At a recent networking event, a senior IT leader stated, “I sometimes get frustrated when I ask a team member about a particular issue or end user. Often, I get this long, drawn-out technical explanation of the situation. I’m not asking about how the clock works; I just want to know what time it is.”
I was struck by his remark. When we talk about IT things, are we describing how the clock works, or talking about what time it is?
A typical IT environment
The IT environment found within most organizations is a complex collection of interconnected servers, laptops, software, off-premise services, networks, applications, storage devices, and much more. Each of these components has a number of subcomponents that interact to make it work. For example, a “network” consists of things like cabling, routers, hubs, switches, control software, monitoring tools, and more. An individual server is made up of a motherboard, CPU, RAM, firmware, internal and external buses, one or more fans, a hard drive, a power supply, and more.
Sometimes, physical servers are components of virtual servers, which then act as single units of computing. Sometimes a server is not in the same physical location as the organization using the server. Sometimes the software and applications used by an organization are physically installed and running on that server that is not in the same physical location as the organization utilizing them.
Interesting, huh? And knowing all of this is critical for us IT types that are responsible for making all of this work. But does anyone outside of the organization need to know any of these details? Does anyone outside of IT even care?
Well yes, they do care… but only when these things aren’t working as they should. But even then, they don’t necessarily want (or even need) the details. They just want their service.
What are you trying to say?
When you talk about the IT environment, are you playing “buzzword bingo” or speaking in “technobabble?” If you’re talking to another IT colleague, communicating in technical terms may work. Or it may not... even within IT, we can get lost in “geek speak.” It certainly does not work well with other business colleagues that rely on the services provided by IT.
Effective communication is a critical skill for the modern IT professional. Having the ability to communicate with people ranging from another technologist to a senior executive to business colleague can mean the difference between success and failure. Effective communication helps build credibility, respect, and trust.
Tips for communicating effectively
Here are a few tips that will help make your communications more effective:
- Know your audience –Speak or write in terms that your audience will easily recognize and understand. What you say to a consumer should be much different than what you would say to an IT colleague.
- Listen, listen, listen – Effective communication begins with listening, rather than trying to make a point. And when you’re listening, your complete focus must be on whom you’re listening to…. not checking email, not responding to a text message. Half-hearted listening is actually not listening at all.
- Provide an easy mechanism for feedback – Communication can only be effective if information is exchanged and understood by each party. For example, I use Plus Delta evaluation to collect immediate feedback following a presentation. In an email, I often will include a link to a feedback form so that the reader can immediately respond, rather than hoping that the reader will click on “reply.”
- Use analogies – An analogy is an effective way for helping others understand complex or technical information in a simple and recognizable, but non-technical, way.
- Lose the buzzwords – As I mentioned above, using buzzwords can have the unintended effect of making the audience feel inferior, because they don’t understand what the buzzword means.
- Begin with the end in mind – Communicate with intent, not just to be hurling words at someone. What is it that you want to have happen after you communicate? Will what you’re saying or writing lead to that result?
Applying effective communication to ITSM
Effective communication is a subtle, yet critical element of good IT service management (ITSM). Good ITSM is more than just resolving an incident, fulfilling a request, or implementing a change. What and how you communicate what you’re doing is just as crucial as any other aspect of ITSM.
Here are some examples:
- Incident Management – Are your incident resolution notes meaningful to the consumer, or are they "non-descriptions?" For example, a “non-description” would be something like "closed the ticket" or "issue resolved." Do your internal resolution notes include appropriate and adequate information that enables problem management or continual improvement?
- Service Catalog – If ever there is a critical need for effective communication, it’s with the service catalog. There can be many different contextual views of a service catalog, including a technical view, a business-facing view, and a consumer-facing view. If you’re presenting the business-facing view, do your service descriptions describe “things” or do they describe the business outcomes and value enabled by the service? Does the technical view service catalog use language that is appropriate for the IT team? Does the consumer-facing view appropriately describe how to request standard services and any associated prerequisites or needed approvals? Regardless of the view, are descriptions concise, yet meaningful for the audience?
- Service Level Agreements (SLAs) – Do your agreements describe business success indicators and measures or just technology performances targets? Your business colleagues will not care about how quickly you answer the phone or the availability of a server when the payroll system melts down on payday.
- Operational Level Agreements (OLAs) – On the other hand, OLAs should describe how the achievement of technology performance targets enables business results. Knowing this helps IT team members understand how what they do contributes to business outcomes and success. .
So does your audience need to understand all of the components that make a clock work, or do they simply need to know the time? Effective communication relies on knowing the difference.