The IT Chat: Christian Tijsmans, Connect the Dotz

Christian Tijsmans, who has over 18 years of experience working in IT, has made it a point throughout his career to explore different ways of work that get the best out of people. Deciding to make this passion the focus of his career, he founded his own venture — Connect The Dotz, a management consultancy that aims to unleash untapped potential through workshops, serious gaming, coaching, and training. Freshservice talks to him about his unique, holistic view on the typical challenges that IT organizations encounter.

You have extensive experience in IT in various roles and organizations. What would you say is the next big thing in ITSM?

DevOps is the hottest kid on the block right now, and for good reasons. It brings a compelling story about changing the way IT is managed. But I believe managers need to stop jumping at every shiny new management approach, and instead try to make the existing thing work. Managers often don’t bother to really understand approaches — ITIL, COBIT, Agile, DevOps, take your pick — and disregard the principles backing them, which inevitably results leads to not getting the benefits they expected. For instance, if people had used more common sense in applying ITIL, there might not have been a need for DevOps at all. When ITIL processes are done right, it goes across silos. If you do CSI right, you are continuously improving.

So what is the next big thing?

Managers should slow down and take the time to use common sense and gain true understanding of how existing approaches can be best leveraged.

This will allow them to make clear choices and offer ongoing support for making the chosen approach(es) a success.

Speaking of making the most out of existing approaches — what would you say are the three key factors that make a successful IT support team?

I see the IT support team as the whole IT department. From this perspective —

Employee satisfaction: Fostering and measuring feelings like ‘my manager enables me to be the best I can be,’ ‘I get ample learning opportunities,’ ‘It is very clear what is expected of me and I have a direct influence on the outcomes expected,’ ‘Failure is embraced as a way to improve,’ and so on.

Customer satisfaction: Surveying ‘IT happiness’ geared towards the value of the customer’s overall IT experience — as opposed to typical metrics such as response times, first call resolution rates and system availability. For instance, calculating the net promoter score to gauge the willingness of employees to recommend the IT services provided.

Time spent on improvement and innovation: A general lack of organization leads to a large amount of the IT department’s time going towards merely keeping the lights on — which in turn causes inefficiencies that lead to most of their resources being spent solving operational issues.

An IT department that wants to truly support their business in digital transformation should be putting at least 70% of their time towards thinking about the future.

This means a focus on continual improvement, and finding innovative ways to support their customers.

Tell us about a really tough challenge you handled at work, and how you overcame it.

When I was Change Manager of a large IT department, there was a weekly meeting called the Change Control Board (CCB).  Not long after I started in this role, I noticed that people were tracking the same information in different ways — I was tracking the change information in an ITSM tool, the release manager in an excel file, the project managers were using Word, MS Project and PowerPoint sheets, and so on. Suffice to say that there were always inconsistencies.

I started talking to my colleagues about why they were tracking information in their particular way and the challenges they were facing. Then, I consolidated the feedback and made a proposal to jointly keep the information in one place: the ITSM tool. As some functionalities were not possible in the tool as it was, we worked out how to make it work as needed with minor modifications. Once everyone was convinced, I presented the case to the senior management team.

The result was that we went from many different, inconsistent pieces of information to one central system where all stakeholders had the same information, with their dashboards displaying data as customized to their needs. The key was getting all stakeholders to express what they needed and then find common ground. 

What’s your advice for someone building a new IT support structure or team?

Take a good look at the different approaches to IT management that are out there: ITIL, DevOps, Cobit, TOGAF etc. Learn to understand them, and most of all the principles behind them and how they can be applied. Take a close look at the needs of your organisation and choose the approach which most closely aligns with those needs.

Make sure to stay pragmatic and not overdo it. Start simple (think ‘minimum viable management structure’).

What would be your 5 tips for success in ITSM?

  1. Put your primary focus on people. The process and product are just supposed to support people in getting more done and getting more satisfaction from their work.
  2. Keep things simple and pragmatic, without cutting corners. Study other organisations which have accomplished this.
  3. In order to manage number 2, it is necessary to learn the IT management approach(es) you choose well enough to understand the principles behind it.
  4. Try to look further than only one management approach.
  5. Never stop learning, and continually seek to improve in small steps.

When choosing a new ITSM tool, what are the top three things one should look for? 

  1. Don’t start with a tool. Start by reviewing how you work, and then identify how a tool might improve the efficiency of these processes. Too many organisations think that a new tool will solve the problems they have with their old tool. Often the tool is not the problem, but the processes themselves.
  2. Does the tool support your chosen way of working? The current trend I see is organisations looking for a tool that provides them with a set of out-of-the-box processes they can instantly start using — meaning that the tool is leading. A tool should always follow the way of work, not vice versa.
  3. Look for an 80/20 solution. Finding a tool that will provide 100% of the functionality you need without investing in custom development is unlikely. It just needs to do enough. Organisations tend to get hung up on the bells and whistles some tools provide, instead of thinking about real needs vs. nice-to-haves. (The MoSCoW technique can help with this).

Could you give us some tips on how you encouraged the adoption of new tools in the workplace?

I don’t usually encourage new tools at all, actually. People tend to jump very quickly to the conclusion* that a new tool, or the customisation of an existing tool, is the solution to an issue — because it is easy to think in terms of means (product oriented). Instead, think in terms of what you want to achieve (goals oriented) and find the best way to reach those goals. The outcome might be a new tool, or it might not be a tool at all.

*I have to admit I have also made this mistake on several occasions 😉

What’s the biggest ITSM or IT-related myth you have come across, and how does it compare to reality?

“X will solve all our problems.”

Replace X with ITIL, COBIT, DevOps, Lean IT, etc. This is in my opinion the biggest management problem today: managers not understanding an approach well enough to make informed decisions. One approach doesn’t hold all the answers. You should look at what is out there and mix and match as is appropriate for your environment.

What’s the one thing every IT leader should do everyday to ensure superior customer satisfaction?

Go to Gemba! This concept from Lean means that managers should regularly be present where the work takes place (‘the shop floor’) so they understand what is really going on and see problems first hand.

Too many leaders stay in their office and thus have only a filtered view of the reality of their teams.

More than just walking around, they should actively ask questions and show genuine interest. This will allow them to make informed decisions that help create an environment people can thrive in — ultimately benefiting customers.

What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you began your career in IT?

I wish I had known 7 years earlier what an interesting profession IT is. Before I went into IT, I followed many different professions but as you can see, IT is the one that stuck with me. There is so much diversity in ‘working in IT’, the possibilities are endless. And with IT becoming more important than ever in every type of organisation, the opportunities will only become greater.

What do you think is the secret sauce to a great IT ecosystem?

You know my mantra — it’s all about people, people, people! People are the key to success — they make good or bad decisions, they have the right skills or lack training, they use a tool as it’s meant to be used or they don’t…

You need to find the right balance between people, process and product — but respect for people should be the guiding principle.

This means listening to them, involving them, genuinely caring, providing adequate learning opportunities, putting the right man in the right place, and much more. Great processes and state-of-the-art tools will not work if the people do not believe in them.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in your current role?

When I first became an independent advisor, I continued performing the kind of roles I had done before, but discovered that this was not making me happy. I started to realise that I needed to stay away from ‘operational’ roles such as being a project manager, operations manager, change manager, and so on, and stay in a position where I could look at things from a distance, analyse, advise and coach. This is when I realised that people are the key to success .

People have unlimited potential but are too often not enabled to reach this potential to the fullest. This has now become my ‘why’ in life — to unlock human potential. I find that serious gaming, non-traditional interactive training and Lego Serious Play workshops are a fantastic way to do this. It’s great to see people’s eyes light up as they gain new insights or finally understand theory (vs. only knowing it); and it demonstrates that under the right circumstances, human potential can be unlocked. It is the one resource we have an unlimited supply of — but one that is all too often squandered.