The stress test

The stress test

It is 8.50 am and you are working on the IT help desk. You receive a panicked call from the chief executive's PA. There is an executive meeting due to start in 10 minutes and she has a number of documents she needs to print for the meeting. The problem is the printer is not working! What do you do?

This scenario is one my team often uses in an interview for new team members. The answer normally comes in one of two generic forms.

In the first style of answer, the person focuses on fixing the offending printer(s). They will go into great detail about how they would go about diagnosing the problem with the printer and getting the printer fixed so that it can be used and the PA can print the required documents. Often their answer shows that they have a logical and well ordered approach to problem diagnosis and an excellent understanding of how printers work. Some will go further and discuss collaborating with others to help them solve the problem with the printer.

In the second style of answer, the person focuses on getting the documents printed within 10 minutes for the PA. Typically their first action is to print the documents to a different printer or to take a copy of the documents to a different desktop and get them printed. They then begin to look at the issue of how to fix the printer.

The answer to this question is often an "employment breaker" for our candidates. If you were the interviewer and this is all the information you have, who would you employ? The answer to this question depends on how you define success for your team. There are many possible answers to this. Here are some common ones:

• IT operations comply with all agreed SLAs (operational and project).

• Delivery of budget commitments including operational costs, recharges (if you recharge) and capital costs.

• A highly-engaged IS team who love working here.

• Operating at or above "benchmark performance" for our industry and size of company.

• Our customers are happy with the service I provide to them, which is to say, customer satisfaction.

All of these measures are important. However, when it comes to hiring decisions, the major impact that a person can have is performance against agreed SLAs and/or customer satisfaction.

If your criterion for success is SLA performance, then I suggest you would employ the first candidate because they are much more likely to get that printer up and running quickly because of their technical knowledge and their demonstrated problem analysis skills. You would be supported in this decision by most of our industry best practice. Many industry frameworks highlight the importance of SLAs and your ability to meet them. How many times have you sat in a meeting where you (or perhaps your vendor) have claimed to be providing great service because all the SLAs have been met?

However, if your criteria for success is customer satisfaction, then I suggest you would employ the second candidate. Their focus was on solving the PA's problem, which is much more likely to give you a satisfied customer even if your SLAs may suffer as it takes longer to actually fix the printer.

Which is right? I think the answer can be found by differentiating between means (what we do) and ends (why we do it). Or to put it another way, we can find the answer by understanding why IS departments exist within large organisations. Simply put, IS teams are not responsible for the overall success of an organisation. Instead, IS teams exist to support the organisation to be successful. As an example, the IS team at The Warehouse is not responsible for the execution of our retail business. We are however, responsible for providing technology and information to the rest of the organisation to support them to be as effective and efficient as possible. If this is the case, the best people to judge your ability to do this are the people you are here to support. That means that the "end", or success, for an IT team is a highly satisfied customer and therefore I would hire the second candidate.

Owen McCall is CIO of The Warehouse in New Zealand. Reach him at owen.mccall@ and through his blog

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