The Clown

Jeffrey L. Bromberger, Senior Pontificator

25 October 2021

Make sure that you offer your employer more that just empty words when it comes down to the level of service that your Help Desk offers.

Before my career took a serious bend into Service Management, we (as a firm) were examining our options for ITSM software.  We were under pressure to change our process because of the newly passed Sarbanes-Oxley laws.  Part of our required adjustment involved Change Management – which for us meant documentation, approvals and the separation between Development, QA and Production.  To make this all easier, we started looking at automated tools.  My boss at the time and I were invited to an off-site to hear a corporate sales pitch as well as see and play with one vendor’s product.  Sadly, the vendor’s name is lost to the ages.  I know for sure who it wasn’t (!) but can’t say more than that.  Truth be told, it really doesn’t matter.

The off-site was at a local casino – maybe a 2.5 hour drive from home.  It was my first time in a casino – what a shocker that they were more than just gambling!  Somewhere on the second floor, past a room chock-a-block filled with slot machines (and elderly smokers on oxygen masks), was a ballroom that had been set up for us.  Once we all shuffled in, they began the introductions and said their niceties.  Blah, blah, uh more blah.  You know the way this goes.

The man of the hour, it seems, was Hank.  I regret that his full name, too, has been lost to the tides and times of my mind.  He was our “keynote” speaker, and it’s his story that I want to tell to you.  Before we get to the heart of this, let me say that 99% of the time, these corporate speakers are not only just spouting PowerPoint, but many of them can’t even truly make a presentation with original thoughts.  The fact that Hank managed to etch himself into my undying memory only goes to show that this man, whomever he is, had the ability to reach out and, through his story, connect with me on a level that very few other salespeople could.  Would I have bought a lifetime’s supply of Turtle Wax from him?  Quite possibly.

“We roll up to this fire, we do our jobs quickly and efficiently, pack it all up, go back to the fire house, clean and put away our tools, and then call it a wrap until the next fire.”

Hank started out saying something like “Many people out there feel like their Help Desks are filled with Firemen.  They run from here to there, putting out fires.”

And that’s where our story gets different quite quickly.  I sort of had a strange feeling that something unexpected was coming.  Well, it did, and it hit me kinda broadsides…

“In reality, your staff is as far from real Firefighters as you can imagine.  What does a real firefighter do?  Well, in my town (where they have volunteer firemen), we’re nothing like your average Help Desk.  We meet every week without fail to train.  There’s new skills to learn, making sure that we keep up with the changes in the science of fighting fires.  There’s the never ending practice of the things you’d be called to do on a daily basis – the goal is to make the safe performance of the skill something that is subconscious and as natural as possible.  And, every quarter or so, there’d be a controlled burn – a real fire to not only test your hose abilities, but to show the instructors that you have mastered both the skills to stay safe and come home alive from a fire.  Together with all that, you’re also required to show that you are able to help your partners in case of a disaster as well as rescue anybody else on the scene.

After all of this practice, this testing, this rehearsal, when the real thing comes, we’re ready.  We know where everybody has to be, what their individual role is and how to do it.  We roll up to this fire, we do our jobs quickly and efficiently, pack it all up, go back to the fire house, clean and put away our tools, have a debrief session to go over our performance, and then finally call it a wrap until the next fire.”

“Now, honestly look at your Help Desk and ask yourself if you’re keeping up to this level of standard.  Do you drill on safety?  Or perhaps preserving forensic evidence? Are there team practice sessions, where everybody has to show that they can understand and carry the weight of the process?  How many teamwork exercises do you run through a week?  How many “controlled burns” does the team do per month – making sure that everybody knows their role in a crisis situation, so that no time has to be wasted in assigning roles at the last minute?  Do you debrief the team, and I don’t mean doing a ‘port-mortem’, to see where your team could be stronger?”

“Every time you hear the Help Desk say that they’re out fighting fires, you’re just hearing their egos talking.  These are not fire fighters.  They are over glorified kids with huge mallets playing Whac-a-Mole in real time with computers instead of rodents.”

Ooof!  If that doesn’t sting, it should.

He was right, you know.  I’m a retired Emergency Medical Technician – I lived the life he described.  And right then I knew, deep inside, that for all the talk about fighting fires at a corporate level, our Service Desk never lived up to the real example that a true Emergency Service provider sets.  Unless we changed (and changed a lot), we would never amount to more than anything more than we already were, a bunch of kids playing a kids’ game with the company’s well being in the balance.

The days would soon come when we’d be taken to task on this…


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