leaders on the help desk and the infrastructure engineering team. Doing this required more time and more people than a traditional upgrade of the Remedy servers. It required making the time to experiment. 

Dom was successful in containerizing the Remedy environment. It did not go perfectly.  We had a bit of user interruption throughout the day as we made the transition. Through the problems, the help desk leadership team didn’t yell or blame anyone, but instead asked what they could do to help. Various team members posted screenshots or descriptions of things that were broken, allowing Dom space to focus on calmly fixing things so they would not happen again.

The results have been everything that we hoped for and worth the investment of time. We halved the needed hardware. Upgrades are now done by building parallel environments which mean we can fully test the new production environment and roll over and back between the old and new environments in seconds. All the hard work now occurs up front, and not during a maintenance window where people are prone to rush/make mistakes. Because the work is now automated and reproducible, bringing up a new test environment takes minutes instead of days. We can monitor the system load and scale instantly when needed. 

A couple of weeks after the transition was done, Dom did a presentation during Wonderful Wednesday teaching others across ITS. I went to the presentation and was in awe of the amount of learning and technical knowledge that was required to make the transition. It was one of the highlights of my year.

Thanks to Dom raising his hand and the infrastructure team fully supporting him, we have a roadmap on how to make the rest of our infrastructure more efficient, modern, and scalable. As a leader, it reinforced to me how important it is to support those individuals and teams who raise their hand and give them the time and resources to learn and make your organization better.

Here are my questions for you this week.

  • How do you support individuals who raise their hands with an idea? 
  • How do you treat others who come to you with an idea that requires you to change what you are doing? 
  • Is there a project you are working on currently that someone could collaborate with you for mutual benefits if they only had some way of knowing about it?

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Epilogue: As part of the process of writing these blogs, I always ask for feedback from the people who are mentioned in the blog. I wanted to include this email from Dominic to me about his view of the experience.

Hello Cindy,

Thanks for sharing, I just wanted to share some quick notes on the overall experience because it was really special to me. Our self-formed team was definitely influenced by all of the changes made to the culture and how ITS members are reacting to that: 

  • Wonderful Wednesday allowed me the freedom and time to invest in pursuing something innovative instead of doing things how we always have, WW got me quick buy-in from Jim and Paul because instead of battling with scheduling time to prove value in something and how it prioritized with our other work, I was able to use that reserved WW time to learn skills and proof of concept this project. I was excited to work on new technologies and make life better for us and that energy didn’t go to waste having to meet and debate and formalize things. Natural experimentation took its course and we got to follow an informal guideline of what we wanted to accomplish and how we were going to do it
  • Slack/Teams promotes open communication across the organization so it is now commonplace to talk to others in ITS, I get to interact with members of IT that I might not even meet otherwise. Help or knowledge with something is a message away, and with group chats I get visibility into what people are working on, instead of knowledge being hidden in email chains that I wasn’t CCed on or meetings I wasn’t a part of (the all-staff meetings, summits, and What’s New newsletter all influence this as well). I heard that Infrastructure Engineering was already exploring Kubernetes and we got to learn that together.
  • Leaders like Jorj, who doesn’t have a reporting relationship with me, but acted as a strong mentor and helped break down any barriers I faced along the way anyway. People like him that are genuinely interested in the technology and making Temple a better place are really inspiring and I hope I can pay that forward and influence those around me

Thanks again to Jorj for all his help and mentorship, and to you for the culture you are creating in Temple ITS! This project wouldn’t have been possible without it. I have learned a lot of valuable career skills and the failures/mishaps along the way that gave me real world lessons and I honestly had fun doing it! 😄

Thanks again, 

Dominic Malfara

Give Yourself Permission

https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-eoltg

One of the nicest things about the holiday break is that you can take time off and not have emails and work pile up while you are out of the office. So many of my colleagues talk about how much they appreciate having this pause at the end of the year.

All of my kids and their significant others were able to come to our house for Christmas this year. My husband and I decided that our gift to our family was a shared experience. We did a quick road trip to New York City where we watched the Harry Potter plays, walked all over the city, and ate some amazing food. Then we settled in at home, playing board games, solving puzzles and enjoying being with each other. We had so much fun. 

For me, it was an exercise in being in the moment and really relaxing into the joy of having my family around me. I noticed that a few times during the break, I started to get upset as I worried about a specific concern about one of our kids. Each time that happened, I was able to catch myself and stop. I knew that my ability to stay out of worry and cherish the person in front of me was key to making the vacation positive for our entire family.

Our time together was everything that I hoped it would be. It was wonderful.

My return to work has been hard. Since starting back at work, falling asleep has been difficult, which is unusual for me. I have been lying in bed, ruminating about a number of things and feeling anxious that I am not able to sleep. This means that it is difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I find myself choosing to turn off my alarm instead of getting up to head to the gym. The combination of lack of sleep and exercise has left me feeling exhausted and unfocused.

As I was lying in bed this morning, after ignoring my alarm for the second time, I found myself mentally berating myself for my lack of discipline.

When I realized what I was doing, I was able to stop. 

I chose to enjoy that moment, instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with me for not wanting to get up. I reveled in my warm bed, knowing it was my work from home day and I could use my commute time to sleep in. This was my gift to myself. 

I felt so much better after that small shift in mindset. 

One of the most transformational lessons that I have learned in my leadership journey is the power of our own stories. The question I always ask is “What story am I telling myself?” When I take the time to do this and investigate, I find that most of my stories are not true. I fundamentally believe that everyone is doing the best that they can and my job as a leader is to create an environment where everyone thrives. This means that I need to stay out of judgement and blame in order to look for ways to improve the situation. Extending that philosophy to myself is what I have been working on for many years.

I know that my ability to stay out of worry and cherish myself and the person in front of me is key to making the positive transformation happen. Doing this requires stamina, energy, focus and consistency. Sometimes I get tired and need to give myself permission to rest.

How do you rest physically, socially and mentally? How do you find respite from your recurring worries?