Nurturing The Knack

In my previous blog post, I talked about how increasingly valuable having The Knack is in technology support organizations. This troubleshooting ability is becoming increasingly necessary as IT environments evolve into more complex and integrated systems. Mike Runda, Avaya Senior Vice President and President of Avaya Client Services, touched on this in a recent white paper on challenging the status quo:

“As technologies become more complex, problems are more likely to be system-wide rather than in a single component. They can emerge from the network, an application, an end user or a configuration file–and from any vendor’s product.”

As Mike says above, technology ecosystems are complex and require a troubleshooting skill-set to match. Those already operating with The Knack are in a good place to seek out the root causes in such environments.

So how do we foster an environment that encourages feeds, and rewards this mentality?

Interview for The Knack

When I interview candidates for a technical support related position, I am more interested in how well they troubleshoot a general problem versus how much they know about any one specific technology. One of my go-to interview questions is a role-playing scenario where they are a wireless router support engineer and I call them, as a customer, because I can’t get my laptop to connect to ESPN for the latest scores. As the candidate role-plays with me, I’m paying attention to how they approach the problem. I expect them to get clarity on my problem, not assuming anything. Next is the (perhaps stereotypical) question: “Do you have a wireless router and is it turned on?” What I’m really looking for is if they have a systematic approach to narrowing down the root cause? Or do they simply guess at the solution based on common problems?

Some hiring managers use less technical and more analytic questions like: Estimate the number of dry cleaners needed in Pittsburgh. Questions like this don’t have a right or wrong answer, but look to evaluate how the applicant applies logic to a problem. (For example, I’ll assume there are 2 million people in Pittsburgh. Half are over the age of 18. Given the focus on manufacturing, I’ll assume only 10% regularly wear clothes that need dry cleaning. If we assume each store can handle 500 customers, then 200 stores in Pittsburgh.)

The way I look at it, it is much easier to teach someone a specific technology or product if they already know how to troubleshoot. The Knack, on the other hand, is quite difficult, if not impossible, to train someone on. Given the economic climate, most of you are probably not staffing up teams by hiring off the street, so encouraging better troubleshooting in your existing engineers is more realistic.

Nurture and Encourage The Knack

At Avaya, we have found that having a diagnostic framework in place helps focus and remind our engineers to not get ahead of themselves when looking at a customer issue. While those with The Knack, may have this embedded in their DNA, the framework does act as a reminder for them and a guide for others. The Avaya Diagnostic Methodology looks like this:

  • Problem Clarification: Move from the stated problem to a focused, specific clarification of the exact problem.
  • Problem Analysis: Move from knowing the problem to knowing the cause
  • Problem Resolution: Move from the cause to a confirmed resolution of the problem.
  • Knowledge Management: Search the knowledge-base for an existing article on this issue. Modify the knowledge database based on your findings.

At times, we’ve also sponsored internal competitive events based on real and hypothetical technical problems to see how well teams of engineers can work together to solve complex issues. The conclusion of such an event should not only celebrate the winning team, but also having them publicly share their approach with the larger group so that everyone learns.

Automate Everything You Can

To help your engineers focus on the art of troubleshooting, remove as much repetitive work from the process as you can. As Mike Runda said in the white paper mentioned above, at Avaya “our support vision is to have humans work on only new problems; let automation and advanced systems resolve existing problems when they occur.” To that end, the organization that I lead partners with others in the business to identify areas that can be automated and then use tools to remove that burden from our employees. Some examples are:

  • EXPERT Systems: Our automated system that responds to product alarms and programmatically resolves the majority of them without any human interaction
  • HealthCheck: A collection of product-specific tools that look at the product’s configuration, comparing it to best practices, and quickly highlighting potential problems
  • OIS Advanced: New technology that provides Avaya (and our clients) real-time and historical performance of the client’s network, allowing us to correlate solution problems with network problems and disturbances to isolate the network as the cause of the solution problem.

I encourage you to look around your company’s IT and support teams and see if you can identify those with The Knack. When you do, think about ways in which you can better utilize their skills and perhaps select them to be mentors. These talented engineers may be what make the difference in your organization’s ability to adapt to the growing complexity.

How does your organization filter for and encourage The Knack in your organization?


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