On It / Done

On It / Done

I spent most of my career trying to be responsive to the needs of the users in the companies for which I worked.  When someone requested a new application or changes to an existing application, or a new laptop, or a new cell phone, I would email them and keep them as informed as possible.  The cell phone requests were always the easiest.  I had an auto-reply built into the system that just responded with an email that said “no”.  When an issue occurred requiring network outages or downtime, I would write lengthy emails explaining the situation, the root cause, the remediation steps we need to make, and the timing.  I thought I was being helpful and informative.  It turns out, I was being annoyingly chatty.

That is when I hit on the concept I call “On It / Done”.  It is quite simple, but it takes a very long time to implement.  Here is how it works:

When an issue comes up, say the phones are down, I would get an email from the CEO (and usually many others) that there was a problem with the phones.  I would respond with a 2-word reply: “On It”.  I gave no explanations and no excuses.  Just “On It”.  However, those two little words implied two very important messages.

  1. I am on it. I am fully aware of the issues.  I understand the importance of the problem and I will dedicate all available technical resources at my disposal to resolve this issue as quickly as humanly possible.  And, yes, I understand that your day and your priorities are being impacted by this “Anomaly”.
  2. I am on it also is my way of letting you know that you are off it. It is fully on my plate.  I am taking complete ownership of this issue and I will not stop until it is resolved.  You can take it off your plate and get back to running the company, closing the books, planning, organizing, strategizing, and whatever else is needed.  Just don’t try to use the phones.  I am on it also implies that I do not need to be reminded of the issue every few minutes or that you are still inconvenienced.

Obviously, some issue require that I communicate to the affected users.  The last thing I want is to receive emails from hundreds of users letting me know of our little issue.  Sometimes I send out a preemptive email like, “The phones in the headquarters building are down (simple – no tech-speak).  We will be taking the phone system down at 10:30am for maintenance.  I expect phone service to be restored by noon (IT is On It and we are committing to a remediation window).  Please use your cell phones for business-critical communications during this time (Offer a work-around).”

                                 Do not miss your noon uptime estimate!  

Eventually, the issue will be resolved.  Hopefully, in the timeframe you quoted.  The phones are back up, the application is fixed, or the printers are printing again.  When this happens, I send my second reply email that simply says “Done”.  My “Done” email also implies two important messages.

  1. Done means the issue is resolved. The problem was identified and remediated as quickly and completely as possible.  Service is restored and I communicated effectively with all affected parties.
  2. Done also means that IT has or will go through a complete analysis of the issue. We have/will correct the problem, drill into the root cause of the problem, and put in place a permanent fix so the problem never happens again or at least provides an early warning notice so we can try to be proactive next time.  Done means you can permanently remove this issue from your memory.

Depending on the issue and severity of the outage, I may follow up with another email blast to all affected users stating, “Phone service is restored.  I apologize for the inconvenience.”  I do not go into details for the same reason I do not need to know the steps you took to adjust the trial balance so you could close the books this month.  The books are closed.  I am happy.  And yes, I do apologize.  My job as CIO is to keep everything up and running.  I own it and I failed.

Here’s the thing, getting to “On it / Done” takes a long time.  You need to develop a serious level of trust between the CIO and the CEO.  CEOs want issues removed from their plate, but they must trust that the CIO is On It when they say they are On It.  The CEO needs to trust that all the proper remediation steps were taken, and IT is ever vigilant for future occurrences of this issue.  In a word, IT “Learned” from this lesson.   I used the analogy before that “Trust is earned in drips and lost in buckets.”  This is profoundly true in my “On It / Done” paradigm.  If I say, “On It”, I better be on it.  And when I say, “Done” it better be fixed permanently.  And I better be fully prepared to answer any question on the details of the issue and the remediation, even though I did not personally fix anything.  I am still the owner of all things Technology.

I would love to hear your comments or anecdotes.  Please click on a link below to leave a comment or send me an email to let me know what you think.