I’ve just been watching "Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares" and it brought me back to some conversations I used to have with a former workmate about the show. Myself and my buddy, GB, used to reckon everything that Gordon Ramsay said in his show applied not only to running a successful restaurant but also to a smooth running IT infrastructure and department. Gordon Ramsay stresses 3 things:
- Good ingredients that work together;
- Good communication and
- Keep it simple.
Me and GB reckoned that if you applied all three, then things would run smooth. I ran a Windows infrastructure team. GB ran the helpdesk. Our teams ran smooth as silk. The infrastructure was under complete control and we always knew where each other team was.
Based on my experiences, I can say the same is true for everyone. In fact, a smooth running IT infrastructure seems to be a rare find, in my opinion.
Anyone who knows me or has read a little of my blog knows that I have a bias towards Microsoft solutions. Why? They work. They also work together. That last word is critical. Together. Way too often I’m in on sites where people have tried to save a few Euros by buying Honest Joe’s system management solution or Danny Boy’s archive. In order to get these solutions to work the staff end up having to re-invent the wheel or jimmy in the solution to their infrastructure. What happens is that they increase complexity, introduce fragility and waste so much effort that any savings they thought they were making have disappeared into the ether.
Before I go any further, I’m not saying you have to always buy a solution from Microsoft. I am saying that if you run a Microsoft network, you might want to adopt solutions that follow best practices from that company. The same goes for implementing solutions for a Sun or Linux network.
When GB and I worked together, we tried to find the best solutions we could. We tested and we hammered salesmen and consultants. We had no problem bringing members from other teams in to make sure that solution X was best for the network. Using the best solutions that we could afford meant that the solutions worked for us and not the other way around which seems way too prevalent.
Find the best ingredients you can afford that work with what you have got. When the ingredients work and work together then your customer will notice the difference.
Everyone in the IT department must communicate and communicate openly. I’ve seen all sorts of scenarios in my time. I’ve seen IT organisations where the departments just flat-out don’t talk to each other. I’ve seen a senior sys admin who refused to share information because he saw himself as sitting on an ivory throne and sharing could "threaten" his position. A polar opposite was a senior admin who didn’t communicate so as to hide his weaknesses and poor decisions. I’ve seen inter-site politics destroy an IT organisation. I’ve seen senior management that did not communicate with their IT department. And I’ve been lucky enough to work in a department where communication was open, clear, proceduralised and facilitated a good working organisation.
Imagine a team of people who go off on a project to implement a reporting solution. A few team members spend months writing this solution. They get Apache web server, programming languages no one has ever heard of, have server all over the place running as "polers", copying data left, right and centre. Then I come along and ask what they’ve been doing. I find out they’re assembling the mother of all reporting engines for SQL 2000 that will run on a web server. Hmm, if only they’d mentioned this to me before. Maybe I could have suggest that they install SQL Reporting Services. All that wasted effort because some people didn’t communicate.
Communication is a 2 way thing too. When I did mention SQL Reporting Services, it was as if I had never spoken. They couldn’t let their bosses know that they’d wasted probably 12 man-months developing a solution that they could have just downloaded from the Internet.
Communication must be clear between management, the teams, the team members and the users. If you cannot work together then you might as well not come into work. There’s loads of ways to communicate; I’m not going to waste bandwidth babbling on about that. But if the communication does not work then the infrastructure does not work. If the infrastructure doesn’t work then your customer doesn’t work. It won’t be long until your "restaurant" closes down.
When management, the staff in the kitchen and the staff on the floor works in unison, there is a better chance that your customer will be happy.
Keep It Simple
It amazes me how IT organisations ignore this one. There is some genetic fault in the human race where we cannot keep our solutions simple. We’ve always got to think short term and find a McGuyver solution. This might solve whatever problem is there now but 2 months down the line, it’s going to kick you in the backside. I’ve lost count of the meetings I’ve been in where other "engineers" start focusing in on the first brainfart that crosses their minds. And then they get angry when I start asking about how this will work if X users are involved or what will it be like during an AD upgrade or in 6 months time. They’re always thinking of now and of the tiny little space that is the problem. The big picture is always ignored.
Something I’ve learned over the years is to keep it simple. Way too many organisations introduce unnecessary complexity. Complexity introduces fire fighting. Fire fighting means there is downtime. Downtime means the business (your customer) is losing money.
If what you provide to your customer is simple, elegant and not complex, then you know that you can provide a timely, efficient, cost sensitive solution that will make your customer happy
No restaurant can exist without customers. The same goes for IT. If the IT department is not getting the job done, changes will be made and you might not like what happens then. Use the best ingredients you can. Communicate with each other and the customer so that everyone can do the best they can and meet on a common ground. Keep what you are doing simple. Making things complex delays your solutions and makes them prone to be faulty.
Above all else Gordon Ramsay probably hates unsafe food going out to his customers. The same should hold through for an IT department. Use best practices for everything you do. Don’t fall into the trap that I see way too often. In this business arrogance is one of the most common traits. Everyone thinks they know best. Do your research and find out what is the best way to do things. Don’t rely on old knowledge or do what you’ve always done before. Those who don’t learn from hsitory are damned to repeat it’s mistakes.
I’m not saying all of this is easy. Far from it. I’ve been looking for this sort of chemistry since GB and I worked together and haven’t come close to finding it.
Maybe a few of these tips will help you avoid your own personal IT nightmare.