Wednesday Feb 22, 2006

Using SGRT as a Customer Relationship offering.

A short while ago I was involved in the most interesting SGRT facilitation of my career so far – interesting because Sun had been invited to provide a Rational Troubleshooting facilitation even though our equipment was not involved in the root cause of the customer problems.  The account manager in Sun is a huge supporter of this process, and offered our services to the customer to help them manage a very gnarly problem. The customer (to whom I'd presented SGRT a couple of years earlier) was interested and I volunteered.

We did have Sun equipment in the customer site, and it was having problems, and it had been identified that the Sun equipment was a victim of a much more subtle problem to do with the links between two computer sites. The customer was hugely advanced in their understanding of the problem, and the answer to “Where on the object” was really clear. They had excellent "what" data, and acknowledged that there was no chance of getting the lifecycle information as the problem occurred 100 times during terabytes of data transfer over days of full production usage.

Having all the suppliers in one room, providing their view of the problem was enlightening to all – some suppliers had a view of the application, some of the underlying network infrastructure and others had the physical rack and cable view.

There was no resolution to the problem identified during the facilitation – many actions to take and more importantly many actions that no longer needed taking as those actions were not essential to the resolution of the problem. The possible causes appeared to be centered on one supplier's hardware not doing quite what it should, so the lens of attention was focused tightly on that equipment.

Oh, and the very nice man from IBM clearly recognised what troubleshooting method I was using and came up with some marvelously incisive questions to forward our understanding of the symptoms still further. It felt really good to have a peer supplier in the room recognise the troubleshooting process we were using and actively engage in it.

For me the key learning points were;

  • the reinforcement that getting the right people in the room is not enough – following a structured analytic technique saved us all time, made the problem very clear and took the audience with the technical staff so that everyone understood by the end of the day what the issues were. Even I understood them.
  • that the capability of SGRT can be used as a Customer Relationship offering to assist our customers with the management of problems (Incidents in ITIL language).

For the End-to-End implementation of KT-Resolve / SGRT / [whatever the process is known by in the client company] throughout the computer industry to fully succeed we need customers to call for the use of a rational approach. It should no longer be a matter of serial trial fixes tacking toward a lucky break - big companies concentrate on what their customers demand. Sun's customers should demand a rational approach to problem management (and some already do), and Sun now has the capability worldwide to handle problem / incident management in a rational manner.

Friday Feb 03, 2006

Further process loops

Kepner-Tregoe have a model of human behaviour called the "Performance System" model, and we use this concept extensively in the management of the installation of the SGR Troubleshooting process (Sun branding for the Kepner-Tregoe Resolve process, KT-Resolve) in Sun. The project office is not empowered to provide consequences, and we make it our job to get management to understand that; we do provide, and get involved in the infrastructure that drives the feedback loops.

If we maintain that feedback is provided to an individual to improve their performance for the next time they see the same situation, the feedback -  to be effective - needs to be timely, accurate and targetted. We have a rule in the project office that feedback provided more than 7 elapsed days after the event is not worth either the coach completing or the engineer receiving. This drives tight loops. Most of the feedback loops are of less than 48 elapsed hours, and it's that long because we have a global organisation and any report that runs once in a 24 hour period arrives in someone's timezone while they are not at work.

The primary feedback loops we run are as described in a blog entry below. We have built a number of secondary feedback loops to begin to measure and reinforce good behaviour.

Daily Coaching Loop

Every day the coaches that are assigned a group of mentees (who are often the colleagues that they have trained) receive an invitation (and key) to assess the intent and quality of the work that is passing from their group to the next group. This could be thought of as a daily survey of the quality of work that is passing between engineers. We are assessing the quality of the documentation.

Over time we can see whether engineers are improving in the quality of their documentation or not, and can take action to provide additional coaching or support for engineers who are not reaching the required standard of internal documentation quality.

Reputation Feedback

Given that we now have "End-To-End" installation of SGRT almost everywhere in the Customer Facing organisations and in the backline support organisations, we can begin to get engineers to measure engineers by reputation. A loop recently installed (and being used as a pilot for the Betty Support Model) is asking for process usage by reputation.

Part of the main coaching loop has process coaches assessing the intent behind an escalation. The trigger for the reputation feedback loop is the closure of a case that had "Cause Unknown" set as it's intent by the process coach. This tells us that the subject of the escalation was a "Problem" (using the classic definition provided by Problem Analysis thinking) to the Escalation Generator. Given that it was a "Problem", it should have been specified using PA thinking and the process of Problem Analysis continued by the Handling engineer. On escalation closure, both the Escalation Generator and the Escalation Handler are offered a survey of how the other engineer did.

The form for the Generator and Handler, and the key for completion for the Generator and Handler.

This has been an extremely useful loop in an unexpected way - apart from providing an opportunity to build up a picture of coachable opportunities, the comments field is exposing further opportunities to work even more effectively in Sun.

Process Escape Loops

From time to time things go wrong, and to handle those situations where effective call handling goes astray we have set up a process escape loop. This loop can operate in the forward direction and the backward direction, and always involves a process expert to assess the situation and provide coaching where necessary.

Why are we doing this?

Simply put, because it's more effective to do so. Sun is striving toward providing a better quality customer experience by standardising on the troubleshooting method we use throughout the support organisation. It's less expensive to have engineers all use the same troubleshooting process than it is to have them inventing new processes every time. It's results in more consistent (think reduction in variation in terms of manufacturing or Sigma measurement) support by reducing the standard deviation on elapsed time metrics, and reduces average elapsed time metrics.

The opportunities that this offers Sun and it's customer are many, and include the possibility of reaching out to our customers who use, or are interested in using KT-Resolve. Imagine a time when customers, empowered with the same troubleshooting method as Sun, perform a clear Situation Appraisal, identify the Object with the problem and the Defect that it is seeing and have spent a few minutes gathering accurate data surrounding a problem. When they pass that info to Sun, it can be immediately routed to the most likely person to solve the problem, and if that person can't solve the problem they can continue the same troubleshooting process. This has to be cheaper for our customers, and provide a better level of service to their business.

Monday Feb 28, 2005

Feedback loops

Individual Program Leaders for Sun Global Resolution Troubleshooting occasionally tie-up with Program Leaders in other companies. Recently two colleagues of mine were invited to the offices of Cisco in San Francisco to talk about the challenges of instituting this in their company. Sadly I wasn't there (I had planned to attend and something else got in the way), and I heard from my colleagues that the Cisco Program Leaders were particularly interested in the process improvement feedback loop we're using in Sun. One day I hope to meet you, until then, this is a drawing of the basic operation of one of the feedback loops we use.

  1. In the call flow there are people who are generating work for other people. In this model I'm calling the people who are generating work “Escalation Generators” and the handlers of that work “Escalation handlers” Bear in mind that escalation handlers can also be escalation generators if they then pass work to others. Every day we get a dump out of the case management system of all the transfer of work movements between one group of people and another. A Process Caoch (either a Program Leader of a Process Facilitator) is associated with a group of engineers. This can be the staff the Program Leader has they themselves trained – it provides continuity following the training course.

  2. A batch program associates all the work from the generators with their respective process coach, and creates a personalised html form for the coach, making it easy for the coach to visit the work of their coaching group.

  3. The coach visits the html form, takes a look at the quality of the documentation and finds coachable moments, both “well done”, or “could do better”.

  4. There are two stages to the coaching – the first stage is getting the end users to recognise when they should use a part of KT's process, we call this the “triggers for use” and once we see individuals using a process to document the work we are looking for “Good use of Process”. Program Leaders should be able to recognise Good Use of Process when they see it – if not KT have a definition you can recycle.

  5. Feedback or consequences are provided to the individuals one to one, either by email, a phone call or in person.

    Typical emails that we send are:

Poor quality from the escalation generator

It is perfectly reasonable to ask the escalation generator for a problem statement and specification on this escalation if it would assist you in the resolution of the problem.

The escalating engineer has been trained, and should provide you with a specification.

Ensure you have cycled this escalation through "Received Incomplete"at some point in it's life to alert Management to the lower than expected quality of the documentation.

A specification from the escalation generator when it was not necessary

Thank you for providing the problem statement and specification on the above escalation.

The provision of a clear description of the problem in a standard format is very helpful in the speedy understanding of a customer problem, and overall will result in a shorter time to resolution, more chance of a first time fix and more satisfied customers.

Please note that there are certain escalation types that do not mandate an SGR specification. For all cases where you know the cause of the problem;

  • Reproducible Test Case (do this and this happens)

  • Known Bug

  • Request for Backport

  • Technical Question

you do not need to also provide a specification. It's fine to do so, but it is not necessary.

For further details see .... (url for further details)

A good specification from the escalation generator

Thank you for providing the problem statement and specification on the above escalation.

The provision of a clear description of the problem in a standard format is very helpful in the speedy understanding of a customer problem, and overall will result in a shorter time to resolution, more chance of a first time fix and more satisfied customers.

A specification that had coachable moments.

Hand crafted by process experts every time.



  1. Once the reports are completed by the coaches they are archived (in a mail archive as it happens).

  2. We can the do data mining and compare the performance of cases where good quality documentation wes provided compared with not such good quality documentation.

Tuesday Feb 22, 2005

The hamburger of rational process

One of the many enjoyable things about the troubleshooting method job I have with Sun at the moment is talking to our customers about the use of a rational process in handling their issues.

The challenge is to get the decision makers in companies to understand that it's the installation of a capability, not just a training course. With a training course you go, learn the new stuff and use it straight away, and for technical training on a product you've been assigned to support you have “no choice”, the reinforcement of the training is built into the job.

With a thought process an attendee has two choices, either to stay the same or use the new process, and if rational process installation is considered to be training the attendees stay the same. A long time ago I drew this hamburger to illustrate to management in Sun that while the training may be considered the meat in this offering, without the lettuce, tomato, mushroom and bun it's all a pile of greasy sausage.

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